What the Soviet League brought was competition, but the Russian Premier League has already brought more competition, money and tradition to the world’s largest country.
Russian soccer teams golden years dates back to the 1960s and the 1980s when teams like Spartak Moscow, CSKA Moscow and Dinamo Moscow almost ruled eastern Europe.
The second success of Russian teams was in 2004 when CSKA Moscow won the UEFA Cup.
Zenit Saint Petersburg completed double following their successful outing in the 2008 UEFA Cup and Super Cup.
This tradition has not changed in the 21st century, with top sides like Zenit Saint Petersburg and CSKA Moscow shining in major competitions.
Who is the biggest football club in Russia? Spartak Moscow is the biggest in Russia, having won 22 league titles, 13 Cup titles, and one Russian Super Cup.
How popular is soccer in Russia? Soccer is the most popular in Russia with over 59 per cent participants with top competitions like the Russian Premier League, Russian Cup, etc.
Which is the best football club in Russia? Zenit Saint Petersburg is the best team in Russia, having won the Europa League and Super Cup, Russian League, Cup and Super Cup.
How many teams are in the Russian Premier League? the league is contested by 16 teams across the federation.
Zenit Saint Petersburg, led by dutch manager Dick Advocaat successfully won the UEFA Europa League and the UEFA Super Cup in 2008. Backed by one of the biggest energy giants Gazprom, Zenit Saint Petersburg have flourished in the domestic scene and Europe.
The club has some of the best players in Eastern Europe and some of the best on the European continent alongside Dynamo Kyiv, Shakhtar Donetsk, CSKA Moscow, Legia Warszawa, Spartak Moscow, etc.
So how’s soccer in Russia today, where are the top clubs, and what category do they fall?
Soviet Era in a nutshell
Ukrainian soccer team Dynamo Kyiv was the most successful Soviet League team with 13 titles, closely followed by Spartak Moscow in second place.
The Russian teams won the majority of trophies throughout the league’s existence even though Dynamo led the all-time winner’s chart.
The competition in Russian soccer began in the Soviet era when Spartak Moscow rose to become a household name in the division.
The Moscow based club won 12 titles and finished runners in another twelve seasons, almost matched by Dynamo Kyiv, who had thirteen titles and finished eleven seasons as runner up.
Dynamo Moscow is third on the all-time winner’s chart with eleven titles, and CSKA Moscow occupies the fourth position with seven titles.
Torpedo Moscow had three titles followed by non-Russian sides like Dinamo Tbilisi (2), Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (2), Ararat Yerevan (1), and Dinamo Minsk (1) each.
The Soviet Cup was dominated by Spartak Moscow, who led the all-time winner’s chart with ten titles, followed by Dynamo Kyiv in second with nine titles.
Torpedo Moscow 6, Dinamo Moscow 6, CSKA Moscow 5, Shakhter Donetsk 4, etc.
Modern Russian Soccer
The beginning of the new era in Russian soccer saw a new giant in Zenit Saint Petersburg to continue with the soccer tradition in the country.
The Saint Petersburg based club continued with the impressive form of Russian teams on European assignment, winning the UEFA Europa League and the UEFA Super Cup in 2008.
Throughout the sport’s history, teams from Moscow have had the upper hand in almost all national competitions.
Currently, Spartak Moscow is the most successful team with ten titles, closely followed by Zenit Saint Petersburg with seven titles.
CSKA Moscow is third with six titles, while Lokomotiv Moscow occupies three.
Rubin Kazan and Alania Vladikavkaz sit fifth and sixth positions, respectively.
In the Russian Cup, Lokomotive Moscow is the most successful with nine titles.
Others are CSKA Moscow 7, Zenit Saint Petersburg 4, Spartak Moscow 3 etc.
This shows the high level of competition and consistency by Russian soccer teams in the Soviet era.
Ranking the biggest and the best football (soccer) teams in Russia
1. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Zenit Saint Petersburg is currently the eye of Russian soccer, leading in terms of performance in European competitions since 2008.
Led by Dick Advocaat, Zenit were able to win the UEFA Cup and Super Cup to maintain the existing tradition of Russian soccer teams on the continent.
Zenit Saint Petersburg is based in Saint Petersburg and plays its home games at the Gazprom Arena.
Founded in 1925, Zenit currently has one star above the club’s badge, following the success it has recorded in the modern era.
Zenit’s dominance currently could be to the substantial financial investment made by Gazprom, who took over the majority of the club’s shares and invested over $100 million on the club.
Trophies and Achievements
Soviet League era
The club had just one title in 1984, then Zenit Leningrad.
Russian Premier League
The club’s first title was in 2007 and three years later in 2010 to claim a second title. The Zenit have won eight league titles.
Zenit Saint Petersburg won the Soviet Cup once in 1944 against CSKA Moscow.
Zenit is a five-time Russian Cup winner.
Soviet Super Cup / Russian Super Cup
Zenit has won an impressive seven Super Cup titles.
The appointment of Dick Advocaat was the central turning point of the club’s history. The manager was able to assemble a trophy-winning side that could be seen as one of the fearless on the European continent at the time.
As his first assignment, Advocaat claimed the Russian Premier League in 2007 and represented Russia in the UEFA Cup.
Zenit finished third in Group A and qualified for the round of 32, where they met and eliminated Villarreal. Against the Spanish side, the Russians had to rely on away goals rule to advance to 16.
Zenit edged past Olympique de Marseille on away goals rule to reach the quarter-finals.
Against the Bayer Leverkusen in the quarter-finals, ‘The Zeniters’ did the unthinkable after eliminating the Germans in a 4-2 aggregate scoreline.
Zenit eventually qualified for the finals after a shock win over Bayern Munich. In the final played at the City of Manchester stadium in England, two goals from Denisov and Zyryanov were enough to edge past Rangers to the title.
Against all odds, Zenit edged past European giants Manchester United to the UEFA Super Cup in 2008.
Zenit Saint Petersburg is a traditional side of Russian soccer. Zenit rivals in Russia are FC Spartak Moscow, CSKA Moscow, FC Dynamo Moscow and FC Torpedo Moscow.
2. Spartak Moscow
FC Spartak Moscow is the most successful football club in Russia, having won record league titles in the Soviet Top League era and the Russian Premier League.
Spartak claimed 12 Soviet championships and a record 10 Russian Premier League titles. The Moscow based club have also won a record 10 Soviet Cups, 3 Russian Cups and one Russian Super Cup.
Spartak Moscow is the only club in Russia having four golden stars above the club’s badge, which makes it the most honoured team in the country.
Nicknamed ‘The People’s Team’, Spartak Moscow faced a decline despite starting brightly in the Premier League years with ten titles in the first twelve seasons.
2016–17 was another turning point in the club’s history after a spectacular performance led to club success in the Premier League.
It was a wise idea by the club owners, who considered a significant squad change that brought back its quick revival.
The top players signed by the club that formed the 2016/17 league winning side are Quincy Promes, Lorenzo Melgarejo, Fernando, and Zé Luís. Since then, the club has been consistent in all competitions.
Trophies and Achievements
Spartak Moscow is the country’s most successful team. The club doubles as most successful in the Soviet era and the modern era.
For Spartak, the only trophy missing in the trophy cabinet is European silverware.
The People’s Team won 12 Soviet Championships 10 Soviet Cups.
Spartak Moscow currently leads the all-time Premier League winners chart with ten titles.
In the Russian Cup, the Moscow based club have won 13 titles and one Super Cup.
Spartak Moscow rivalry
CSKA Moscow contest a heated rivalry with Spartak Moscow, often referred to as the Moscow derby. The match usually draws the largest crowds in the country behind Zenit.
Lokomotiv Moscow vs Spartak Moscow
This is the second city rivalry held by Spartak. Although not as intense as the other rivalry with CSKA, the rivalry is more of a friendly meeting.
Zenit Saint Petersburg is the next big rival of the club. It is often seen as a rival between giants of old and modern eras.
Since 2008 to date, Zenit Saint Petersburg has been considered the strongest team in the country.
3. CSKA Moscow
CSKA Moscow was a dominant force from 1946 until 1970 with five titles in six seasons across all Soviet competitions, including the League, Cup and Super Cup.
The club was revived in 2002 following significant changes with the introduction of essential players from the big leagues in Europe, Africa and the Americas.
The Moscow based club won its first Russian Premier League title in 2003 following an outstanding performance.
The club made back-to-back wins in 2005 and 2006 amid tough competition from Spartak Moscow and FC Zenit Saint Petersburg.
In 2005, CSKA Moscow won the UEFA Europa League to become the first Russian soccer team in the modern era to win a major European title.
Although every finger appears to be pointed at Zenit Saint Petersburg as the best team in the country in terms of squad depth and competitiveness, CSKA remains a relevant side.
Trophies and Achievements
The club’s best years during the Soviet era was after World W4r 2 when it won five titles in six seasons.
CSKA won seven Soviet Top League Championships and five Soviet Cups.
In 2005, CSKA Moscow defeated Portuguese giants Sporting CP in the UEFA Cup final to become the first club in Russia to win a European competition.
Backed by businessman Roman Abramovich’s Sibneft corporation from 2004 to 2006, the Army club won seven titles, including the UEFA Cup in 2005.
CSKA won six league titles in 1946, 1947, 1948, 1950, 1951, and 1970.
The army club won five cup titles.
Russian Premier League
CSKA lifted its first Premier League title in 2003 and began to win more titles until the 2015–16 season.
The club has won a total of thirteen titles.
The Army club has emerged winners of the Russian Cup twelve times.
CSKA are record winners of the Super Cup with seven titles.
In 2005 led by Valery Gazzaev, CSKA came behind with goals from Berezutskiy, Zhirkov and Vágner Love to lift the UEFA Cup.
PFC CSKA Moscow holds some of the biggest football rivalries in the country.
CSKA Moscow vs Spartak Moscow – Moscow Derby
The Moscow derby contested by CSKA Moscow and Spartak Moscow is the biggest soccer derby in the famous Moscow city and doubles as one of the biggest in Russia.
Other rivals are Dynamo Moscow and, at some point, Zenit Saint Petersburg.
4. Lokomotiv Moscow
Lokomotiv Moscow is one of the biggest soccer teams. The Moscow based club is the current record winner of the Russian Cup with nine titles.
Lokomotiv, often referred to as the railwaymen, were consistent in the Soviet League but could not win a single title.
The club’s major stronghold was in the Soviet Cup, where it won the championship twice.
Trophies and Achievements
The club could not win the Top League despite several attempts.
Lokomotiv won two titles.
Lokomotiv won the league title three times in 2002, 2004, and 2017–18.
The Steam Locomotives are record winners of the Cup with nine titles.
The club lifted the Super Cup three times.
The club’s main rivals are in Moscow city. Lokomotiv plays CSKA Moscow, Spartak Moscow, Dynamo Moscow and Torpedo Moscow.
5. Dynamo Moscow
Dynamo Moscow was one of the most successful teams in the Soviet era with eleven league titles, six cup titles, one Super Cup and were runners up in the 1971–72 UEFA Cup Winners’Cup.
Despite these remarkable achievements in the past, Dynamo Moscow is yet to win the Premier League or Super Cup in the modern era.
Trophies and Achievements
Dynamo won eleven league titles and was ranked third in the all-time winner’s chart.
Dynamo won six Soviet Cup titles.
Premier League and Super Cup
The club is yet to win any title in the modern era.
Dynamo Moscow won the Russian Cup once in 1994–95.
In overall statistics, the club has won seven titles, including six titles in the Soviet era.
The club holds a historical rivalry with Spartak Moscow, established in 1923.
Dynamo’s other rival is Lokomotiv Moscow.
Inside Interesting Football
6. Torpedo Moscow
Torpedo Moscow is one of the significant Moscow based teams with a good record in the country. Although it currently competes in the second division, Torpedo used to be a household name in the top flight.
Nicknamed ‘The Black and Whites’, Torpedo Moscow is one of the biggest soccer teams in Moscow who had success in the Soviet era. The club won three league titles and seven cup titles.
Torpedo’s rivals in Russia are Lokomotiv, CSKA, Dynamo, and FC Zenit Saint Petersburg.
7. Rubin Kazan
Founded in 1958, Rubin Kazan started to achieve success at the beginning of the 21st century when it won the Russian National Football League in 2002 to earn a promotion to the Premier League the following year.
Rubin Kazan had its breakthrough season in 2008 when it won the Premier League and successfully defended it in 2009. In the 2011–12 season, The Red-Greens won its first-ever Russian Cup.
The club also claimed the Super Cup twice in 2010 and 2012.
Volga Derby – Rubin Kazan vs Krylia Sovetov
Tatarstan Derby – Rubin Kazan vs KAMAZ
Rubin Kazan vs Amkar.
FC Rostov is a professional football club based in Rostov that competes in the Premier League.
The club won the Russian National Football League in 2008 to promote the Premier League.
In the 2013–14 season, Rostov won the Russian Cup and finished runners up in 2015–16 in the Premier League.
The popularity of soccer in Russia
Football is the most popular sport in Russia, played at the national and regional level. The sport boasts the highest number of participants across the country.
Also, one other good thing about football and how it relates to the Russian economy is the money generated by clubs across the country.
Top clubs like Zenit Saint Petersburg, PFC CSKA Moscow, Spartak Moscow are some of the richest in Russia. These clubs have attracted some of the best players in Europe and meet their demands financially.
But football did not stop at the club level only. The country has played host to several major international soccer competitions and is still open for more to be held.
Recall, Russia hosted the 2018 FIFA Club World with France emerging champions.
The country also holds the largest country to host the FIFA World Cup, once owned by the United States since 1994.
The tournament raised the stands of Russian soccer with the reconstruction development of several facilities, including stadiums across the country.
Today, Russia boast some of the most modern soccer stadiums in the world.
Performance of Russian teams in Europe
Historically, Russian teams have done well in UEFA competitions. In the last five seasons, the country has experienced a significant rise in terms of performance.
Teams currently performing at the highest level in European competitions are Zenit Saint Petersburg due to the heavy pitch investment.
UEFA Champions League
Zenit Saint Petersburg is the best Russian team in the UEFA Champions League, having played in the group stages consistently.
CSKA Moscow is another team that has performed well in the Champions League.
UEFA Europa League / UEFA Cup
The Army club became the first Russian club to win a major European trophy following the 2004–05 UEFA Cup success.
Zenit Saint Petersburg
The Senators claimed the European double following their successful outing in the 2008 UEFA Cup and the UEFA Super Cup.
Russian Premier League
The Russian Premier is a men’s professional soccer league contested by 16 teams. Winners of the league would represent Russia in the Champions League whilst the other top teams would be seeding for other European club competitions.
Russian Football National League
The FNL is the second-tier professional football league contested by 20 teams.
The Russian Cup is an annual national knockout cup competition played by all professional soccer clubs.
Russian Super Cup
The Super Cup is the curtain-raiser played by winners of the Premier League and Cup
Russian Women’s Football Championship
It is the highest women’s professional soccer league. The top teams in the country are Zvezda-2005 Perm, Energiya Voronezh, Rossiyanka, CSK VVS Samara, Ryazan-VDV and CSKA Moscow Women.
Competition in Russian soccer
Spartak Moscow led the way in the Soviet era with most titles in the Top League, followed by Lokomotiv Moscow, CSKA and Dynamo Moscow.
Since the establishment of the Premier League, it has been a completely different scenario.
Spartak Moscow continues its dominance from the Top League and has won over ten league titles in the Russian Premier League.
Although the last five seasons have been Zenit Saint Petersburg and CSKA Moscow, Spartak Moscow remains a significant force in the league.
For Zenit, Gazprom, one of Europe’s biggest energy giants, have invested heavily in the club in terms of players and infrastructure.
These and more have made the club a significant force not just in Russia but also on the continent.
In 2008, Rubin Kazan shocked Russia with the league title despite all top teams, including CSKA Moscow, Spartak Moscow and Zenit Saint Petersburg.
The competition in the division is open even though Zenit appears to be the leading team.
How to follow Russian soccer
You can follow Russian teams across various social media platforms. On television, top Russian competitions are available for Livestream on Vario platforms worldwide.