Chertanovo – How the Russian Athletic Bilbao is Shaping the Future

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If there is one thing Moscow is famous for in the sports world, it is its amount of football clubs. Spartak, CSKA and Lokomotiv all play in the Russian Football Premier League (RFPL), Dinamo have just secured promotion to the RFPL, while Torpedo plays in the Professional Football League (PFL), the third tier. Furthermore, there are a number of smaller clubs like Solyaris, Strogino and Domodedovo, and then we haven’t even mentioned the teams from the Moscow region.

Despite all these teams, there are none like FC Chertanovo, who compete in the Center Zone of the Professional Football League, together with Torpedo, and only use players from the club academy, making them comparable to Basque side Athletic Bilbao.

The club is named after a district in the southern part of Moscow, and 40 years ago a football school was opened there. Since then, many players have graduated, the most famous being striker Igor Kolyvanov who played for Bologna in the Serie A between 1996 and 2001 and defender Vasily Kulkov who, between 1991 and 1995, represented Portuguese giants Benfica and Porto.

However, in 2008 everything changed when Nikolai Larin and Dmitry Polyatskin became leaders of the academy. At that time, Chertanovo were ranked 28th among football schools in Moscow, which wasn’t enough for the two men, who set the goal of reaching the top of not only the Moscow rankings but the national rankings too.

Larin, who works as the director of the academy, played for Chertanovo himself as a youngster, and later became a coach at the academy. Margarita Chernomyrdina, one of Russia’s leading female players, was among his players once. Polyatskin, on the other hand, joined the academy with experience from the outside as he used to work at the famous Konoplev football academy, famous for being the birthplace of players such as Stanislav Kritsyuk, Ilya Kutepov, Alan Dzagoev and Roman Zobnin. He later went to Volga Nizhny Novgorod, and, just like Larin, he gained experience working with young players.

The hard work put into the academy quickly paid off, and in 2010 Chertanovo achieved the right to play against the football schools of Spartak, CSKA and the rest of Moscow’s top teams. On top of that, defender Denis Kutin signed a contract with Spartak and became the first player from the academy to move to the Premier league since Larin and Polyatsin’s entrance. Two years later, the team consisting of players born in 1996 won their Russian championship, and the following season the team of 1999 repeated this remarkable achievement.

Then came 2013, a year that will forever be remembered at the club. The Russian U17 national team won the European championship with six players – Vladislav Parshikov, Denis Yakuba, Aleksandr Zuev, Aleksey Kuznetsov, Egor Rudkovsky and Maksim Mayrovich – coming from Chertanovo, more than any other team. “When I came to Chertanovo I did not play that well,” Yakuba told UEFA.com before the tournament, “The coaches taught me almost all that I can do now. I tried really hard, worked a lot and it paid dividends.” Soon after, the players left Chertanovo and joined RFPL clubs, with Yakuba himself joining Kuban Krasnodar

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Big dreams and challenges

The tournament was an eye opener to Larin and Polyatskin, who began considering how to make the Chertanovo players even better, and their solution was to build a team that could play in the PFL. However, creating a professional club was challenging as Chertanovo faced problems with Russian laws as it not only consisted of a football academy but also an ordinary school for children. Eventually, the football authorities allowed them to play in the PFL, but with a number of limitations.

Currently, Chertanovo are only allowed to use five players older than 23, and the team can only consist of players who have been enrolled at the academy for at least two years. Therefore, the squad consists entirely of homegrown players. However, this is not something the management feel bad about, as they have no intentions of signing foreign players or snatching players from other clubs. Instead, Chertanovo wants to prove that results can be achieved in an alternative manor.

Therefore, the philosophy of the club is also pretty simple. The team in the PFL is the peak of the academy, and the two are linked. At many Russian clubs, the academies are almost considered a burden, and they have no real intention of working with children. For these clubs, it is easier to buy an already finished player, Russian or foreign, than to develop one themselves. For Chertanovo, there is no other way than to develop the player themselves. For the same reason, the club doesn’t need results in youth tournaments, instead, they need development and progress for the players. Winning isn’t everything for the youngsters, and it is clearly working. Chertanovo players are always called up to the various Russian national teams, proving that the academy is moving in the right direction.

The first team of Chertanovo are in the middle of their second season in the PFL, where they are sitting 9th out of 13 teams. Nevertheless, the club management is confident that the team can achieve even better results, something that was proven during the winter when Chertanovo was invited to take part in the FNL Cup and eventually reached the final. They won their group ahead of Shinnik Yaroslav, FC Tambov and Kuban Krasnodar and later knocked out FC Enisey.

The big dream these days is to achieve promotion to the FNL, but that is still difficult to achieve. The main problem is, as with many other clubs, lack of money. The only investor is the Department of Sport and Tourism of Moscow, while the club also receives money from the state for the upbringing and development of youth players. However, this isn’t nearly enough to support an FNL side, and so the club is actively searching for new investors and sponsors.

A club for the future

Meanwhile, Chertanovo continues to produce promising players. Among former Chertanovo players at top clubs, we find Aleksandr Zuev, who is currently on loan from Spartak Moscow at Krylia Sovetov, Artyom Timofeev, another Spartak player, while Denis Yakuba and Maksim Mayrovich are both playing regularly for Kuban Krasnodar who are fighting for promotion to the RFPL. Furthermore, there are plenty of former of Chertanovo players in the academies of Spartak, Zenit St. Petersburg and Rubin Kazan as well as other RFPL clubs.

Losing their most talented players at a young age is, of course, a challenge for Chertanovo. Nevertheless, striker Nikolai Prudnikov is in second place on the top scorer list in the PFL, while Maksim Glushenkov is third. Other players who could be in for great futures are Aleksandr Soldatenkov, Yury Gorshkov, Ivan Lomaev and Dmitry Tsipchenko. And due to the PFL side, where the players can take their first steps in professional football, these players could, in fact, be even better than those of their former teammates who have moved on to bigger clubs. “This [the PFL side] is a must so that the boys can continue their education under our guidance,” Larin said back in 2013, “The thing is that we are not always happy with what is happening to our players when they move to a professional club. They do not get treated as well as in Chertanovo.” Combined with the fact that some former Chertanovo youth coaches, who have moved on to bigger clubs, have bemoaned the outdated methods and lack of personal guidance of the players compared to Chertanovo, this doesn’t sound unrealistic.

Chertanovo is an absolutely unique team, and while their resources are limited, the work the club does is admirable, and at a time when Russian football is in crisis, this is the kind of project that can develop the whole industry.

Author: Andrey Centrov

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