Skip to main content

The Englishman who backs Russia to get the World Cup

With the 2018 decision D-Day approaching, Richard Edwards speaks to the East Anglian who pulled back the Iron Curtain

The race to host the World Cup is becoming more entertaining than the tournament itself, with skulduggery, rumours and counter-rumour and celebrity backing for the 2018 bids keeping what promises to be one of the most controversial votes in football history on the front and back pages.

England have wheeled out the big guns in an effort to fire themselves back into the reckoning, with Prime Minister David Cameron, the newly betrothed Prince William and, of course, Goldenballs schmoozing for all their worth as the big off approaches.

As this high-octane campaign draws to a close (much to the relief of all), the favourites will watch on with a sense of smug satisfaction and amusement.

The World Cup has never been further East in Europe than Germany, but if the bookies have it correct, then the final of the 2018 tournament will be taking place, not in Madrid, Amsterdam or London - but in Moscow.

Sepp Blatter has made no secret of his desire to bring the World Cup to the largest audience possible - and take the tournament to the parts that the competition hasn't reached since Uruguay first hosted football's showpiece event in the summer of 1930.

South Korea, Japan and South Africa are just three of the nations to have benefited from Blatter's global vision. And at least one Englishman believes that Russia should be the next in line.

The Russian bid team will hope to inspire FIFA in the coming days

Paul Ashworth is one of only a handful of coaches from these shores to have experienced Russian football at first hand.

He was director of football at FC Rostov in 2005 and, after marrying a Latvian and continuing his love affair with the East, is uniquely placed to give an insight into just why Russia is ideally placed to pip England to the post.

"Russia are a very proud and they want to win - and they'll do so at all costs," he tells FFT. "The bid team will have whatever money they needed to do whatever they need to make the tournament a success.

"Russia is a hugely ambitious country, no matter what sport we're talking about. I think it would be very well supported - it's a football country."

That said, the sight of half-empty stadiums is hardly unique in a country that has seen the profile of its domestic game rise hugely in recent years.

It's hard to imagine any match being played out to anything other than a sold-out stadium here in 2018, but the Russians are a resourceful bunch.

"With the exception of Zenit or Rubin Kazan, it's rare to see a stadium even half-full for Premier League games, but they're not the only country to suffer from that," says Ashworth.

"If you look at Spain or Portugal, Italy even, it's only the big teams that can fill out the grounds.

"But there's 125m people in Russia, football is the number one sport, and I think when it comes around the crowds won't be a problem."

Nor will hooliganism. "You only have to look at the Champions League final of 2008 to see how well organised everything would be," he said.

"I'm sure there would be no violence from fans - that would be a plus - because the Russian police wouldn't take any mucking about. As soon as anyone started trouble they would be thrown in prison."

When it comes to the bid itself, England have already run out of get out of jail free cards. No matter what Cameron, Wills and Becks do over the next few days it's hard to shed the feeling that, whoever wins the bid in Zurich, once thing is almost certain - Football isn't coming home.