One could argue that Zenit St. Petersburg manager André Villas-Boas has been on a downward slide over the last several years. After snatching four trophies in his first season (2010-11) with FC Porto —most notably from winning the Portuguese league and the Europa League — people couldn’t stop talking about the young, often-serious-looking Portuguese manager as “the next Mourinho.” Everyone wanted to hear what he had to say.
After that one season at Porto, he moved to Chelsea. That didn’t work out. A year later he was at Tottenham, where he lasted a year and change, and was ultimately, perhaps criminally, replaced by Tim Sherwood.
Now, he’s freezing in Russia, albeit while leading Zenit team with some real talent on the books. The world is no longer listening to André Villas Boas with bated breath. Maybe that’s a good thing, because he’s saying some really, really, really dumb shit in public.
Russian soccer, as I’ve noted before, has a bit of a racism problem. Recently, Hulk, one of Villas Boas’ superstars at Zenit, said that he gets racially abused in almost every game he plays in Russia. The Brazilian international’s comments came while lending support to former Arsenal player Emmanuel Frimpong, who now plays in the Russian Premier League with Ufa. Last week, Frimpong was sent off for giving the crowd the finger after he alleged he was racially abused. The Russian Football Union investigated and said they didn’t find any evidence of abuse and suspended Frimpong for two games, as they’ve done to other players in the past who’ve reacted in a similar manner to racial abuse.
Villas Boas spoke to Sky News about racism in Russia on the heels of the Frimpong incident. “Obviously, there are occasional episodes with violence and racism, but I have seen the same in England, to the same extent. So I don’t see that it’s a problem,” he said.
To reiterate, Villas Boas spoke during the same week his player told the media that he was racially abused in almost every game he plays in Russia. To be fair, Villas Boas is the same man who blasted Torpedo Moscow fans for racially abusing Hulk earlier this year. “It’s a disgrace to football; it’s a disgrace to the public,” he said after the game in March. “That’s something that shouldn’t happen.” But the fact that I’d never heard Villas Boas address any of these issues in English soccer during his brief spells at Chelsea or Tottenham made my state-of-the-art bullshit detector explode.
What in the hell are you talking about, André.
“I think it’s not different to any other country,” he continued spewing to Sky Sports. “The World Cup has gone through South Africa, through Brazil, these countries have problems with violence, they have been wonderfully organized these World Cups.”
[Throws bullshit detector out the window because it’s steaming and beeping so loudly.]
Russian officials and others involved in Russian soccer have been wonderfully adept at deflecting racism charges over the years. Popular refrains include: Russia has problems just like everywhere else, we’re working on it, we didn’t hear any abuse, we’re investigating, and other wildly popular “it wasn’t us” hits.
Villas-Boas’ comments ignore the fact that there’s a huge difference between “problems with violence” and the targeting of racial and ethnic minorities in Russian soccer. Whether his oversight was due to utter stupidity, ignorance or evil calculation is unclear, but categorizing 200 incidents of discrimination in Russian soccer between 2012 and 2014 as “problems just like everywhere else” shows a huge disconnect from the truth. Saying a league in which a star player gets racially abused almost every single game is just like England sounds like someone struggling to cope with reality. If he’s being honest, however, it makes you wonder why he never said anything about this horrible problem in England. He doesn’t quite come out smelling like roses either way.
Unfortunately, the Zenit manager had more to say. And it didn’t get better.
“At least from my small experience in this country I had no problems whatsoever,” he said to an actual human being with Sky News, aware that his words would be written down. The experiences that I have gone through, I have gone through in other countries too.”
To recap: There’s a conversation about racism in Russian soccer this week. Dark skinned people are stating that they have been racially abused. One of Villas-Boas’s own players said he’s racially abused during almost every single game. Villas-Boas responds by saying that he, himself, André hasn’t had any problems in Russia whatsoever. Remember, André Villas-Boas looks like this:
No, André. No. Please stop it.
Villas-Boas, manager of the team whose fans have repeatedly stated they don’t want any black people on their team, has locked arms with other white, high-level Russian soccer figures to downplay Russia’s racism problem. Whether that’s because they struggle to put themselves into the shoes of people who keep saying they’re being victimized, they just don’t care, or other more nefarious reasons, is hard to determine. But, cumulatively, all of these false analogies and denials make it impossible to see how Russia could possibly be taking these racial abuse incidents, that have been been plaguing the Russian game for years, very seriously.