Why are ex-footballers moving to terrorist hotspots?

Over the past week, two of football's most recognisable ex-professionals have upped sticks and moved to some of the game's most improbable clubs. Both clubs are in countries and cities that the UN have regarded as 'high-risk': one of them is run by a former leader of a known terrorist organisation; the other, doesn't even exist.

So why have Ruud Gullit and Eric Cantona moved to two of the world's most absurd football clubs?

It's been 15 years since Ruud Gullit coined the phrase "sexy football", but now, the former Milan and Holland midfielder has the chance to implement his sexiness on the Russian Premier League side Terek. Based in Grozny, the capital city of war-frazzled Chechnya, Terek are currently the 12th best side in Russia (out of 16), and only survived relegation last season by three points. The Dutchman's new boss will be the infamous Ramzan Kadyrov: a boisterous former rebel fighter, who's militia are accused of widespread human rights abuse. Gullit's new job will take him to a belt of southern Russia which, in recent years, has been plagued by bombings, abductions and terrorist attacks. And yet, despite all of this, Kadyrov has ordered Gullit to finish within the league's top 5 this season.

Whatever the owner's expectations, taking on Terek will be quite a challenge for Gullit: as well as the oft-reported problems of racism within Russia (Gullit will be the first ever black manager in the Russian Premier League), there is also the issue of security. The club are formally known as Akhmat Abdulkhamidovich Kadyrov Terek (Grozny) Football Club, in honour of the current owner's father who, back in 2004, was blown up by Islamist militants during a military parade at the club's ground.

Of course, we all know why Gullit has taken up the opportunity to manage in one of the world's deadliest places: Roubles. A couple of million Roubles if reports are to believed. And according to Khaidar Alkhanov, Terek's vice-president, the big money moves won't be stopping at the Dutchman: "The club are in talks to buy one of the 10 best strikers in the world, who is currently playing in the English Premier League. The deal is almost done."

When Gullit left his position as manager of LA Galaxy back in 2008, he claimed it was because his family couldn't settle in California. Three years and a move to Chechnya later, it now seems evidently clear what the acronym 'WTF' was invented for.

It may not, on the face of it, seem as strange a move as Gullit to Chechnya. But Eric Cantona's move to the New York Cosmos to become Director of Football is in some ways even weirder; mainly for the fact that the New York Cosmos aren't an actual football team.

Back in the 1970's - when the USA was just beginning its love affair with the beautiful game - there was one team that attracted the biggest crowds and the best players. Based at the 80,000-seater Giants Stadium, the New York Cosmos were the side in NASL (North American Soccer League), winning five straight conference titles between 1977-1981.

Owned by Warner Brothers president, Steve Ross, the Cosmos were able to offer the most ludicrous wages to international stars: the team's marque signing, Pele, was famously the world's highest paid sports star, earning a reported $1.4million per year. Other world class players quickly followed: West Germany captain, Franz Beckenbauer, World cup winner, Carlos Alberto, and Dutch international, Johan Neeskens made the Cosmos almost unbeatable.

But the good times couldn't last forever, and Pele's retirement in 1981 signalled the end for the Cosmos. Attendances fell, the club's brand diminished, and eventually the franchise's profitability was nil. Three years later, not only did the New York Cosmos fall out of the league; the entire league itself disappeared.

A brief period playing in the Major Indoor Soccer League ended after only 33 games, and since the end of 1985 the New York Cosmos have failed to exist.

But a revival of the team and its brand is now in the pipeline. English businessman, Paul Kemsley, bought the Cosmos brand back in 2009 and instantly appointed Pele as the club's honorary president. Also on board are: former Liverpool CEO, Rick Parry, the Cosmos' all-time top goalscorer, Giorgio Chinaglia and now, Eric Cantona.

"I am very honoured to join the legendary club New York Cosmos" said Cantona, "It’s a big project, a wonderful project. The Cosmos are very strong, beautifully made, with a great past. It’s kind of a mix between football and art.  In addition to my artistic engagements, I will do everything that I can to help us first find our way to regain the #1 position in the United States, and then for us to become one of the best clubs in the world over the coming years."

After 25 anonymous years, a return to the league looks imminent for the Cosmos. Now, just the small matter of finding a few players.



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