The unexpected rise of a little-known defender with a very influential father has embroiled one of Russia’s top clubs in a high-profile dressing room spat over alleged nepotism.
For four years Boris Rotenberg Junior, 28, has warmed the bench at Premier League Dynamo Moscow after unsuccessful stints at a number of middling clubs.
The unremarkable fringe player would have drawn little attention had it not been for his father — Boris Rotenberg, a billionaire oligarch who is president of the club and a close friend of President Vladimir Putin.
Now the younger Rotenberg has moved centre stage after he surprisingly dislodged Russia’s international right back Alexei Kozlov to become a regular starter in the team.
Russia’s football experts have been split over the metamorphosis of Rotenberg Jr from a lifelong benchwarmer into a first-teamer at Dynamo.
Some consider the Rotenberg case to serve as an example of the nepotism rampant in local football and the country at large under Putin as the game comes under the international microscope ahead of hosting the 2018 World Cup.
– Dressing room bust-up –
The decision of Dynamo manager Stanislav Cherchesov to hand a place to Rotenberg sparked a row in the dressing room between Russian international Igor Denisov and the coach.
As a result Denisov, famous for his fine play but also his 2012 protest at Zenit St Petersburg, where he demanded a pay rise and walked out on the club for a month over the vast salary paid to Brazilian forward Hulk, was dropped from the team and put up for transfer.
Others, however, including French international teammate Mathieu Valbuena say Rotenberg’s persistence and diligence have won him a first team place.
“Rotenberg, like all Dynamo footballers, plays with passion,” Valbuena said in a recent interview.
“He gives everything he has to achieve the desired result. I can’t say anything bad about him.”
However, questions remain over Rotenberg’s sudden promotion given his record as a largely neglected substitute.
Rotenberg, who started playing football at the age of four in Finland, where his family migrated in the early 1990s, once had a trial with the youth team of English Premier League giants Chelsea, owned by Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich.
But nothing came of his trip to London.
Soon after returning to Russia, Rotenberg tried to impress Zenit St. Petersburg, the club owned by Russian state-run gas giant Gazprom. Again it was to no avail.
Following loans to Yaroslavl and Ramenskoye, where he played just five minutes in total, Rotenburg joined FC Khimki, a club sponsored by his father’s bank at that time.
He made 13 appearances for Khimki in 2009, but failed to help the club to avoid relegation.
After unsuccessful loans to Maccabi Tel Aviv and former Russian champions Alania Vladikavkaz, Rotenberg signed a contract with Dynamo Moscow in 2011 aided by Konstantin Sarsania, the FC Khimki sporting director when Rotenberg was there.
He did not play for the team until 2013, when his father — President Putin’s judo sparring partner in his youth — became club president.
– Interest from Finland? –
Rotenburg has shied away from commenting directly about the nepotism allegations.
“I play as much as I’m allowed,” Rotenberg said in a recent interview with Soviet Sport daily. “My main goal is to help the team.”
And his appearances for Dynamo’s first team have attracted the attention of Finland’s national manager Mixu Paatelainen.
Rotenberg, who holds Russian and Finnish citizenship, has been invited to a training camp this month for players on the fringe of Finland’s national squad, according to Finnish football officials.
“I have been working for this for a very long time,” Rotenberg commented on the international interest.
“And I’m very happy that my work hasn’t gone unnoticed. It shows that I am doing everything right.
“I consider myself to be Russian but for the moment it looks like the Russian team is not interested in my services.
“But I believe for me it’s not the end of the story. I’m set to continue my work to achieve further success.”