The decision taken this evening by UEFA to ban Russian clubs from its competitions does four things.
Firstly, it brings into sharp focus the way the decision to invade Ukraine has united the whole world in horror in ways Putin never expected; secondly, it serves as a warning to those in the game who have allowed the kleptocrats control of their clubs that the actions of their owners represents a danger to them; thirdly, it creates an interesting (to us) dynamic with the co-efficients, and lastly, it serves to remind us all that UEFA’s “leave politics at the door” stance has never been sustainable and, in fact, is manifestly nonsensical.
Let’s take these things one at a time.
Some people – in football and elsewhere – are going to maintain that it is unfair to target all of Russian society in the way these sort of sanctions do. But that’s sort of the point. These clubs have rich and powerful owners, and the objective with these measures, as with most of the sanctions, is to get Russia’s powerful ruling class to focus on the cost, to them, of this war.
If these people believe that they risk becoming international pariahs, what then?
Well, the hope is that they begin to blame Putin for this disaster, and begin to ratchet up domestic pressure for some kind of stand-down or ceasefire. Those people probably believed that they could be insulated from this war … but they were wrong.
As enablers of the regime, they are being held partly responsible for what it does … and this turns the screw on them, and they in turn will be expected to start lobbying him for an end to it.
And it could work. It is smart strategy.
The West might be about to demonstrate the ultimate worth of sanctions. If this succeeds we may well be watching a truly worthwhile change in how geopolitics works. The whole of the civilised world stands against Russia; it is inconceivable now for Putin to make a single gain from this disgraceful invasion.
The second point is more important in terms of the game itself.
It is a message to those football people who have allowed kleptocrats to take sizeable positions at clubs. For the first time, world football is speaking with a single voice and declaring certain things to be unacceptable. Once that Rubicon has been crossed, further debates will open up as to the kind of people football allows to corrupt and pollute the sport.
The Russian state and all of its principals are going to be excluded from the game until Ukrainian sovereignty is secured. But Russia is not the only global power engaged in human rights abuses and war.
The EPL has at least two clubs – Arsenal and Chelsea – with major Russian money moving through them.
The people who own Manchester City and Newcastle are no better.
There is so much dark money moving through the game that there was always going to come a moment of crisis, and once you conclude that the behaviour of Russia puts its oligarchs and allies beyond the pale it is a matter of time before the Saudis and others are given similar scrutiny.
Fans who applaud the influx of this dirty cash have already been warned that it comes with a taint; now the possibility raises its head that it will eventually come with other consequences, and not before time.
In fact, it is long overdue.
Thirdly, this will have an impact on Celtic which won’t be immediately apparent but will show up next season in various ways.
Russia’s suspension from UEFA means that two of its club effectively drop out of the co-efficient rankings, moving ourselves up two places and Ibrox up one. Their national co-efficient no longer matters either, but that is less important as Scotland currently sits tenth in Europe and Russia is eleventh.
In the standings at the moment, Zenit sits at 34, four places ahead of the Ibrox side. We are down in 48, an astonishing and shameful drop for us and one that we need to start putting right. Ibrox will move up to 37th with Zenit going.
Directly in front of us is Lokomotiv Moscow.
As things stand, we would take their place at 47th and with Zenit out of the picture we’d move up to 46th.
Directly behind us is CSKA Moscow, who should no longer be a factor in our deliberations as a club.
Someone, somewhere, will work out exactly what this does to our seeding position, and it may not even matter in the end depending on how long this crisis lasts, but the elimination of Russian clubs removes possible threats and bumps us up at least two rankings.
That will have an impact on us when it comes time for Group Stage draws.
The final issue here is that this shatters, once and for all, UEFA’s inconsistent stance on leaving politics at the door.
What they, and the world, are finding out is that this is neither positive nor sustainable. With debates now certain over who should be allowed to own clubs and what the standards are, UEFA needs to reckon with this fearsome contradiction.
Celtic fans have been sanctioned for bringing their politics into grounds.
Is it a stretch to say that standing up for the Palestinians when they face down Israeli tanks is necessarily different than supporting the Ukrainians as they face the military strength of Russia? Eventually UEFA has to decide what it actually stands for, and what they think football should stand for.
As with those clubs which accept all manner of dirty cash, this is a moment of truth which is way overdue and which will have everyone involved at the highest level in the game confronting their own conscience, and deciding what they care about.
The game will be better for that honest conversation and the reckoning that it will hopefully bring.
A precedent is being set here whether football likes it or not.