Ones To Watch – Aleksandr Golovin

Biography

Name: Aleksandr Golovin

DOB/Age: 30/05/1996 – 21 years old

Club: CSKA Moscow

Position: Central midfielder

Nationality: Russia

Aleksandr Golovin during a game for CSKA Moscow. Photo: Дмитрий Голубович

Aleksandr Golovin during a game for CSKA Moscow. Photo: Дмитрий Голубович

Career To Date

When Aleksandr Golovin made his debut for the Russian national team in July 2015, he had never started a league game for his club side CSKA Moscow. His call up raised eyebrows in Russia. Why did he deserve a call up the national team aged 19 and with just 121 senior minutes to his name? Just 15 minutes after coming on as a sub in the 2nd half, he showed why, with a perfectly executed chest control and volleyed finish from 20 yards. A debut goal for his country before even being named in the starting lineup for his club, showed why Fabio Capello, the Russian coach at the time, was perhaps right to call up this talented youngster. His club boss Leonid Slutskiy would have to work out what was best for him in the upcoming 15/16 Russian Football Premier League season.

It seemed to take a while for Slutsky to make his mind up. Golovin only played 60 minutes in the league before the winter break, only as a sub, though he did start in the cup. As the winter break ended, and the season got underway again in March, Golovin got his chance, and took it with ablomb, starting six times between then and the end of the season, scoring his first league goal in a 7-1 demolition of Mordovia Saransk.

However, it was in the Russian Cup semi-final against Krasnodar which really put him on the map, as he scored a stunning brace to send CSKA to the final. His first, a perfectly hit half-volley from 20 yards to the top corner and his second, a placed shot from the edge of the box. This performance boosted his reputation no end, and with club boss Slutsky now also the temporary manager of Russia, it seemed more and more likely that he would be on the plane to France for Euro 2016. As the season ended, CSKA fought off a valiant Rostov to claim the league title. Golovin scored three goals in 23 first team appearances (all competitions) in his debut season, and as many predicted, Slutskiy selected him for Euro 2016.

With Golovin operating out wide or behind the forward for club, it was strange to see him play in the holding midfield position during the biggest stage of his career so far. With Igor Denisov and Alan Dzagoev out injured, Golovin was forced to play deep, and had a poor tournament – along with the whole Russian squad – in a position he was completely unfamiliar with.

Many expected he would go straight back to his prior position of an attacking midfielder for the 16/17 season, but instead, Slutskiy kept him in as a deep midfielder. As the season progressed, Golovin showed great progress in this position, particularly when Slutskiy was replaced by Viktor Goncharenko during the winter break, and CSKA began playing a 3-5-2 formation, giving him a bit more freedom than Slutsky’s 4-2-3-1. According to statistics from Whoscored, Golovin ranked fourth in number of tackles made per game (2.9) for players who played a minimum of 20 games in the league, highlighting an increase in his defensive cabapilities. Alongside this he made the fourth highest amount of dribbles per game in the CSKA squad, highlighting the freedom he was given, as well as the fourth best pass completion in the squad.

This first full season in the CSKA lineup, while developing in a new position, has seen him catch the attention of foreign eyes, with Chelsea and more recently, Arsenal, linked with a move for him. His former coach Slutsky, who joined Hull City in early June, was also touted with a move, particularly if Arsenal signed him to loan out, but he distanced himself from the idea. In the same interview, Slutsky revealed that Golovin was his main motivation during his last six months at CSKA, a huge level of praise from one of modern Russia’s most successful coaches.

Strengths

As he has developed into the deep lying midfielder he now is, early comparisons to fellow CSKA academy graduate and former wonderkid Dzagoev are becoming more and more accurate, as he similarly made a similar move from attacking to defensive midfield, though slightly later in his career.

As highlighted by the numbers, Golovin has worked on his defensive play hugely this season, and thanks largely to his positional aptitude, he is able to make a good number of tackles, and carry the ball out of the back. He is not a showy player, you may not notice him on the pitch sometimes, but he glides with the ball and is very efficient.

Golovin also possesses a wicked shot. His two goals for the national side were both excellent half volleys, while his famous opener against Krasnodar was perhaps his best goal to date, finding the top corner from 22 yards. At youth levels, Golovin was a set piece taker, scoring free kicks and penalties for CSKA’s reserve sides, and also a free kick at the 2013 U17 World Cup.

His all round ability and versatility of positions at such a young age is a valuable commodity, and having him in the CSKA squad, knowing he could play any of the five midfield positions currently allocated is a huge bonus to Goncharenko, a manager famed for his willingness to play young players – highlighted with the emergence of young striker Fedor Chalov this season.

Weaknesses

This time last year, there were huge questions about Golovin’s future as a deep midfielder, but he has adapted superbly to the role this season, though with just one season in the position, there is obviously lots of room for improvement, and many would argue his best position is still the central attacking midfielder, but he certainly seems to be able to hold his own, despite his diminutive figure.

He seems to be somewhat of a perfectionist, occasionally overrunning the ball in attacking positions, perhaps missing the best chance to play a pass, or overconfident with the ball inside his own half, which has led to turnovers of possession and chances for opposition counter attacks.

What’s next?

The Confederations Cup is just starting, and Golovin should have a pivotal role in the side, putting himself on the world’s stage in his home country, a huge honour for any player. After this, there’s the rumours surrounding his future. Golovin has been very coy in interviews, saying he will not comment on Arsenal’s reported interest, and that his focus is fully on the national team and the Confederations Cup. If he moves and doesn’t go straight back to CSKA on loan, it’s a huge step for him, the RFPL to the Premier League, which will undoubtedly advance him as a player, but at the same time, a loan back to CSKA could perhaps be the best thing, where he will be guaranteed regular football, challenging for the title while also playing in the Champions League. Either way, Golovin is here to stay, and will be a huge part of Russian football for a long time to come.

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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