List of foreign footballers in European communist countries is a list that gathers all footballers that played as foreigners in the top leagues of the countries that had Communist regimes during 20th century in Europe. It lists the countries that formed the Eastern Bloc, COMECON, plus Yugoslavia which, despite politically being a Non-Aligned country during Cold war, it did in fact had a one-party communist regime. Albania, which was ruled by the Albanian Communist Party since the end of Second World War until 1991 is also included.
When communist regimes took power in countries of Central and Eastern Europe, club football in those countries suffered major transformations. Clubs were nationalised, and started to be part of a vast doctrine in which sports played a crucial role in the society. Clubs were reorganised in a way to follow this new doctrine imposed by the new proletarian regimes. Many previously successful clubs were disbanded, while new clubs representing and being backed by the various structures of the new regimes were created from their ashes. In Soviet Union communists took power in 1917, while in the rest of the countries the change of power happened in the Second World War. Most of the existing pre-war clubs were labeled as bourgeoisie, some also as monarchist or nationalistic, and ended disbanded. Only the ones which already represented labour class were kept active. To fill the vacuum, new clubs were created, which held names and symbols representative of the values communism promoted. Most popular names were Dynamo (Berlin, Bucharest, Dresden, Kyiv, Minsk, Moscow, Tbilisi, Tirana, Zagreb, etc.), Spartak (Moscow, Subotica, Trnava, Vladikavkaz, etc.; Sparta in case of Prague one) or Lokomotiv (backed by the railways, Durrës, Košice, Leipzig, Moscow, Plovdiv, Sofia, etc.; Lokomotiva for Belgrade and Zagreb). Another form was Železničar/Željezničar in Yugoslavia, meaning railway worker, examples Belgrade, Sarajevo, Smederevo, etc. Miners clubs were either known as Shakhtar in Soviet Union (Donetsk, Karagandy, Saligorsk, Sverdlovsk, etc.) or as Rudar in Yugoslavia (Kostolac, Pljevlja, Prijedor, Velenje, etc.) Metallurgical industry clubs were named as Metalurg (Donetsk, Rustavi, Skopje, Zaporizhya, Zestafoni, etc.), Metalist (Kharkiv) or Yugoslav version Čelik, iron (Nikšić, Zenica, etc.) Other names were Mladost meaning youth (Apatin, Bački Jarak, Kakanj, Lučani, Podgorica, Ugljevik, etc.), Sloboda meaning freedom (Novi Grad, Tuzla, Užice, etc.; Svoboda Ljubljana), Borac meaning fighter (Banja Luka, Čačak, Šamac, etc.), Jedinstvo meaning unity (Belgrade, Bihać, Bijelo Polje, Brčko, Ub, Užice, etc.), or, perhaps the most characteristic name of all politically left-wing founded clubs, the name Radnički, meaning Labourer's (Belgrade, Ivangrad, Kovin, Kragujevac, Lukavac, Niš, Obrenovac, Pirot, Sombor, Svilajnac, etc.; Rabotnički Skopje and RFK Novi Sad and RNK Split as well). Clubs were controlled by powerful structures within the regime such as the army or the interior ministries. Examples of "Army clubs" heldf usually names as CSKA (Moscow and Sofia) or Partizan (Belgrade and Tirana). Red Star, or just Star, was another popular name (Crvena zvezda from Belgrade or Gnjilane, Steaua from Bucharest, or Ruda Hvezda from Bratislava, but also there were Red Stars from Paris, Zurich, Seaham, Caracas, Huambo, Beira and even Chicago). Besides the name, the club emblems often were changed in order to display the communist symbology.
Besides the nationalization of ownership, change in names, and amblems, the communist regimes also changed the management and structure of the teams. While previously most clubs did their best to bring star coaches and players by attracting them with high salaries, communist regimes diverted the focus into the local academies and domestic players. Many countries adopted restrictions such as age-limits for players to move abroad, and the signings of foreigners became unpopular habits. This made that many leagues which had previously had a significant number of clubs where it was common practice to sign foreign coaches and players, teams became entirely composed of domestic stuff and players. That fact is what makes this list peculiar.
Yugoslavia, which has been the only European communist country outside COMECOM and Soviet influence, is unsurprisingly the pioneer in (re)opening their clubs to foreigners. Much more open than the rest of communist countries, and being the leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, Yugoslavia had a significant presence of foreign students in its universities coming from Third World counties. Among them, some continued practicing sports while in Yugoslavia, and cases of African players which were registered in lower and amateur Yugoslav leagues occurred throughout time. In the top-league, although rare, the cases of players from COMECON countries in Yugoslavia were the only cases of foreigners in these leagues for most of the 1950s till 1970s. In 1980s Yugoslavia starts having its first Africans and South-Americans in its league. With few cases, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Soviet Union follow suit.
Foreigners played major role in the beginnings of clubs in Russian Empire. However, after the 1917 Revolution and the creation of Soviet Union, the vast majority of foreigners left the country and clubs played exclusively with domestic players all the way until the fall of Communism in late 1980s. The Baltic states were incorporated into Soviet Union in 1945 and afterwards became closed to foreign exchange. Previously they had been majorly influenced by the Central-European school just as most of the other countries we cover here. Football appeared in this part of Europe while still most of these countries were part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Within the empire football became highly developed, and by early 20th century, football in these region was at pace with United Kingdom, Germany, France or Italy. The Central-European school became the avant-garde in football, and coaches from territories that was once Austro-Hungary were highly regarded throughout the globe. At the end of First World War, the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved, and the successor countries continued the tradition of its football school. Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland and Romania became the core that would compete against the few other football powerhouses. Prior WWII it was common to see Austrian and Hungarian coaches in all European top clubs, plus players, added by Czechoslovaks and Yugoslavs. In clubs of all these Central-European leagues, it was common to see coaches and players from other parts of Europe. However, when communists came to power, this practice was discontinued, and clubs were forced to develop their schools and focus on domestic players only. Between the 1950s and 1970s this was the reality of all countries. It will be at the 1980s that this reality slowly starts to change.
By late 1980 and early 1990s it is notorious the presence of Soviet players in these leagues. Mentality begins changing at this point, and signings of other communist-country players slowly open-way to signings of players from other parts of the world. In Yugoslavia, foreigners with Yugoslav origins also contributed to the massification of imports. However, in the entire region, it was the fall of Berlin Wall that marked the real shift, and the start of foreign players in these league. During the 1980s only a handful of players from other continents had been signed, mostly in Czechoslovak, Yugoslav and Hungarian leagues.
By late 1980s clubs from these countries started paying attention to world competitions. Signed were the players that shined at 1988 Olympics, cases such as of the Chinese players Jia and Liu brought by Partizan, Nigerian Okwaraji by Dinamo Zagreb, and Soviet goalkeeper Prudnikov by Velez Mostar, Zambians Chansa, Makinka and Mwanza signed by Soviet Second League Pomir Dushambe, while American Vermes was signed by Hungarian side Győri ETO .
It will be in 1990 that the world will see the emergence of clubs from communist countries competing to sign players in highlight at the 1990 FIFA World Cup. Dinamo Zagreb won the bid in signing Costa Rican duo Medford and Gonzalez, his compatriot Chavez signed with Inter Bratislava, Colombians Redin and Pimiento with CSKA Sofia, Algerians Bouiche and Haraoui with Ferencvaros and Slovan Bratislava respectively and Americans Trittchuh by Sparta Prague, Bliss by Energie Cottbus, and Caligiuri by Hansa Rostock.
Signings happened between these leagues started being more frequent. When Yugoslav Red Star was building their European and Intercontinental Cup-winning team in the late 1980s, their target became the Romanian international, one of main pillars and captain of Steaua that had won European Cup in 1987. Since Romania was still closed and didn't allow their footballers to emigrate, they convinced him to defect, and after an intense struggle with rivals Partizan, they signed him in 1989 although he had to wait an entire year for FIFA to allow him to debut in official games. After him, many others followed. Yugoslav Binić moved to Sparta Prague, Czechoslovak Jeslinek to Yugoslav Hajduk Split, Soviets Tatarchuk to Czechoslovak Slavia Prague, and Karavajevs and Ruzgys to Yugoslav OFK Belgrade. As this were still the beginnings of signings of foreigners, bad decisions also happened. A lower-half table side NK Osijek was not doing well in their campaign in the Yugoslav First League so to turn their luck they brought three Soviet players for trials. Two of them, Metlitskiy and Shalimo were granted a contract, while the third one, Andriy Shevchenko, was deemed as "not good enough".
Besides this high-profile signings, there was an increase in moves from one country to another. In Hungary for instance, there was a major influx of ethnic Hungarian players from neighboring countries.
American footballers were present as pioneers among the foreign-signings in these leagues. Examples are signing of Sullivan and Vermes with Győri ETO, Trittschuh with Slavia Prague, Caligiuri with Hansa Rostock, Bliss with Energie Cottbus, or Mullholland with Lokomotiv Moscow.
Brazilians, who will storm these leagues later in the new millennium, had its first player in this part of the globe in Yugoslavia. It was a goalkeeper with Croatian roots, Domingo Franulovic, who was signed in 1956 by a bottom-table club RNK Split. Giving the fact that Franulovic was of Yugoslav origin and possessed double-nationality, the first real Brazilian signing happened in 1990, when Yugoslav top-league side Spartak Subotica brought three experienced Brazilians to their squad, Jatoba, Marquinhos and Monteiro.
Although Argentinian Roberto Oreb spent some time during the 1950s with teams that would later form FK Zemun, he has failed to debut in the league. Next South American was Peruvian international Jose Moreno who joined Yugoslav side Dinamo Zagreb in 1980 but played only for reserves team. So presumably, the first South-American footballers to debut in the top-leagues of former-communist countries were the three Brazilians of Spartak Subotica in 1990. A years later, the first major influx of South Americans was registered in the region, with five Argentinians signing for Polish Ekstaklasa teams in 1991.
Although some Africans students were registered and even played in lower-leagues during previous decades, the first African major signings happened in the 1980s. The first was Nigerian Umoh who signed with Hungarian Ujpest in 1982, followed by Gabonese Delicat who signed with Yugoslav side Vojvodina a year later.
The first ever Chinese players to play in a top-league in Europe were Xie Yuxin and Gu Guangming, playing with FC Zwolle (Netherlands) and SV Darmstadt 98 (Germany).They had come in summer 1987, but just half a year later, Jia Xiuquan and Liu Haidong arrived in Belgrade and played in the Yugoslav First League for next year.
First Australian player was Socceroos international Eddy Krncevic who came to Yugoslavia and played three seasons with Dinamo Zagreb, between 1981 and 1984.
Below we have the list of foreigners that played in the leagues of communist countries in Europe. The list is divided by countries, and lists the nationalities of the players that played as foreigners. If the name of the player is bolded it means the player has senior national team appearances for their nation. Following players name is the club, or clubs in some cases, and next are the years the player has played at the club.
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