WE have a new feature at RFN that will offer a discussion amongst our diverse collection of experts. We will touch on hot subjects and issues in Russian football and share different opinions on the latest in Russian football.
Rob – @RobDillonMTA – a journalist who specializes in Russian football, he is also the Editor of morethanarshavin.wordpress.com
Pavel – @russianpotter – a Nizhny Novgorod-based young journalist and Spartak supporter, Volga attendee
Andy – @AndyShenk – a Moscow based writer and Russian language translator, Andy supports Anzhi
John – @JohnSager – Russian football fan from California and Zenit support
1) After the latest issues with Shirokov and the Zenit Ultras outlined here on RFN, where do you predict Shirokov will be next year?
ROB: I actually wouldn’t be too surprised if he ends up staying with Zenit – that relationship has always been tumultuous at best, but he’s a key part of that Zenit team and is one of their more consistent performers. If the club do decide to cut their losses he’ll probably end up in England, but I suspect the Italian game might suit him a little better. The problem is that a lot of his value to Zenit comes as part of the central trio, so if he moves his new side will have to allow him time to develop those relationships, and time isn’t on his side.
ANDY: He’s not going to be back at Zenit. Based on what’s he said in the past, I think he’s going to try to move to an English club. That’s where I’d put my money. He’s not being pursued by any big foreign clubs that I know of, but I think he’ll settle with a respectable EPL squad and have a couple decent years over there.
The more likely bet, of course, is that he moves to Spartak or Anzhi, but I have a feeling Roman would like to get out of Russia for a while, rather than stir up even more controversy with a high-profile move within the country.
PAVEL: Let’s not exclude the possibility of staying at Zenit. He’s a top player and every PL team would want him. However, I think he’ll go either to CSKA (he started his career there and respects the club) or to Anzhi (money, also he’s from Moscow district). Maybe he could move to Europe, but his age…
JOHN: Shirokov is not the brightest guy, full of outlandish comments and not afraid to rattle the cages. However, this is possibly what turned him into the late bloomer that became a key cog for Zenit and the Russian national team. His runs to the box and finishing development have provided an important link to Zenit. I think it can all be patched over and Spalletti is part of the blame, but will it? I think he is too old for Europe. He’ll stay in Russia, most likely being transferred for a fee under his value to a Moscow club (but not Spartak).
2) Dzagoev also stirred up some trouble. Will he ever calm down and where do you see him playing next year?
ROB: For me, Dzagoev is staying at CSKA. They’re champions, have no need to sell, he doesn’t seem to be angling for a move, and while there’s been talk of Roma coming in for him and the odd English team, his temperament is always going to cast a shadow over him. He will calm down, but probably not for a couple of years, and not to the extent that Slutsky and Capello would probably like. With Keisuke Honda possibly leaving the club, there’s going to be even more onus on Dzagoev to become primary playmaker, and the hope is that the increased responsibility leads to increased maturity. I personally don’t see it, it’s just not in his character to bottle his passions.
ANDY: I see Dzagoev staying at CSKA for a few more years. He didn’t have a great season and Evgeny Giner will want to hold on to him for a while longer, so he can get maximum dollar when CSKA do sell him.
CSKA coach Leonid Slutsky said about Dzagoev recently that his fiery temperament may be one of the reasons he’s such a good player. Slutsky agreed that Dzagoev can fly off the handle, and should mature with age, but that he’s worried that if Dzagoev mellowed out entirely he wouldn’t do as well on the field. He compared Alan to John McEnroe, another hotheaded athlete who was extremely successful.
PAVEL: At least, he’s not Balotelli. But Caucasians were never cold-blooded, so, probably, it’s just the mentality mixed with happiness after winning the first major trophy in his career. He will calm down, when he becomes older. I think he can move now. He won the championship, he proven he’s along the best league players… it’s the best time. Especially if the Dortmund and Tottenham bids are true. He must RUN there.
JOHN: Dzagoev will be off for the right transfer fee this summer – the only question is if the fee will get there. I think European teams will be hesitant to pay his true value to CSKA for a young Russian at this point in time, so in the end he will end up staying. In terms of calming down, does he need to or do we want him too? He has a great passion and work rate, and it is better that it stays that way.
3) CSKA clinched the title this past weekend. What do you attribute their title to?
ROB: Consistency. They’ve only lost five games this season, and two of those were in the first three games. Since then the only defeats have been at Anzhi and Rubin, and at home to a Dinamo team on a superb run. They may have lost to their direct challengers, but what they haven’t done is throw away the cheap points against the league’s lesser sides, something that has blighted the campaigns of their rivals.
I also think Leonid Slutsky has to take a lot of credit. He’s not the Russian Mourinho as some would have you believe, and he looks like he wants to be anywhere else but the dugout, but considering his team were without a recognised centre forward for much of the year, Seydou Doumbia and Tomas Necid both being out, he’s done very well to adapt. The defense has won it for them – 22 goals conceded is a fine record – but bringing back Vagner Love and creating the right blend in midfield to both stifle and create has been key. Considering they don’t have quite the same resources as Zenit and Anzhi, it’s a great win.
ANDY: A well-run club, first of all, then experience and talent. Zenit and Anzhi had just as much ability, if not more, but were done in by conflicts, controversies and inexperience. The same would be true of Spartak, Dinamo, Lokomotiv. Rubin just aren’t good enough to make a run at the title now, it seems, despite a largely successful and consistent season.
Anyway, CSKA kept out of the spotlight for most of the season, apart from a few Dzagoev incidents and the rocky start in the summer. The defensive line stayed healthy, which kept the team in a lot of games even when the offense was weakened by injuries. The team was very unified, as part of the “well-run club” aspect. With leaders like the Berezutski brothers, Ignashevich and Akinfeev, who’ve been around forever, you knew the team was disciplined and would stick up for each other when times were hard. The 3-2 win at Volga in the fall, after trailing 2-0 at halftime, was a great early sign of the team’s resilience and the match that Slutsky referred to as key in his team’s championship run.
PAVEL: Stability over the season, simple as that. Plus, all the opponents had serious troubles during the season.
JOHN: CSKA made excellent signings before this season (as they usually do). The return of Love, the development of Musa, and smart additions such as Rasmus Elm contributed to a good team on paper. I also believe as a team it is good to tactically play ‘against the grain’ so to speak. So CSKA going on the attack a bit more than other teams allowed them to be on the front foot. Anzhi and Zenit did not prove to be significant contenders in the end either.
4) What was your surprise of the last weekend?
ROB: It’s three-fold for me – a poor Krylia side beating a Europe-chasing Rubin, Spartak winning a crunch game away from home in Krasnodar, and Dinamo losing at Alania.
That game is particular was crazy – Dinamo has most of the ball and the chances, but one break and Alania capitalised. For a team which had only won three games prior to it, it was a strong defensive performance and Petrescu will be kicking himself at letting it slip. More shocking still was the mass brawl that broke out after Kokorin’s tackle on Neco. Four red cards, two per team, and the suspensions of two key players combined with the defeat could really damage Dinamo’s European aspirations. For a team which has been in superb form for the second two thirds of the season, to see them implode like that was highly unexpected.
ANDY: I have to go with two matches – Dinamo and Rubin both losing to outsiders to complicate their Europa League hopes. Dinamo were bound to slip up at some point, I guess, but with Kokorin starting alongside Kuranyi, it’s crazy they weren’t able to score against Alania. Krylia Sovetov have been pretty decent this spring, but, again, it was shocking to see Rubin give up the first Maksimov goal, which made it 2-0. That was pretty bad defending from a team that really needed to win and prides itself on its back line. Good job to Alania and Krylia Sovetov. Overall, the bottom six have been better this spring than I expected. It’s a shame they weren’t this competitive in the fall.
PAVEL: There were no surprises. Dinamo had to lose once. CSKA had to win the league. Anzhi needed their third place. I hadn’t expected Spartak to win at Krasnodar, but that’s more fan pessimism and anger than analysis. So, nothing to be surprised about.
JOHN: I was surprised that Dinamo managed to lose against Alania. Dinamo are now on the outside looking in to Europe, and due to a loss to a relegated team with serious issues. I was also surprised by Anzhi’s celebration at finishing third. I consider not competing for second to have been a disappointment, but all things need to be kept in perspective. Anzhi will be a stronger team next year and the battle for the two Champions League spots will be intense.
5) Last week we discussed Alania, but what about the other relegated team – Mordovia. What do you see in their future? Will they be a one year wonder or be back in the RPL?
ROB: I think I’d prefer it if they stayed away – they never really added anything to the league, and Saransk is a city that never deserved a World Cup spot. Mordovia themselves should probably be bankrupt by now, and would be if it weren’t for the circus surrounding Gerard Depardieu, and in my mind there are far more deserving teams waiting in the wings.
On the other hand, new boss Dorinel Munteanu looks like he knows he what he’s doing, and staying on in the second tier gives them a great chance to escape straight back up. The current First Division is quite tight outside the two sides who will be promoted in Ural and Tom, so it shouldn’t take much for them to make a promotion push if they can keep their key players together. You have to remember that they destroyed the league last time out, and their squad now is stronger than two years ago. They could well become a yo-yo club in the style of Kuban, but I doubt they’ll ever convert that into the progress the Krasnodar club have made. However, they need to do it before the money dries up, otherwise we won’t be seeing much of them again.
ANDY: Everyone can see improvement in Mordovia this spring. Ruslan Mukhametshin, with 10 goals in the campaign, may be the most underrated player in the RPL. I really have no idea if they’ll be back next year, but with the World Cup headed to Saransk in 2018 and the new stadium already under construction, I’m sure they’ll be back sooner rather than later. There’s a lot of competition right now for a place in the RPL and I only see it increasing in the next few years, so I don’t know what Mordovia’s long-term future is, but I think the team will be in the top flight more often than not in the build-up to 2018.
PAVEL: Their future mostly depends on Munteanu. If he stays, they’ll return in a year, I believe. If not (he really deserved a couple of bids), everything could happen. Second Division in a year or two – it wouldn’t be such a shock to see them fall further. The Premier League, generally, doesn’t need Saransk in it, in my opinion.
JOHN: The FNL is not a desirable league to be in – short on money, with a treacherous schedule and a lot of games. I can’t make any predictions beyond that if they spend money, they will do well. Munteanu appears to stay and Mordovia’s form in the second half of the season was better than relegation. The fact that they will be a World Cup city means they will likely see money in some form to keep the talent there and compete for promotion again.