Since the formation of the Russian Football Premier League in 1992, a long range of quality players have amazed fans around the country. However, with so many players coming through the ranks, some more memorable than others, others more profitable for bookmakers, it is easy to forget a couple, especially for people who don’t follow the league closely. Therefore, we have dived into the history books to find five superstars you might not know played in Russia at some point in their career.
Ivica Olic (CSKA Moscow 2003-2007):
Before moving to Germany, where he would become one of the most prolific foreign goal scorers, Ivica Olic played in Russia. When CSKA Moscow signed him in 2003, he was already considered one of Croatia’s most exciting talents, a label he earned with a goal against Italy at the World Cup the year before.
Olic went to score seven goals in ten matches in his debut season, and he quickly became integral to CSKA Moscow’s success in the following years.
During his time with the Army Men, Olic won three Russian championships, two Russian cups and, most importantly, the UEFA Cup before he eventually outgrew Moscow and signed with Hamburger SV in January 2007. Olic played 67 minutes in the final against Sporting in 2005, which CSKA, to many in the betting business surprise, won 3-1.
Following three successful seasons with HSV, Olic joined powerhouse Bayern Munich in 2009 with whom he won the Bundesliga once while also reaching the Champions League final twice.
Later he went to Wolfsburg and HSV again. He currently plays for 1860 Munich in the 2. Bundesliga at the age of 37.
Thiago Silva (Dinamo Moscow 2005-2006):
No one really noticed when the current Paris SG star Thiago Silva joined Dinamo Moscow on loan from FC Porto in 2005. The defender had broken through in Brazil, but at Porto he had only played for the second team before being sent to Moscow.
Silva’s transfer to Moscow was a part of a collaboration between Dinamo owner Aleksey Fedorychev and the now world famous agent Jorge Mendes, who also sent Porto’s Champions League winners Maniche, Costinha, Derlei and Georgios Seitaridis to Dinamo. Furthermore, the White-Blues bought Igor Semshov from Torpedo, Aleksey Smertin from Chelsea and Danny from Sporting CP, making it understandable that the signing of the unknown Brazilian was overlooked.
Although Silva impressed his coaches at the beginning of his stay, it quickly turned into a disaster, and he never featured for the first team. Instead he spent most of his time in a hospital, as he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and almost died.
Silva left Moscow when his loan ended and returned to Brazil and Fluminese. There, he flourished, and he quickly became a part of Selecao. Later, he moved to Milan, where he won Serie A once, before becoming the second most expensive defender in the world when he joined PSG in 2012.
With PSG, 31-year-old Silva has won Ligue 1 four times and the Coupe de France twice.
Despite never playing for Dinamo, his year in Russia still contributed to the player Thiago Silva is today.
“When I face a difficult situation nowadays, I always look back at that experience [the year in Moscow] and remember what I’ve been through. I get stronger each time I think of it,” he told UEFA.com in 2011.
Marcos Rojo (Spartak Moscow 2011-2012)
Manchester United and Russia have many links. Andrei Kanchelskis, one of United’s greatest players, is Russian, and in 2008, the Red Devils won the Champions League final at Luzhniki in Moscow. Another link is Marcos Rojo.
After establishing himself as one of the best defenders in the Argentinian league with Estudiantes, Rojo moved to Spartak Moscow in 2011 on a five-year contract.
The expectations for the 20-year-old Rojo were naturally huge, as Spartak had beaten several big European clubs for his signature, and perhaps it was too much for the young Argentinian. Although he scored an important goal against Krasnodar in a 2-1 cup victory in one of his first games, he struggled immensely on the pitch, and his shaky performances gave many fans grey hairs, while also frustrating bettors all over the world who counted on Spartak to challenge for the title.
After starting the season as a regular, Rojo ran into a number of injuries, and when he finally returned to the pitch in August, he delivered a terrible performance away against Terek Grozny, giving away two goals as Spartak went down 2-0. Eventually, the Red-Whites fought back to win 4-2, but head coach Valery Karpin had seen enough. Rojo was demoted to the second team, and he only played five games more, before he was sent to Portugal and Sporting CP the following summer.
Although he didn’t win any trophies with Sporting, Rojo performed brilliantly, and in 2014, after he helped Argentina reach the World Cup final and made the team of the tournament, he moved to Manchester United, where he has since made fans happy by winning the FA Cup and the EFL Cup.
With Manchester United looking set to continue to the top of English football with José Mourinho on the sidelines, it would be no wonder if fans of the Red Devils start looking for the best bookmakers in order to place bets on Rojo and his teammates to bring trophies to the club.
Lucas Barrios (Spartak Moscow 2013-2015):
Before Robert Lewandowski became one of the best strikers in the world at Borussia Dortmund, the fans at Der Gelben Wand cheered Paraguay striker Lucas Barrios. After scoring a staggering 37 goals in 40 league matches for Colo-Colo in Chile, Barrios moved to Dortmund in 2009, which turned out to be a great match.
In his first two seasons with Dortmund, Barrios scored 35 league goals, thus hurting both opponents and bookmakers, and he played an instrumental role in Dortmund winning the league in 2010/2011, their first in nine years.
The following season however, he lost his place in the starting line-up to Robert Lewandowski as Dortmund went to win yet another league title.
In May, Barrios signed a four-year contract with Guangzhou Evergrande worth of €6.7 million per year, and although he helped the club win both the Chinese League and the Chinese Cup in 2012, he struggled in China. The following season, he was let out of Evergrande’s Champions League squad, making it little surprise when he joined Spartak Moscow in the summer of 2013.
For Spartak signing Barrios on a three-year deal was a major transfer, and the fans hoped he could bomb the club back to the top of the league. However, once again Barrios failed to live up to the expectations.
It wasn’t until December that he scored his first goal, and by then Karpin had already lost patience with him, and only started four games for Spartak, before leaving the club on loan the following season. Barrios managed 18 appearances for Spartak in which he scored twice.
After scoring 11 goals in Ligue 1 for Montpellier while on loan from Spartak, he went to Brazil and Palmeiras. He currently plays for Gremio.
Martin Skrtel (Zenit St. Petersburg 2004 – 2008):
After getting his breakthrough with Slovak side Trencin, current Fenerbahce defender Martin Skrtel moved to St. Petersburg and Zenit in 2004. He received his debut in July, and helped Zenit finish 4th that season.
Skrtel was a part of an incredibly talented Zenit squad which boasted names such as Vyacheslav Malafeev, Andrey Arshavin, Igor Denisov and Aleksandr Kerzhakov, and when Gazprom bought the club in December 2005 the club received the financial muscle to compete with the strongest clubs in Russia.
In his 4th and last season with Zenit, Skrtel helped the Blue-White-Sky Blues secure their first Russian championship, before joining Liverpool in January 2008.
Although shaky at times, Skrtel was a huge success at Anfield, as he went on to play nine seasons for the Reds before leaving for Fenerbahce before this season. During his time at Liverpool he helped the team win the EFL Cup in 2012, the same year he won the Liverpool Player of the Year Award.
Author: Toke Møller Theilade
Brøndby supporter, groundhopper and more importantly Editor-in-Chief at Russianfootballnews.com. As a hopeless romantic, I still believe Fyodor Smolov and Viktoria Lopyreva has a future together.