The Russian winter lasts for a long time, We joke that it’s eleven months of the year, though in fact it’s at most ten. The national transfer window always throws up a few shocks though precious few locals are ever moving outside of the country. We get the agent/journalist led frenzies like those surrounding Fedor Smolov, but most are simply Football Manager enthusiasts far from Russia and desperate for something to do when they’re told to switch off their computers for the evening and do their homework.
This winter break promised to be not different, yet two players have popped up on radars of European clubs without warning.
Far Eastern Promise
Who doesn’t love a good striker who can knock in a few goals? A team who needs someone who can find the back of the net regularly and those in title races or relegation battles value them more than most. Which is why Vladislav Sarveli has gotten interest from clubs in France and Germany. The striker is not physically imposing but has the intelligence and touch to be a regular 15-goal-a-season man in Germany or France, while racking up assists.
I first caught sight of him in the third tier of Russian football when he was with Chertanovo and one of the coaches of Lokomotiv Moscow’s second team (Kazanka) pointed him out as a star of the future – if he gets out soon. That was 2018 and he only moved to the top division in 2020. He’s with victims of St. Patrick’s Athletic, Krylia Sovetov Samara, and enjoying life in the amazing World Cup stadium on the Volga river. His teammate, Ivan Sergeev, was one of the shocks already with his move to league champions Zenit and instead of feeling positive, fans in Samara were immediately depressed. The club are safely in eight, though shorn of their second top scorer (Sarveli is top), there was no way Vlad would stay.
His reasoning is that rather than have free rein up front, he’d have no strike partner and thus would struggle to break 10 goals in a team that will end up in a relegation dogfight. Plus, the danger is always there that Samara will have money issues and fall even further. So he’s on the shopping block and Samara have unofficially turned away offers of €1.5million from a French Ligue Un side (FC Troyes) and are considering a €2.5million bid from the 1.Bundesliga.
He is worth it. He’s got pace, brains and ideal to play behind a front two or as a winger. He’s played all but one match in the league for Samara and bagged six goals. His workrate when not in possession gives him an edge over other Russian players. He won’t be 25 until October and travel is no issue for him. He’s from the Far, Far East of Russia and was developed by Chertanovo. If he goes now you’ll see him in Qatar this winter, should Russia qualify.
We’ve all heard of the rollercoaster of Anzhi Makhachkala and even some have heard of Dagestan. The republic in Russia’s restive North Caucasus became a destination for adventurous foreign workers in Russia in 2020-21 when international travel was reserved for diplomats and Russians.
The Agalarov family are Anzhi royalty. Ruslan Agalarov, with a single cap for Uzbekistan, was with the lower leagues up, down and back up. He’s currently Sports Director for former club Dinamo Makhachkala who were reformed in summer 2021 and are owned by ex-Russia manager Gadzhi Gadhziev.
Goran Aleksic, the well travelled Serb, is manager and captain of the team is Ruslan’s brother Kamil. While Ruslan played and coached solely in Dagestan, Kamil did venture outside for a few games with Rostov and Chernomorets. But it is Ruslan’s son, Kamil’s nephew, that has grabbed the attention of teams in Italy and Spain.
Gamid Agalarov is now starring for FC Ufa and already in Russian senior squads. Only 21, I felt like he’s already in his late-20s as he’d already been on the radar in 2018 when he made his top flight debut with an Anzhi team his father had gotten promoted. After moving to FC Ufa, turning down offers from Moscow clubs in 2020, he has been developing nicely. A short loan to Volgar Astrakhan saw him develop into a dangerous front man and he has been ripping up pitches so far this season with 13 goals in 19 league and cup matches.
€5million came in from Serie A, allegedly Fiorentina, though there is little evidence that it was them. There was an offer, according to the Ufa, though they are tightlipped over the suitor. Agalarov is worth far more than this and although he will never be a great goalscorer or even a scorer of great goals once outside of Russia, he is a very good player. The move to Ufa surprised many as the family are very traditional and of the pure Dagestani model. Kamil is a limited midfielder, Ruslan was a dogged runner who liked to tackle. Gamid is strong, yet he can read the game so well and meets the ball.
Some Russian journalists were bigging him up to English clubs, though Gamid has stated a preference to stay continental. In Spain he has been linked to Valencia, though this has been through countryman Denis Cheryshev talking him up. Whether the Spaniards would cough up the €15million Ufa want is open to debate. Sampdoria are interested and it is they who most likely put in the December bid. Gamid to replace or assist ageing Fabio Quagliarella is a good move for them, but for him? No matter where he is, he’ll be in Russia’s squad in Qatar.
Russian players have a habit of not doing the business once they leave home. Some take longer than others to settle in and in this age of do it yesterday or be slaughtered online, clubs do not want to spend €10million on a prospect who bounces around on loan deals. If they’re from Brazil, Nigeria, England then ok. But buying in a player like Agalarov who is already in national team squads, an immediate impact is required.
That’s the buyer side. From the player’s, it’s more complex. Seven years ago I wrote of the difficulty in getting Russian players to look abroad and push themselves. Two years prior I’d outlined the core problems that foreign clubs faced in getting players to settle. Both of these players, Vladislav and Gamid, will have difficulties. We see at Atalanta the chat within the club regarding Aleksei Miranchuk. He’s in a wet week and they’re already touting him out for a loan move. A 26-year-old, fully rounded, quality international player and they want to loan him back to a Russian club.
On the up side, Russian players are far more informed and able to get into the multicultural beat than ever before. Sarveli made a big move as a youngster to Moscow and then out to the provinces, thriving with each move. Agalarov was freed from the suffocating Dagestani environs and is blooking in Bashkortistan. Both are able to speak English (to varying degrees) and will pick up a new language without great difficulty. The chances of successful transitions abroad for both are far higher than when I was writing seven years ago.