Krasnodar’s Youth Academy Bearing Its First Fruits

Source: www.fckrasnodar.ru

Just nine years ago, FC Krasnodar was formed. Founded and owned by billionaire businessman Sergey Galitsky, the intentions were not to go gung-ho with their money like the then free-spending Anzhi Makhachkala but to build from the bottom. This included the installation of a youth academy, which would recruit boys of all ages, with the intention that one day, half of the first team would be graduates of the school, and so the Krasnodar Academy was born.

The Krasnodar Academy is situated next door to the brand new, state of the art Krasnodar Arena, and like the stadium, it is a wonderful piece of modern architecture, and in terms of the facilities, it is one of the best academies in Europe, if not the world. It has 15 outdoor pitches, 12 with natural grass and three with synthetic pitches, it has two indoor arenas for winter and a 3,000 seater stadium where the youth team plays their home matches. There are then a series of buildings, ten dedicated to accommodation with room for up to 340 students, and two large buildings for teaching.

One is dedicated solely to general education, students remain at the school full time, splitting their time between education and football, and the school is equipped with the most modern equipment and looks after children between the ages of 11 and 16. It even has hotel rooms for visiting parents. The other teaching building is just for sport and has a full medical centre, swimming pool, saunas, a gym and sports hall.

Now, almost a decade after the club was founded, it looks like the heavy investments in the academy is beginning to pay off. The 11-year-old boys who joined Krasnodar’s academy in its early stages are breaking into the first team fold, and showing that there may yet be positives to look forward to in Russian football, after a period of un-stability, which has seen the national team drop to its lowest ever FIFA ranking.

The First Graduates

Last season, midfielder Ilya Zhigulev became the first ever graduate of the Krasnodar Academy to feature for the first team, aged 20, when he started against Spartak Moscow in March 2017. He joined the academy at its formation in 2009, and after an impressive loan spell at Moldovan side Milsami last autumn was called to join the first team for their training camps during the winter break, where he impressed manager Igor Shalimov, playing in a number of friendlies and scoring twice. Having made his debut against Spartak, Zhigulev has gone on to also make his Europa League debut, and feature a further nine times for the senior side, including in the two opening matches of the 2017/18 season.

The start of this season saw a number of injuries plague the senior squad, most noticeable to star men Fyodor Smolov and Pavel Mamaev, and coupled with the sale and release of several older first team players during the summer, the academy was again the place to turn for the club.

On the opening day of the season against Rubin Kazan, 17-year-old Magomed-Shapi Suleimanov became the second player to graduate from the academy to appear for the first team, as he came on for the closing minutes. Having moved to Krasnodar to join the academy when he was just 13-years-old, Suleimanov is another success story for the club. Being born and raised in Dagestan, where Anzhi is the major club, Suleimanov proves the pull the academy has, that boys of such an age will relocate to a new city to follow their dreams.

Just days later, dreams would become a reality, when Suleimanov made his Europa League debut at home against Danish side Lyngby BK, before scoring the winning goal with the final touch of the match. With that goal, not only did Suleimanov become the first graduate of the Krasnodar Academy to score for the first team, but aged 17 years 7 months and 11 days, he broke a 37-year-old record to become the youngest Russian to score in a European competition.

Magomed-Shapi Suleimanov celebrates his winning goal on his European debut vs Lyngby. Source: www.fckrasnodar.ru

Magomed-Shapi Suleimanov celebrates his winning goal on his European debut vs Lyngby. Source: www.fckrasnodar.ru

In the same match, another academy graduate made his debut, 18-year-old forward Ivan Ignatiev. The striker was given a starting role against the Danes, and with good reason. Last season, he topped the reserve league goalscoring charts with 21 goals in 23 appearances, and having bagged four on the final day of last season, has continued this season where he left off with another poker and hat-trick in consecutive matches, making it 28 goals in his last 26 appearances at reserve level, not to mention 13 goals in 13 caps for the Russian U18 side. With Smolov likely to remain injured for a short while longer, Ignatiev will be hoping to receive further chances to impress in the first team.

Outside of the debutants, Krasnodar’s academy boasts some of the hottest prospects in Russia, perhaps greatest of all is midfielder Daniil Utkin, and he along with a number of other academy players featured throughout pre-season for the first team. Goalkeepers Matvey Safonov and Denis Adamov regularly feature on the bench for the first team, as Russian clubs tend to name two substitute goalkeepers for league games, but neither is yet to make their competitive debut.

Countless others have had exposure in the first team environment, not yet competitively, but this season is shaping up to be potentially a key season for the academy. With Zhigulev firmly involved in the first team, and Ignatiev and Suleimanov gaining valuable exposure in the early stages of the season, they become examples of the thousands of boys still in the academy, growing as players, and dreaming one day it could be them stepping onto the field for the club that has raised them.

Author: David Sansun

Arsenal and Rubin Kazan fan. Possibly too optimistic for Russian football which means I’m left disappointed a lot.

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