20. Bibras Natcho, midfielder, CSKA
The Israeli midfielder Bibras Natcho played a pivotal role on CSKA’s team last season as he contributed with 12 goals and eight assists in the domestic league. His form earned him a spot on the RFN Team of the Year last summer together with his partner on CSKA’s central midfield Roman Eremenko. This season has however been different for Natcho, who has struggled with getting back on his old level. Only three times the Israeli midfielder has played 90 minutes, and he has only contributed with two goals and a single assist. Natcho is however a brilliant midfielder, with a great vision and passing skills, and had he played up to his best, he could have made the top 10 on this list.
19. Pontus Wernbloom, midfielder, CSKA
A typically tough tackling defensive midfielder, Wernbloom is a very physical player who strikes fear into the heart of his opponents and is often on the receiving end of yellow cards – he has already picked up nine bookings this season. However, he has never received a red card in the Russian Premier League, which demonstrates how intelligent a footballer he is as he knows when to put a challenge in and does not just lunge in to tackles without thinking. Despite this ferocious reputation, he is also a very good player with the ball at his feet as CSKA look to play the ball through him to set up their attacks and the Swedish international already has two goals and three assists this season.
18. Domenico Criscito, defender, Zenit
Should have played more for the Italian national team but was embroiled in the Scommessopoli match fixing scandal, although charges have since been dropped. Italy’s loss is Zenit’s gain as it means their left back does not get fatigued on international duty, which has allowed the former Genoa man to play the full 90 minutes for the majority of Zenit’s Premier League games this season. The Italian has managed to keep the accomplished Cristian Ansaldi out of the side, forcing the Argentine to leave on loan for the last two seasons, no mean feat. Criscito is a great modern day full back as he matches his defensive ability with his attacking prowess and his consistently good performances for Zenit see him constantly linked with a move back to Serie A.
17. Roman Eremenko, midfielder, CSKA
Former Rubin Kazan playmaker Eremenko was awarded Player of the Season for 2014/15 by sports website Championat and is possibly CSKA’s best technical player. His brilliant first touch and excellent vision means he can create something from nothing and it is no coincidence that his recent injury has coincided with his team’s dramatic loss in form. The Finn is now in his prime at the age of 28 and has proved himself in various European domestic leagues as well as in the Europa League and Champions League. The only problem for Slutsky is that in spite of the fact that Eremenko holds Russian citizenship having been born in Moscow, he plays international football for Finland which means he counts as a foreign player in the 6+5 rule. However, this does not stop him being picked by his manager for every match.
16. Mario Fernandes, defender, CSKA
The CSKA right back generally goes unnoticed but is one of the best defenders in the league. Not overly adventurous but he certainly sticks to his job defensively and is clearly a valued member of his team as he has played the full 90 minutes in every league game when he has been available. The Brazilian was the best performer for CSKA in their dismal Champions League campaign as he led the charts for most tackles (6) and interceptions made (5.4). It is surely only a matter of time before he adds to his solitary Brazilian cap.
15. Danny, midfielder, Zenit
Formerly of Dynamo Moscow, the Zenit attacking midfielder is now a cult hero at Zenit St. Petersburg. Signed for a record €30m after their famous UEFA Cup victory in 2008 he went on to demonstrate his worth with a superb performance against Manchester United in the Super Cup. Last summer there were rumours that he was on the verge of signing for Turkish club Besiktas upon the expiration of his contract but there was a sudden u-turn and the captain re-signed with the Russian champions. Many thought he would play a bit part role this season, especially due to the new 6+5 rule, but he has once again shown his class and proved to be vital part of Zenit’s intricate style of play. A true legend of Russian football.
14. Ahmed Musa, striker, CSKA
Nigerian international Musa is a versatile player who can play up front, out wide or in behind the striker. His versatility and pace make him a key player in the CSKA Moscow team and whilst his goal return of six may not be as high as CSKA fans might like, his all round contribution to the team is vital; demonstrated by the fact that his manager Leonid Slutsky has started him in every game except one this season. The 23 year old signed a new four year contract in June which means that if he reaches his exciting potential and demands a move then CSKA will be in a good position to negotiate.
13. Igor Akinfeev, goalkeeper, CSKA
Was destined to become the best goalkeeper in world football when he was young but in typical Russian football fashion his promise dwindled and he failed to seal a move to a major European club. However, he is still an excellent goalkeeper and is the only keeper on the RFN top 50 list which shows just how valuable he is. Despite a recent wobbly spell in between the sticks, the Russian national team’s number one is arguably still one of the best keepers in Europe. He has won the Lev Yashin Prize (Golden Glove) a record eight times, is the leader of the illustrious Lev Yashin club and recently reached a record 230 clean sheets.
12. Igor Smolnikov, defender, Zenit
Probably the best right back in the league, the former Torpedo Moscow player has apparently been scouted by Barcelona and it is not hard to see why. Smolnikov is the perfect modern day full back, a solid defender as well as a frightening attacker when he flies up and down the right flank. The Russian international has also chipped with four goals for his underperforming Zenit side this season and is a key player in Leonid Slutsky’s national side, a good performance at Euro 2016 in France could see him become a target of Europe’s biggest clubs.
11. Alan Dzagoev, midfielder, CSKA
Was tipped to be the next big thing after a stunning Euro 2012 where he finished as joint top scorer with three goals. Unfortunately for both himself and the Russian national team, his career has somewhat stagnated since then which means the once high interest in his services has now petered off. He has more yellow cards this season, five, than goals and assists combined but on his day he can be unplayable and, at just 25 years old, still has plenty of time to once again ignite the football world.
Author: Thomas Giles
Studied Russian at University which peaked my interest in the country and led to me living there for two years. Having already been a big football fan in England, I started following the Russian league and the chaos that goes with it during my time there. Whilst I am the first to admit that the action on the pitch is far from exciting, I find the politics and history of Russian football fascinating.