After Russia reached the semi-finals of Euro 2008, it was only natural that many of their players were sought after by European clubs. By August of the following year, Andrei Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and Yuri Zhirkov had all made their way over to the Premier League.
Almost ten years have passed since that tournament, and since Arshavin’s four goals at Anfield, Russian players have had little to boast about in Europe. Currently, there are only two players in Europe’s top five leagues who hold a Russian passport; Denis Cheryshev (Villarreal) and Konstantin Rausch (1. FC Köln), neither of whom have received their football education abroad. Many other players have been linked with moves to Europe’s elite leagues, though, and today, we will take a look at the most likely of them to make the move.
5. Alan Dzagoev, 26, CSKA Moscow
Alan Dzagoev started his professional career at Akademiya Tolyatti at the age of 15, where he played 37 games and scored six goals. At the age of 17, he moved to CSKA Moscow for a fee of €400,000. It didn’t take him long to implement himself into the starting 11 at the club, and by the age of 18, he became an important member of CSKA’s team, and was chosen as Best Young Player of the Year in 2008 by the Russian Football Union.
In his nine years at CSKA, Dzagoev has made 291 appearances, scoring 65 goals and assisting 80 in that time, helping the Army Men to three league titles, four Russian cups and two Super Cups. As well as this, he has made 51 caps for Russia, in which he has scored nine and assisted seven.
Being a former wonderkid, Dzagoev is no stranger to rumours linking him to clubs abroad. He was always highly rated, and after scoring three times in the group stage of Euro 2012, and being one of Russia’s bright sparks in a disappointing campaign, Dzagoev was linked with big money moves to Chelsea, Manchester United, and Arsenal. He has often said that he dreams of playing in Europe, and in an interview during Euro 2012, he said that he was ready to make a move. No move materialised, though, and five years later, Dzagoev still plays for the Red-Blues.
Now he believes that he can still offer a lot to any clubs that are willing to take a chance on him. A number of hamstring injuries have limited his games this season, but Dzagoev still remains hopeful of one day playing in Europe’s top leagues, saying in an interview on the 27th of January 2017, that he is ready to move to England, but no clubs are willing to take him. His most recent transfers links have been to Everton and West Ham, and with two years left on his contract at CSKA Moscow, a transfer to Europe is very possible. CSKA depend on transfers, so if the right bid arrives, they won’t stand in Dzagoev’s way.
4. Vyacheslav Karavaev, 21, Sparta Prague
Vyacheslav Karavaev is a graduate of CSKA Moscow’s academy. Naturally a right-back, Karavaev always knew that it would be a tough task to get ahead of Mario Fernandes in CSKA’s starting eleven. Therefore, t the age of 19, having played just two RFPL games for the Army Men, he moved to Dukla Prague on loan. Another loan move to Jablonec was to come, as Karavaev was moving up the ranks in the Czech First League. In 2016, he moved to Sparta Prague on a permanent deal for €1 million, a move which was later deemed the best transfer of 2016 in the Czech Republic by iSport.cz.
Karavaev has also made 57 appearances for Russia’s youth teams, from U16 up to U21s, but is yet to play for the senior team. He has established himself as one of Sparta’s most important players, and featured in all of their Europa League games this season, and even managed to score against Rostov in the round of 32, which turned out to be the end of the road for the Czech side.
Karavaev is now aged 21, and if his progress continues, it is very likely to see him move to a European league. In an interview last December, he revealed that CSKA have a buy-back clause in his contract, but also that he prefers to play in Germany or Spain someday, and his wish to play for the national team could forge a move to happen as soon as this summer, if he is to make the squad for the World Cup in 2018.
3. Aleksey Miranchuk, 21, Lokomotiv Moscow
Aleksey Miranchuk is one of Russia’s most creative and talented young players. He started his footballing career in his home town Slavyansk-na-Kubani, where he played for local side Olymp. After this, Aleksey and his twin brother, Anton, moved to Moscow, where they joined Spartak’s youth ranks. Not long later, they were both released from the club due to insufficient physical abilities. The pair moved on to Lokomotiv, where they both graduated and became professional footballers.
He made his debut for the Railroaders in 2013, at the tender age of 17, and in the following season, he was recognised as the best under-21 player of the Russian Football Premier League.
In 2015, Miranchuk’s career had moved on to another level, as he helped Lokomotiv Moscow secure the Russian Cup with a fantastic solo-goal in extra time, and less than three weeks later, he played his first match for the Russian national team, in which he also scored his first goal. By the end of September, Miranchuk had been recognised by Lionel Messi’s ‘Backed by Messi’ campaign alongside other great young players like Timo Werner, Gyasi Zardes, and James Wilson.
In July 2016, Miranchuk told press that he would be interested in playing in Europe. A move was not to be, however, and after rumours of him catching the eye of a number of teams in Russia and abroad, he almost joined Rubin Kazan in the winter transfer window, leading some people to criticise his motives. Luckily for Lokomotiv, the move didn’t happen.
The 21-year-old’s contract runs out at the end of 2017, and as it seems to be unlikely for him to sign a new deal, the summer transfer window could be a good chance for clubs abroad to sign a truly talented playmaker at a cheaper price, and a great opportunity for Miranchuk to showcase himself in Europe.
2. Fyodor Smolov, 27, FC Krasnodar
In 2014, if you had have said that Fyodor Smolov would be Russia’s best player, people would have thought that you were crazy. After graduating from Master-Saturn Yegoryevsk football academy, the striker joined Dinamo Moscow, where he would become the first player born in the 1990s to play in the RFPL. Smolov was partnered up with another young talent, Aleksandr Kokorin, and as Kokorin started to establish himself in Dynamo Moscow’s team, Smolov was sent on loans to Feyenoord and twice to Anzhi, and had a goal drought of 947 days.
In the 2014/2015 season, Smolov was sent on loan to FC Ural after once again failing to make a difference at Dinamo. This would turn out to be the tipping point in his career. In 22 league games, Smolov managed to score eight goals, one more than he managed in his previous 132 matches in all club competitions, and in the process, helping Ural avoid relegation.
After leaving Dinamo on a free transfer in 2015, Smolov joined Krasnodar. In his first season for the Bulls, he scored 20 goals and provided nine assists in 29 games in the RFPL, and became top scorer ahead of players like Quincy Promes and Hulk.
No European club was willing to gamble on Smolov in the summer of 2016, and a poor performance from Russia at the European Championships did not help his case. It is said that Lille were one of the clubs interested in him. Their loss was Krasnodar’s gain, though, as Fyodor has already scored 18 goals in 23 games this season in all competitions. This form has caught the eye of a number of European clubs, and in an interview on Match TV, he said that he had a concrete offer from Stoke, as well as interest from a German club, which is believed to be Borussia Dortmund.
Fyodor Smolov has come from being the joke of Russian football to being the most clinical finisher in the RFPL in just four years. Furthermore, he speaks fluent English, and due to him having already tried playing abroad, it shouldn’t be too difficult for him to fit in at a new environment.
1. Anton Mitryushkin, 21, FC Sion
Anton Mitryushkin started off his youth career in Rostov, before moving to Spartak Moscow’s academy. In 2013, he burst on to the scene captaining Russia to a win at the U17 European Championships, putting in some fantastic performances on the way. Mitryushkin was named ‘golden player’ of the tournament, and started to attract attention.
Unfortunately, he was under-appreciated at Spartak, and after playing just three games in four seasons at the club, he decided that he had had enough and tried to force a move out of the club.
On the 1st of February 2016, Mitryushkin got his move to FC Sion for just €380 thousand. After leaving the club, he said that it was always his dream to play for Spartak, but that Dmitri Alenichev would not let him play even if the score was 100-0.
The first few months at Sion were not easy though, as he played mainly with the second team or was sitting on the bench. He trained hard and fought for his place in the first team, where he made his first appearance on the 23rd of April in a win over Lugano.
Since then, Mitryushkin has been a key member of Sion’s squad. The goalkeeper has played in all but one game this season, and has helped Sion push for European football, as well as saving two penalties in a shootout to reach the cup final, which is yet to be played. His performances for the club have led to him getting three man of the match awards and a Sion player of the month award for March.
Mitryushkin has said in an interview, that his main goal is to be called up for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and that the club understand his ambitions, and that they will let him go if a club from the Bundesliga or RFPL were to come in with an offer. Over the winter window, Mitryushkin was linked to a number of clubs, including RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund, who are both said to have sent scouts to watch him play.
Honourable Mention: Mario Fernandes
Although he has not played for Russia’s national team yet, Mario Fernandes has been recently linked with a move to Barcelona, and although he insists that he is happy at CSKA, it is hard to imagine that a player of his quality will play the rest of his career only in Russia. He has often been linked with moves away from the Army Men, and when he, by the end of the season, becomes eligible for the Russian national team after having lived five years in the country, he can start thinking about the next step in his career.
Author: Artem Makarevitch
Born in Russia, raised in Ireland. Studying Sports and Exercise Management in University College Dublin. Part-time youth football coach, full-time Russian football fan. Zenit St. Petersburg supporter.