Kokorin Signing Proves Zenit’s Dominance

Yuri Zhirkov and Aleksandr Kokorin during their first practice with Zenit.

Yuri Zhirkov and Aleksandr Kokorin during their first practice with Zenit.

Despite only being sixth in the Russian Premier League, Zenit St. Petersburg managed to close the signings of two of Russia’s most prolific players yesterday.

Striker Aleksandr Kokorin and left back/winger Yuri Zhirkov both joins the St. Petersburg side from struggling Dinamo Moscow six months before their contracts run out. Zhirkov had already agreed to join Zenit after the season before the announcement yesterday, while Kokorin rumours had also been going on for a while, meaning the transfer was not a surprise.

For people who aren’t following Russian football closely, Zhirkov surely is the most famous of the two given his past at Chelsea as well as his impressive performances for CSKA Moscow and Russia in the last decade. Kokorin, however,  is with his only 24 years and status as one of the main stars on the national team currently by far the biggest signing, which his salary on €3.5 million per year plus a sign-on-fee on €2 million proves very well.

Even though Kokorin hasn’t played much this season because of injuries, the signing of him and teammate Zhirkov sends a strong signal to the rest of the Russian clubs. Zenit has once again consolidated their status as the richest and most powerful club in the country. In comparison, CSKA couldn’t afford to keep pivotal striker Seydou Doumbia who played for the club on loan from AS Roma in the autumn, while Lokomotiv are also in the process of losing their biggest star, Baye Oumar Niasse. According to R-Sport. Kokorin had an offer from Spartak Moscow as well but he opted for Zenit and the chance of playing in the Champions League. The signal is even stronger given the fact, that before this season, Zenit stole Spartak product Artem Dzyuba from their rivals in Moscow, also on a free transfer.

As previously mentioned, the rumours of Kokorin moving to St. Petersburg have been going on since the summer, when Dinamo’s fire-sale started. While Zenit remained the favourite for his signature throughout the whole race, other clubs were mentioned, and especially English side Arsenal seemed keen on the striker. Despite Kokorin telling that, Dinamo turned down a loan offer from Arsenal it always seemed more realistic to win at the Double Bubble slot than for Kokorin to continue his career outside of Russia because of his high wage demand, a demand that could only realisticly be met by a Russian club because of the foreigner limit, which put Russians in higher stock.

In the first part of the season, it was clear that Zenit lacked firepower on the bench, and injuries to the key players hit them harder than they should for a club their size. The perfect example of this were the two home draws against Mordovia and Ufa when Hulk was sidelined.

What does this mean for Zhirkov and Kokorin?

While most neutral observers and fans practically begged Kokorin to go abroad to challenge himself in a more competitive environment, for both his sake as well as the Russian national teams, it seemed almost destined that he would eventually decide to stay in Russia, close to family, fame and with an enormous paycheck, and this turned out being the truth.

While neither Kokorin nor Zhirkov are certain starters at their new club, they provide head coach André Villa-Boas with more options, and the depth in Zenit’s squad is now miles ahead of the rest of the league. As Thomas Giles brilliantly outlined on Russian Football News a while back, Zhirkov will add some needed depth for the left back where Villas-Boas has often been forced to use the natural right back Aleksandr Anyukov in the absence of first choice Domenico Criscito. Because of this, there is also no doubt that Zenit have acted smart on the transfer market this winter, especially given the fact that they reportedly only paid a total of €2.5 million for the two Dinamo players.

In Kokorin’s case, his arrival could be the beginning to the end for the Portuguese maestro Danny. Danny was already expected to leave the club after last season, but in the end decided to stick around for another stint at the club. Danny’s departure could create room on the left wing, as Oleg Shatov could be moved central to take over after Danny.

As stated earlier on this site, Kokorin is a highly versatile player, who can be used both as an inside forward as well as main and secondary striker. At Zenit he is most likely to be used on either the wing or as a second striker, as Artem Dzyuba sits heavily on the spot as the front man. Kokorin will however be a good backup for his national team partner, which Zenit have needed after the demotion of Aleksandr Kerzhakov.

At the age of 24, Kokorin has never played in the Champions League before, and while that will be a good challenge for him, it is hard not to look at the move as a step sideways instead of up the ladder towards the greatness he was once expected to reach. Kokorin himself stated that the Champions League was a part of the reason for his decision, and while it was clear that he needed a new challenge after Dinamo, it is difficult not to assume that money was the winning argument in the fight for Kokorin’s future.

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Toke Møller Theilade

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.

Comments

  1. Surely both will help Zenit to climb the League table.

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