Green shoots – Russian talent worth taking a punt on

Yes, I agree, I’ve complained long and loud about the lack of talent in Russia, or at least players who are worth taking a punt on.

So during the holidays I sat down with a couple of locals to go compile a list of three (we began with 40+) Russian stars in the making.

We had a short, semi-scientific criteria and some observations from inside the lines. We avoided the obvious – Miranchuks, Zobnin – and with Gabulov’s move to the Belgian league, decided not to limit it to just saplings.

However, we did it as the best under-25 Russian Footballers. In five years it’ll be interesting to see who has moved on, up or down after a less scientific piece in 2013.


1) As mentioned above, under-30 is the first stipulation. It would be hard to pry away a player who is 30+, not to mention unless they’d decent English/German/French they’d have a very difficult time fitting in.
2) Injury-free and playing regularly, if they’re to move this month they need to make an impact right away.
3) Physical and mental toughness, this would give them the chance to hit the ground running and build confidence to grow into their new environs.
4) Foreign language capability, either they speak a foreign language or have the intelligence and ability to learn in a hurry, the reason is obvious – they cannot do a Pavlyuchenko.
5) Potential for outside Russia, sounds odd but there are players here who have potential far greater than they will ever realise in the local system. Whether it is playmaking, goalscoring or simply freedom to express themselves, in foreign climes they will blossom.

The list of Russian footballers who have moved abroad and thrived is surprisingly short. High profile transfers have been rare and at the highest level only Andrei Kanchelskis and Alexey Smertin can be truly said to have flourished.

Aleksandr Mostovoi, Igors Kolyvanov, Valery Karpin and Igor Shalimov did well in Spain.

A host of others, like Dmitry Bulykin who scored 35 in 70 Eredivisie games for Ajax, Den Haag and FC Twente, were solid exports and capable of more with a little fortune.

Some carved out solid careers in less spectacular venues, Stanislav Cherchesov in Austria, for example.

But the flops are too many to go into. So we hope our criteria and inside knowledge will limit the Arshavin-type whinging before hiding on a wing situation.

Aleksandr Tashayev – Dynamo Moscow

Aleksandr was just 14 when my colleague spotted him in the FC Moscow youth section. We were working with the club on a partnership project and while the club fell apart, there were some superb youngsters coming through.

We kept tabs on him and while he didn’t sign for our company in 2010 (he was with Dynamo), he was a youngster capable of greater things.

His ability to work differentiates him from other Russian footballers, one of our brain trust said – “He fears nothing and just needs lots of game time.”

f medium height and build he doesn’t bruise easy and at 23 years of age is at least five years away from peaking.

He is physically and mentally tough, having been knocked back and around by a number of clubs. He’s played 18 of Dynamo’s 20 competitive matches this season, scored against Spartak, Rostov, Anzhi and SKA.

He’s in his fourth season with the club, third in the Premier League, and stuck around to help Dynamo return from the graveyard Football National League (FNL).

He is two-footed by primarily used on the left side of midfield. He has a bit of English, more than enough to get by. He’s played under-19 and 21 for Russia. He loves cutting in from the left, switching the ball to his right and having a rattle.

He’s more than a playmaker, winger or simply worker, he has the ability to turn matches around.

Summary: Yes for all criteria, we rated him at 36 (out of 50) with his highest mark for injury-free and playing regularly: 10; his lowest being Foreign language: 5.

Destination: Holland – he’d have 2 good seasons in the Eredivisie to hone his ball skills, learn Dutch/English, and go to Germany. He’d settle nicely into a mid-table Bundesliga side.

Ivan Ignatyev – FC Krasnodar

What club would ignore a major striking talent? Which club could ignore a veritable finished package? A kid who was recruited from Siberia to Krasnodar at just 13 years of age and with a little polish was launched into Russian National Underage teams two years later.

To date he has played in every age group with his breakthrough coming in in 2016 when he began paying professionally with Krasnodar’s farm team, Krasnodar-2, in the Second Division.

Scoring 13 in 13 for the Russian u-18s, Ivan was already a must watch talent in the country.

After splitting time between Krasnodar-2 and Krasnodar Youth teams, he amassed many plaudits. Last season he topped the Premier Youth League scoring charts with 21 goals (23 matches).

He’s scored 10 goals in four games in the UEFA Youth League (Domestic Champions Path) this season, 16 in 16 matches in the Russian Premier Youth League and in his four matches in the Premier League he’s scored twice.

While Fedor Smolov was out injured, he was able to score in the Europa League 3rd round against Red Star Belgrade in a way which is typical of him. With Smolov back, Ivan is destined to endure the usual Russian nonsense of a trip down the divisions which will strip him of the opportunity to develop.

Strikers like him need to be let off the leash, backed and believed in. Instead he’ll bump around the FNL and Second Division before falling out of football, a never was.

He speaks English, he doesn’t get injured and is mentally and physically strong. Just under six feet tall, he needs a little meat on his bones, though as a newly minted 19 year-old striker he’s better off working on his potential of popping up to meet crosses.

Grabbing him now and cherishing him would mean in four years time selling him on for $50-60 million.

Summary: Yes for all criteria, we rated him at 39 (out of 50) with his highest mark for injury-free and playing regularly: 10; and his lowest being playing regularly at the top level: 4.

Destination: England, as an investment. He’ll start playing for the Russian National Team soon enough so Home Office apparatchiks will be happy. In the meantime, for two seasons, he goes on loan to play 1st team, top flight football in Belgium and Germany.

Daler Kuzyayev – Zenit St. Petersburg

Daler is from Tajik footballing royalty, for what it’s worth.

Daler’s Grandfather Kabir played with Energetik (now CSKA-Pamir) Dushanbe and his Granduncle Makadest played for Dinamo St. Petersburg. His Father, Adyam, had a whistle stop tour of lower level clubs out on the Volga and Urals after starting his career in Tajikistan.

It was at one of these spots, in Naberezhnye Chelny, where Daler was born. Soon to turn 25, he is a gifted midfielder who found his way from Gazovik Orenburg (where his Father played and was coaching) to St. Petersburg.

From Russia’s Northwest he had to prove himself through Zenit’s youth system and began his pro career at Second Division Petrozavodsk while still a teenager, with a handful of appearances on loan for SMU-303 in the local amateur league.

Next up was a return to Tatarstan where he was born and Neftkhimik Nizhnikamsk.

He survived the FNL and was brought to Terek Grozny. Four seasons and 75 matches later and he was back in St. Petersburg and Zenit’s first team.

As well as 19 matches for Zenit, he picked up four caps for Russia in the Autumn. He is medium height and build, but very big of heart – he is tough and has fought to get where he is. In Mancini’s chaotic system he’s won a midfield spot.

He’s deceptively tricky moving with the ball at his feet, hard tacker, has some English and doesn’t shirk a tackle.

Like Tashayev he’s scored four goals this season though would have more if he weren’t used as a workhorse for more sheltered team-mates.

Summary: Among Russian footballers, we rated him at 38 (out of 50) with his highest marks for potential and playing regularly: 10; his lowest being Foreign language: 6.

Destination: Germany – he’d slot right into a midtable team like Eintracht Frankfurt and be immediately effective. Long term he would be a good buy for a Burnley type team in England.

 Best of the rest

There were at least four more Russian footballers who I could, or should, have added to this article.

Ignatyev’s team mate Ilya Zhigulyov (21) could blossom in Belgium. Anton Shvets (24) of Akhmat Grozny was spotted by my former colleagues eight years ago, just before he moved to train with Real Zaragoza. He had 137 games (9 goals) in Segunda B for Zaragoza B and Villareal B.

He played a friendly for Russia and has been very solid for Akhmat (three goals in 15 games).

Lokomotiv Moscow product, and now Rubin Kazan starlet, Rifat Zhemaletidinov (21) is big, strong and explosive dribbler. He would set hearts racing in France and in three to four years be unstoppable for a season in England.

Yes the track record of Russian footballers moving abroad is nothing to get hot over. The youth production pipeline has sprung a few leaks and too many are arriving in the pro ranks under equipped for the task.

Yet there are some worth taking a punt on. The price will not be too high for a decent sized club in Europe to bring in a development player, though as pressure grows for instant results, Russian footballers moving as development players is still a way off.

The Author

Alan Moore

Russian-based sports journalist, commentator, radio host & consultant. Worked with major clubs including Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt, Lokomotiv and Spartak Moscow. Current host of Capital Sports 3.0, former international boxer and semi-professional footballer and FIFA World Cup commentator.

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