Name: Ilzat Akhmetov
DOB/Age: 31/12/1997 – 19 years old
Club: Rubin Kazan
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Career to Date
Akhmetov is a homegrown academy player, who came through the ranks at Rubin Kazan from a young age. Although he was born in Kyrgyzstan, his family moved to Kazan while he was still a toddler, and so he is eligible to represent Russia at international level. An attacking midfielder by trade, Akhmetov impressed at reserve level for Rubin, enough to attract the attention of then senior manager Rinat Bilyaletdinov, who gave him his first team debut in October 2014 with a sub appearance against Mordovia.
Akhmetov would go on to play regularly for the reserves that season, scoring often with powerful displays from a central role, while getting occasional substitute run outs for the first team, typically on the wing. His quick feet and the fact he was a home grown player endeared him to the fans, and some good moments on the pitch helped his confidence, although he never managed to contribute to a goal or assist directly. His hard work paid off, though, and on the final day of the season, Akhmetov got his big chance, coming on as a first half sub for the injured Blagoy Georgiev and enjoying around an hours football.
The following season was full of turmoil and subsequently less first team chances for the little midfielder. Bilyaletdinov was soon sacked after some poor performances and replaced with youth coach Valery Chaly. Akhmetov only made five appearances in all competitions throughout the season, but no doubt, one game in particular will be one of his career highlights, as he came on for the last 20 minutes at the Kazan Arena, as Rubin hosted Liverpool in Europa League. These 20 minutes saw him mainly defending as Liverpool attacked for a second goal, and so he didn’t get a real chance to run with the ball, but it will no doubt be a moment he doesn’t forget anytime soon. It was around this time that Akhmetov made his debut for Russia’s U19 squad, the highest level of international football he has played to date, representing them five times so far.
Come the summer, Rubin changed manager again, this time recruiting Javi Gracia as their first proper international manager – excluding Kurban Berdyev of Turkmenistan. Gracia instantly took a liking to Akhemtov during the summer training camps, likening his play to the Spanish technicians he was used to and would spend time independently tutoring the youngster. Akhmetov also picked up lots of praise from his new foreign team-mates. Sergio Sanchez and Alex Song were both quoted as heavily praising the youngster as being the best technical player in the squad. This favouritism paid dividends, and Akhmetov started his first ever Rubin game on the first day of the season against Amkar Perm. However, after starting three of the opening five league games, which Rubin failed to win, Akhmetov found his chances limited and was dropped back to the bench in favour of experienced midfielders Ruben Rochina and Denis Tkachuk. A cup appearance against Luch Energiya was the next and final action he would receive before the international break, and he impressed during this game, with a highlight being a 35 yard strike which crashed off the crossbar.
In the training camps of January 2017, Akhmetov scored his first senior goal, using quick feet and tenacity to create a chance for himself, which he buried with aplomb in a 4-2 victory over CSKA Sofia.
As a small, attacking midfielder, Akhmetov is blessed with great balance and agility. Combined with excellent technical ability, this can make him a very tricky character indeed. In his fleeting first team appearances, he has impressed with his ball retention and smooth dribbling in the wide positions, often carving out crosses or simply holding the ball up at the end of the match. At reserve level, he has impressed with his goalscoring ability despite rarely playing the full 90 so that he is available for the first team, with 11 goals in 40 appearances from midfield, as well as countless assists. The timing of his late run into the box, or carving out solo efforts himself have contributed to a great number of his goals. Being recognised by your peers is one of the best compliments in football, and the fact that as an 18 year old, players who had only been training with Akhmetov for a matter of weeks were labelling him as the most talented player in the squad is a big nod to the potential of this young Russian.
While his stature brings huge positives to his game, it also contributes to his biggest weakness – which is his lack of physicality. Balance can only go so far in fending off defenders, and his pure lack of strength will make him, at times, an easy target for defenders. Akhmetov has also been accused at times of going too far with his dribbling, overcomplicating simple things because he wants to beat his man in style, driven by his high self-confidence.
Akhmetov faces a struggle to break into Rubin’s first team on a regular basis. Despite Gracia’s fondness for him, the competition in the Rubin squad in the positions that he can play in is very strong, with Ruben Rochina, Maxime Lestienne, Maksim Kanunnikov, Denis Tkachuk, Magomed Ozdoev, Mijo Caktas and Gokdeniz Karadeniz all very capable midfielders. The thing going for him is the foreigner limit in the Russian Football Premier League, and the fact he holds a valuable Russian passport. When injuries come around, and Gracia has to re-arrange the five Russian’s in his lineup, Akhmetov will be one of the first choice backups, and he’ll need to take any chance he gets in Rubin’s first team to impress and prove he is worthy of a regular spot at his young age.
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Author: David Sansun
Arsenal and Rubin Kazan fan. Possibly too optimistic for Russian football which means I’m left disappointed a lot.