As 2016 has turned into 2017, it is time for an annual tradition on Russianfootballnews.com: The RFN Top 50. We rank the 50 best players in the Russian Football Premier League (RFPL) in 2016, and we start with the players ranked 50-36 (movement compared to last year’s ranking is shown in brackets).
50: Alex Song, Midfielder, Rubin (NEW ENTRY)
Plenty chuckled when Rubin unveiled the signing of Song on social media, with the Cameroonian looking less than enthused with his new club, but few are laughing now. Back to his combative best, the 29-year-old has adapted well to life in Russia weighing in with decisive assists in vital away wins over Ufa and Anzhi. Could be crucial to a late push for Europa League qualification.
49: Roman Emelyanov, Midfielder, Ural (NEW ENTRY)
Shakhtar Donetsk’s decision to let Emelyanov leave the club back in 2015 looks more unwise with every passing performance. The 24-year-old has come of age for Ural this term adding a little more attacking flair to his predominantly defensive displays, as demonstrated in his match-winning performance against Ufa which even included a goal. With the World Cup not far off, he could yet force his way into the Russia’s national team plans.
48: Oleg Ivanov, Midfielder, Terek (-1)
A key player in Terek Grozny’s superb start to the season, if the Russian club do end up playing European football next term it could yet be without the 30-year-old who was linked with a move to Trabzonspor in Turkey back in December. It’s rich reward for a season in which Ivanov’s keen eye for a pass and ability to push forward has helped the Grozny club climb to fourth.
47: Sergey Ryzhikov, Goalkeeper, Rubin (NEW ENTRY)
With Igor Akinfeev continuing to break records for all the wrong reasons in the Champions League, Russian national team coach Stanislav Cherchesov could do worse than turn to Rubin Kazan’s 36-year-old veteran. One of the few survivors from the Rubin team that won back to back titles in the late 2000s, he’s back to something approaching his best at club level and would bring a wealth of experience to the national team having been largely overlooked in recent years.
46: Charles Kabore, Midfielder, Krasnodar (NEW ENTRY)
Krasnodar will have to make do without their midfield general for the next month with Kabore competing for Burkina Faso in the African Cup of Nations. He’ll be sorely missed too with the 28-year-old’s ball-winning skills, tackling and all round focus leaving a fairly sizeable hole in the middle of Igor Shalimov’s team. Once of Kuban Krasnodar, The Cossacks must rue the day they let the midfield dynamo join their crosstown rivals.
45 Odil Akhmedov, Midfielder, Krasnodar (now Shanghai SIPG) (NEW ENTRY)
One player Krasnodar will definitely have to get used to life without is Akhmedov, after the midfield Uzbek star swapped Russia for China and a lucrative contract with Shanghai SIPG. In truth, few can criticise the decision – Ahmedov is 29 and nearing the end of his career – though it has come in the midst of arguably his best season in Russia. As versatile an attacking threat as you are likely to find his last notable contribution came with a fine assist in a 3-0 win over Ural. Gone but never forgotten.
44: Yuri Zhirkov, Defender, Zenit (NEW ENTRY)
A bargain buy for Zenit back in January, Zhirkov looks to be hitting something approaching form again and could yet force his way into the national team plans for next year’s World Cup, though consistency will be key. Now 33, time is running out for Zhirkov to rediscover the talent that convinced Chelsea to spend big on him in the wake of a fine Euro 2008 but on the basis of a first half of the season that finds Zenit in title contention, it would appear he is well on his way.
43: Roman Zobnin, Midfielder, Spartak (NEW ENTRY)
Following relegation last season, Zobnin jumped ship from Dynamo Moscow to cross-town rivals Spartak and has rarely looks back since. A valuable, versatile asset in Spartak’s pursuit of a first league title in 16 years, Zobnin has been commended as much for his defensive contributions as his work in the final third and at 22 should be blooded into the national side sooner rather than later, having amassed six stop-start national team appearances to date.
42: Bernard Berisha, Midfielder, Anzhi (now Terek) (NEW ENTRY)
A contender for the title of Kosovo’s finest footballing export, Berisha has already caught the eye with Anzhi Makhachkala this season and will hope to do so over the second half of the campaign having moved to fellow top-flight side Terek Grozny. An industrious and skilful left winger by trade, a return of three goals and two assists already this term suggests he could be on the brink of making it big in the RFPL. The 25-year-old is best categorized as “one to watch.”
41: Vitaly Denisov, Defender, Lokomotiv (-4)
A rock at the back for Lokomotiv, Denisov’s dogged displays from left back have helped the Moscow side claim the joint-third best defensive record in the Russian Premier League so far this term. A natural born leader with two Man of the Match awards to his name already this term, Denisov’s determination could yet result in one more accolade – Uzbekistan Player of the Year.
40: Mauricio, Midfielder, Zenit (NEW ENTRY)
While there are plenty opposed to the idea of naturalization, the case for including Zenit’s South American maestro in the Russian national side grows stronger with very passing performance. Another impressive addition to the St. Petersburg ranks back in January, Mauricio has gone from strength to strength, adding creativity and goals to the Zenit midfield and even finding the net during their impressive group stage performance in the Europa League. There could be more to come from the 28-year-old.
39: Fyodor Kudryashov, Defender, Rostov (NEW ENTRY)
Another former Terek Grozny star, Kudryashov has added some much-needed leadership and defensive solidity to the Rostov ranks, following another chaotic summer of upheaval. Impressive in bursts during the Champions League, he played a pivotal role in helping the Russian minnows reach the Europa League knockout phase – no mean feat when you consider that they were in a group with Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich and PSV Eindhoven.
38: Aleksandr Selikhov, Goalkeeper, Amkar (now Spartak) (NEW ENTRY)
A goalkeeper of real promise, it will be interesting to see whether Selikhov’s fine form with Amkar Perm will be enough to see him dislodge Spartak first-choice shot-stopper Artyom Rebrov on a regular basis. Much will depend on his ability to handle the pressure of turning out for a top of the table side. However, after shining with Amkar, the omens are looking good for a player who should travel to the World Cup in just over a year’s time.
37: Jano Ananidze, Midfielder, Spartak (NEW ENTRY)
Part of an exciting young crop of Georgian players who have already caused Euro 2016 upstarts Wales problems in World Cup qualifying, the 24-year-old has played his part in Spartak’s impressive start to the campaign, weighing in with four goals in just eight appearances in the league. Capable of playing on the left wing but better deployed centrally, Jano may have to wait to get his chance in the first team but it will be worth it.
36: Timofei Kalachev, Midfielder, Rostov (NEW ENTRY)
The Rostov stalwart has continued where he left off last season, with a string of solid displays in a variety of roles. Most effectively deployed at right-back this term, Kalachev’s cross abilities and eye for a pass have seen him rack up four assists in the league while his defensive contributions help Rostov keep their European ambitions alive beyond Christmas. Has undoubtedly benefitted from the decision to retire from international duty with Belarus and focus on his club football.