Towering gladiator statue tells Russian soccer's history
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MOSCOW — He towers over the crowds at Moscow's Spartak stadium, a metal gladiator atop a vast football.
The meaning of the 25-meter high monument outside one of Russia's Confederations Cup stadiums is rarely clear to foreign fans, even as they shoot selfies in front of the giant.
Some reckon he's an ancient Greek warrior while others have no clue at all.
In fact, he represents the revolutionary history behind Russia's champion club, Spartak Moscow, and how it keeps an underdog mindset even when it's on top.
The club switched names repeatedly in the years following the Russian Revolution of 1917. Seeking a name to stand the test of time, the club's founders, the Starostin brothers, and their friends looked for something that mixed revolutionary ideals with fighting spirit.
They found it 2,000 years in the past with the slave gladiator Spartacus, who rebelled against the Romans. Even though his army was eventually crushed, his memory lived on to inspire Karl Marx and German communists, so Spartak's new name had impeccable revolutionary pedigree. The club officially adopted the name in early 1935.
The gladiator standing in front of Spartak's stadium doesn't have the good looks of Kirk Douglas, though. He's a scarred old warrior with deep gouges in his shield, worn down by battle.
On closer inspection, the ball on which he stands is barely a ball at all. Part is a twisted mess designed to look like scrap metal, evoking Moscow's industrial past.
But it's also for show, a nod to the proletariat in a sport now all about big bucks. After all, the stadium was built with the oil money of billionaire Leonid Fedun, a post-Soviet oligarch grown rich on privatized assets.
The statue's part of another revolution now — it's a brand icon, transforming Russia's top soccer club into a commercial giant.