RFN Mailbag – Mancini, Khabarovsk and Ze Luis

Welcome to the RFN Mailbag – a new regular feature where we field questions from followers across social media and answer them here on the site. Every fortnight we’ll choose our favourites from our Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram accounts and pen our thoughts. Feel free to add your comments and views below this article on the site, or get in touch with us on any of the above channels – we always love to hear from you!

This week’s questions are answered by Andrew Flint.

Fernando Puron, Miami, via Twitter: What do you guys think about Mancini? With Carrera, next season will a battle of the Italians potentially. I say depending on who they sign. They will be the favorites for the title. Zenit is a super club in the making.

It’s a very Zenit appointment, at least in character with their most successful decade until now. Mancini brings a touch of stardust to the squad and will hopefully be able to attract the quality of players that they need to re-establish themselves as genuine European challengers, but he has a huge amount of challenges to overcome. Firstly he has to oversee a significant overhaul of an underperforming squad – which admittedly it appears he will be given funds to do – without the Champions League carrot to help sell the club to potential signings. He also has to do this under a new sporting director Konstantin Sarsania, who has been given a mandate to control transfers, and for a known autocrat, that could make Mancini’s life awkward if they don’t see eye to eye. Zenit will always be in with a shout for the title, and like you say, a lot depends on their signings; it will be much clearer by the end of the transfer window, but Carrera is settled with a very powerful and balanced squad, so it won’t be easy to topple the champions.

Petya Guber, Hungary, via Twitter: What do you think about Ze Luis? I loved him here at Videoton, he’s still on my lock screen! Is there any kind of gossip for him leaving Spartak? Or is he part of the long-term plans there?

It would be a very unusual move by Spartak if they sanctioned Ze Luis’ departure. Quincy Promes has been the star performer in their squad for some time, but the muscular presence up front has offered a focal point that allows Promes – and others – more freedom to join counter attacks, something that fits Carrera’s style. He has shown considerable mettle by knuckling down and earning the right to play after a inconsistent first season, and will be a key part of their push for honours next season. There haven’t been any significant rumours of moves for his signature – most of that attention has been focussed on Promes – and it is unlikely there will be either, if anything because Spartak don’t need to sell.

Tiago Estevao, Portugal, via Twitter: Great to see Manu Fernandes there. Thoughts on him specifically?

Manuel Fernandes is one of the highest earners in the RFPL, and arrived in Russia as a high-profile signing, but had the misfortune of being surrounded by the circus that was the end of Olga Smorodskaya’s reign at Lokomotiv. Fortunately, it appears Ilya Gerkus and the legendary Yuriy Semin have begun to bring a slither of stability, which has coincided with some of his most spectacular form yet. He has been phenomenal since the winter break in particular, and after such a long period being estranged from the starting lineup, Russian football followers will be able to enjoy watching one of the strongest, most creative and most influential players to grace the RFPL in recent years.

James Nickels, England, via Twitter: What are the repercussions for the RFPL with SKA Khabarovsk gaining promotion? Another Tom 2.0?

The biggest effect of SKA joining the top flight is obviously the ridiculous distances teams will have to travel. All over social media we have seen the maps showing the eye-watering journeys teams will have to make to play them, and to imagine the mood of Zenit players in particular as they approach the trip from the Baltic to the easternmost border with China sends a small shiver down most people’s spines. Igor Akinfeev famously said Luch Energiya Vladivostok should play in the Japanese league when they played in the RFPL a few years ago, and I’m sure we will see similar sentiments surface this campaign. As for the club itself, they will have to use every ounce of opponents’ discomfort to their advantage and make their home games count. Tom were an embarrassment this year but unless SKA suffer a similar financial crisis – which can’t be ruled out, of course – they should be able to make a better fist of survival.

David Sansun, England, via Twitter: How hard will it be for SKA to attract foreign players to the Far East (aside from Lescano who is there already)?

The hardest job of all probably lies with their sporting director! Trying to convince a player to join a struggling side that plays seven time zones from most opposition in the league will surely be nigh on impossible, especially as the wages are not likely to be especially impressive. Juan Lescano is possibly the best card they have in their hand; transfer targets who see a young former Liverpool and Real Madrid youth product from Argentina in the squad might be swayed, but I don’t think they will (or should) aim to bring in players so far removed from the Russian league. Expect them to target the better end of FNL talent, or at least players with experience in the Russian league system.

Author: Andrew Flint

I moved out to Russia in 2010 to teach English because it sounded like fun, then I met and fell in love with FC Tyumen (and my wife!) and decided to stay. Surprisingly, I turned out to be the only English person remotely interested in a Siberian third-tier club, but then who wouldn’t fall for a grizzly Georgian midget, a flying Brazilian and Tyumen’s 93rd most influential figure…

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