The Russian Premier League (RPL) is probably one of the craziest football leagues in the world. Despite unpaid wages, low attendances, poor pitches and several numbers of scandals, Krasnodar, Lokomotiv and Zenit all managed to win their groups in the European competitions, defeating noteworthy teams like Borussia Dortmund, Besiktas, Sporting CP and Valencia. On top of this, the RPL is probably also the league with the highest number of brothers, including three pairs of twins in Dmitriy and Kirill Kombarov from Spartak, Vasiliy and Aleksey Berezutskiy from CSKA and then Anton and Aleksey Miranchuk from Lokomotiv. Furthermore, there are the brothers Georgiy and Vladimir Gabulov from Krylya Sovetov and Dinamo, while Aleksandr and Mikhail Kerzhakov played together at Zenit before the former moved to FC Zürich on loan. Last but not least, Dinamo striker Pavel Pogrebnyak’s younger brother plays for FNL side Tom Tomsk. Of these many pairs, the most interesting is Lokomotiv’s Aleksey and Anton Miranchuk. While 20-year old Aleksey has established himself as a key player for head coach Igor Cherevchenko, Anton is yet to make his debut in the Russian top flight.
Born in Slavyansk-na-Kubani in Krasnodar Krain in southern Russia, Anton took his first steps in football together with his brother in Olimp, the local school academy based in Krasnodar, around an hour and a half by car from their birth city. After a few years in Krasnodar Krai, the Miranchuks caught the attention of the mighty Spartak Moscow, whose academy is famous way outside the borders of Russia. After a short trial in Moscow, the coaches of the Red-Whites decided not to sign the twins because of their poor physical form. Despite Spartak turning them down, there was however no doubt that the twins had become too big for their humble surroundings, and thus a move Moscow was almost unavoidable.
Therefore in 2011, at the age of 15, the twins joined Spartak’s rivals Lokomotiv, who saw a bright future in the two midfielders. Shortly after, they began playing on the 1995 team. Almost straightaway, they developed an amazing understanding with all of their teammates, which resulted in three Russian titles in a row. Their immediate success also proved Spartak wrong, and every goal scored by the Miranchuks was a revenge on the club who had turned them down.
Thanks to these great performances, many players born in 1995, including Anton and Aleksey, were promoted. Together with head coach Sergey Polstyanov, they joined the reserve team in an attempt to refresh the squad that won the reserves title in 2010. In November 2012, Anton made his debut for the reserve team in the derby against CSKA, and he soon became a key player on Polstyanov’s team.. At the same time, the current West Ham United manager Slaven Bilić promoted Aleksey to the first team after falling in love with the 18-year-old left-footed midfielder.
In the summer of 2013, the Miranchuks both trained with the first team coached by Belorussian specialist Leonid Kuchuk, who had replaced Bilić. On October 20 2013, Anton made his debut for Lokomotiv in the 1/16 of Russian Cup, replacing Nigerian winger Victor Obinna after 88 minutes and playing extra time. Unfortunately, Anton Miranchuk’s debut was ruined by the fact that the ‘Railwaymen’ were knocked out after a penalty shootout.
However, Kuchuk never gave Brat, as Anton is called by his teammates, his chance on the first team and so he was forced to continue playing for the reserves. In July 2014, Anton was permanently moved to the first team, but shortly after Kuchuk left Lokomotiv and the new head coach Miodrag Božović had no intentions of relying on young players. Even Aleksey found himself playing fewer and fewer minutes with the coach’s attention being on the more experienced Boussoufa and Fernandes. Despite the lack of playing time, both Miranchuks built a great reputation within the squad. In August 2015, the newly appointed Lokomotiv captain Vedran Ćorluka stated: “Anton Miranchuk? He’s a great talent. Unfortunately, he’s injured now. Honestly speaking, I await more from him than from Aleksey.”
While finding himself in limbo between the first and the second team, Anton Miranchuk scored an awesome hattrick against Amkar Perm for the reserves in October last year, proving that he was ready to try himself at a higher level.
Therefore it was no coincidence when after the match against Permyaki a few weeks later he admitted: “I’m ready to leave the team on loan, but then I want to come back. I want to stay here, in Cherkizovo. I’ll play together with Aleksey in Lokomotiv. We both dream about it.”
Then, at the end of January, Aleksey confirmed his brother’s wish to leave the ‘Railroaders’ to gain more playing time.
Many clubs were interested in the services of the young midfielder. However, Anton Miranchuk turned down an offer from FNL sides Yenisey Krasnoyarsk and later Sibir Novosibirsk who were also blocked from registring new players by the Russian Football Union. Instead of staying in Russia, the 21-year-old opted to join Estonian top tier side Levadia Tallin. The transfer was finalized on the Febuary 2nd and there ‘Brat’ will have the opportunity to participate in the preliminary rounds of the Europa League before returning to Moscow in six months time.
Speaking to Sovetsky Sport, Miranchuk said his main task was, “to demonstrate that he’s ready to play for Lokomotiv’s first team.” At the same time, Aleksey and Anton’s first coach Aleksandr Voronkov told Championat: “I’ve never seen such good guys. They’re really technical, creative and fighting players. If Lokomotiv trusts them and let them play on the center of the pitch, it would be tougher for the opponents [to face Lokomotiv]. I’m sure they can become the strongest twins in the history of Russian football.”
At the moment, it looks like Anton Miranchuk has taken the right decision. In order to follow in Aleksey’s footsteps and become a regular on the first team, he needs regular playing time at a high level. The Estonian Meistriliiga seems like a good challenge for him, and he will get the opportunity to improve and test his abilities in a competitive environment. Perhaps he can even replicate the success of former Dinamo talent Andrei Panyukov who moved to France after a successful loan in Lithuania.
It would be shameful if Anton Miranchuk took inspiration from some of the other Russian twins like Kirill Kombarov and Aleksey Berezutskiy, who have both preferred to live in the shadows of their brothers instead of trying to make a name for themselves. Russian football already has plenty of eternal runnner-ups, hence a move away from the ‘Railwaymen’ may not only revive his career, but also the club itself as it desperately needs new talents. Lokomotiv are in danger of being punished by UEFA for breaking the Financial Fair Play Rules, and this makes it difficult for them to sign new players, especially those coming from the European market. Consequently, the revitalization of Anton Miranchuk could turn out to be crucial, and hopefully Anton Miranchuk will no longer just be known as ‘The other Miranchuk twin’.
Follow Stefano on Twitter: @ConfortiStefano
Author: Stefano Conforti
Half Russian, half Italian. Football writer and Lokomotiv Moscow supporter. Founder of the FCLMblog, the only blog about Lokomotiv outside Russia, and FCLMmagazine, which is the first magazine in English for an Eastern Europe football club. I’m interested in everything related to Russia and the post-Soviet world.