According to the Evening Standard, Spurs have been looking at CSKA Moscow forward Seydou Doumbia as a possible January transfer target. The Ivorian forward has scored seven goals in the Russian Premier League this season. He's a penalty box striker who is fifth in the RPL in shots from inside the box per 90 minutes. If Spurs are looking for a striker in the window, Doumbia has a solid pedigree of talent and results, and he's just 26.
This is where it gets complicated. First, the Standard reports that Doumbia's buyout clause runs £25m. The sound you are hearing is Daniel Levy laughing. If CSKA won't drop that price significantly, there's no way Spurs would go in for the transfer. So why might CSKA drop their asking price?
Because of the ruble. The international economic story of the last month or two has been the Russian currency crash. The Russian ruble was trading at a little over 30 to the dollar this summer. It's now trading at around 70 to the dollar, having lost half its value in only a couple months. There are two primary causes for the crash, according to most experts. First, the price of oil has dropped significantly, and the Russian economy is heavily dependent on its oil exports. Second, Western sanctions in response to Russia's adventurism in Ukraine have created significant problems for many Russian firms. The sanctions have made it very difficult for Russian firms to access the world's credit markets, leading to debt crunches that could spiral into a full-blown crisis. So far the full crisis has not hit, but investors are getting out of rubles just to be safe. Fears of a Russian crash are so profound that even a 75 percent interest rate hike two days ago was not enough to stop the currency's slide. Barring a profound political turnaround in Moscow, the Russian economy, and particularly the Russian currency, are in deep trouble.
This is terrible for ordinary Russian people, first and foremost. Economic crashes that seem abstract have massive human costs, and it would be best for the world if this didn't happen. I want to say that before moving on to the part about how this could be good news for Tottenham Hotspur. That segue makes me uncomfortable.
But it's true that events in Russia have major football implications. The currency is key here. James Ellingworth of the Associated Press was on this story a month ago with an excellent explainer. Ellingworth reports that most player contracts in the RPL are denominated in euros rather than rubles. However, most Russian clubs take in most of their revenue in rubles. So the effect of the currency crash is equivalent to every RPL player having his salary doubled over just two months.
Smaller clubs like Rostov have already been failing to pay their players, and larger clubs could easily follow. At the moment, it is unknown exactly which clubs will be hit the hardest. Ellingworth notes that most RPL clubs receive significant funding from the state, and with state finances being re-directed to prop up the currency, smaller sides are likely to get hit hard. Clubs with large private ownership may have the capital stock to ride out the crisis, but here we get into the mystery of Russian club financing.
Seydou Doumbia—remember Seydou? This is an article about Seydou—plays for CSKA Moscow. This is what Ellington reports about CSKA:
Also experiencing problems is Fedun's longtime rival, Evgeny Giner, president of reigning champion CSKA, who has business connections with Ukraine. ... CSKA's ownership structure is notoriously opaque, and it is not even clear how much of the club Giner owns, let alone how much of its funding he provides. Giner's own finances are similarly murky, although Ukrainian media have reported he is a major investor in a company that operates power plants across Ukraine, including in Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia in March.
So, CSKA might have money. Or they might not! CSKA and Zenit St. Petersburg do have the added buffer of Champions League revenue this year. UCL revenue is distributed in euros, so it is unaffected by the currency crisis. If there are two clubs in Russia that might get through this crisis without having to sell, they are CSKA and Zenit. (Especially Zenit.)
The Doumbia rumor, then, should be taken with some significant skepticism. It is simply unknown yet if he will be up for sale or not. The rumors to take most seriously will be those revolving around sales from lesser Russian clubs. If a Rostov player link comes up, that is almost certainly the real deal. Few rumors have yet emerged about stars like Dynamo Moscow's Aleksandr Kokorin or Locomotiv's Vedran Corluka, but these are the sort of players who seem reasonably likely to move in the window.
Of course, given the opacity of club finances, it is still hard to say. But unless the course of Russia's political economy takes an unexpected positive turn, expect more rumors along these lines. There will be RPL sales, and the right ones could turn the fate of clubs in Europe's top leagues.