RFN Top 50 2017: 10-4

As 2017 has turned into 2018, 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 2017 by genuine ability alone, and now it’s time for the players ranked 20-11 (movement compared to last year’s ranking is shown in brackets).

This is the third year in our annual tradition, and definitely the hardest yet. Let us know who you would have picked, and we hope you enjoy it.

Find the players ranked 50-36 here.

Find the players ranked 35-21 here.

Find the players ranked 20-11 here.

 

10 – Jefferson Farfán (Foward, Lokomotiv Moscow) NEW ENTRY

After 18 months of relative exile from Europe’s top leagues and having reached the age of 32, Jefferson Farfán could have been forgiven for thinking there was little left to work for in his career. Then Erik Stoffelshaus came knocking with one last lifeline, and the Peruvian hasn’t looked back; already a Russian Cup winner – albeit via a dramatic sending off in the final last summer – he looks set to add a Russian title to his name this year.

His renaissance is remarkable considering how his game had largely been built on pace, but a newfound maturity under the legendary Yuri Semin has seen him flourish in a variety of positions. What hasn’t left him is his instinct for goal, with a particularly productive spell just before the winter break began firing Lokomotiv six points clear at the top of the table. Barring a disaster, he will return to Russia in the summer with his country as a domestic champion and as the focal point of a rejuvenated force in Russian football.

 

9 – Denis Glushakov (Midfielder, Spartak Moscow) +1

The weight of expectation that comes with being captain of the most storied and demanding club in Russia would crush most people, but not Denis Glushakov. As he hung from the iconic statue of Spartacus outside the Otkritie Arena last summer celebrating Spartak’s title win, the future looked bright for the midfield general, and despite an early-season stumble of three defeats to close rivals Zenit, CSKA and Lokomotiv in four league fixtures, he has been critical to Spartak’s resurgence.

As the natural leader for his club, his role as the outfield commander-in-chief for Russia will be critical. With a talent for long-range shooting, incisive passing and an indefatigable work-rate, Glushakov has the rare talent to control a game from many positions, but it is his mental strength and leadership that are most valuable. Senior clubmates Quincy Promes, Serdar Tasci and Zé Luis have been linked with moves away from the capital, and while those three may well remain, for now, the constancy of Glushakov allows Massimo Carrera to keep calm.

 

8 – Aleksandr Golovin (Midfielder, CSKA Moscow) +21

It is a huge testament to the maturity and composure of Golovin that he has dealt with the intense pressure thrown at him without so much as a blink. Still only 21, he has been a mainstay of CSKA’s midfield for the last two seasons, and in the absence of the banned Roman Eremenko has developed a more creative facet to his game. As the Armymen squad has continued to dwindle to an alarmingly shallow level, his intelligence on the ball has been an invaluable asset.

In fact, Golovin has been asked to play almost all roles between defence and attack, including even out wide, and has done so without trouble. His modest return in 2017 of six goals and seven assists in 41 club matches is not a barometer that can accurately demonstrate his worth – if played further forward consistently those figures would be far higher – and in all likelihood he won’t improve them a great deal now that Pontus Wernbloom has been reinvented as a powerful backup centre-forward. For Viktor Goncharenko, it won’t matter as long as Golovin’s eyes aren’t drawn abroad in the transfer window.

 

7 – Alan Dzagoev (Midfielder, CSKA Moscow) -0

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of Alan Dzagoev’s career to date is that we will never know what could have been. Now 27, the diminutive schemer has publicly stated his ambition to move abroad but is running out of time to present himself as a marketable proposition to foreign sides. Nevertheless, 2017 was a positive one for Dzagoev at club level as he scored eight and assisted nine goals in 31 matches and guided CSKA through to knockout European football after winning three of their six Champions League group stage matches.

Whether he will earn his move outside Russia remains to be seen. Controversial comments back in November about the standard of the Russian Football Premier League – “only Spartak, Zenit and Krasnodar offer a challenge” – point to a clear dissatisfaction with life as it stands. Interest has been briefly mooted from Newcastle in the past, and a transfer away from CSKA may be the only way to truly prove his quality, but for the time being his value within Russia is beyond doubt.

 

6 – Aleksandr Kokorin (Forward, Zenit St. Petersburg) +20

Few Russian players have completed such a complete about-turn in their careers in such a relatively short space of time as Aleksandr Kokorin. Under Mircea Lucescu he had performed a thankless task as second fiddle to Artem Dzyuba, and his tangible output from a wide position was disappointing; either side of an injury at the end of April he managed just two goals in ten league appearances. Accusations of having long lost his focus as a player, backed up by his carefree social media presence as much as an actual analysis of his performances under a misfiring manager, were lazily bandied about.

Upon Roberto Mancini’s arrival, Dzyuba was relegated to the bench as Kokorin’s more natural talent was appreciated in the starting XI to devastating effect. Fifteen goals by the end of September were rewarded for his sublime form in front of goal, and although he has only scored three in the nine subsequent fixtures, he has hardly missed a minute of the campaign so far. Dzyuba’s star has waned so badly that there is no chance of the towering number nine reclaiming his place from Kokorin, who looks set to line up alongside fellow child prodigy Fedor Smolov at the World Cup.

 

5 – Pontus Wernbloom (Midfielder, CSKA Moscow) +1

Whatever opinion people may have of the Swedish powerhouse, he simply cannot be ignored. His powerful performances have frequently landed him trouble for overstepping the boundaries – even if he was booked just twice before summer last year – but his technical quality on the ball is often overlooked. After a run of just one goal in five games in October, CSKA turned to the unorthodox option of Wernbloom as a makeshift striker and were rewarded handsomely for the gamble as the Swede plundered five goals in as many matches.

Such has been his success in his new role that the pressures on CSKA’s forward line have diminished significantly heading into the second half of the 2017/18 season. With the arrival of young Croatian midfielder Kristjan Bistrovic in midfield it seems likely that the updated Wernbloom will spend some more time up front, but whether he is selected in a more advanced position or not he will provide the bite and drive that is crucial to CSKA’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League again.

 

4 – Aleksei Miranchuk (Midfielder, Lokomotiv Moscow) NEW ENTRY

Aleksei Miranchuk has stormed straight into number four in our Top 50 have not even made the entire list last season. His previous absence may be explained by how often Lokomotiv’s golden boy went missing in important fixtures in the early stages of his career, but last year he shone. Consistently.

Twelve goals and 15 assists in 43 games don’t tell the whole story of 2017 for Miranchuk. His personal highlight was scoring late on in the Fisht Olympic stadium against Ural Ekaterinburg in May, but amazingly that wasn’t his first Cup final goal. He is yet to truly nail down a starting place for Russia, he has nonetheless made nine appearances for his country and will be angling for more game time in the upcoming friendlies against France and Brazil.

From the doom and gloom that surrounded Russian football in the aftermath of the dire Euro 2016 showing, there has emerged a few glimmers of hope. Aleksandr Golovin, Anton Miranchuk, Aleksandr Selikhov, Georgi Dzhikia, Ilya Kutepov, Anton Shvets and his own brother Anton are all 24 or under; perhaps the brightest talent of them all, however, is Aleksey himself.

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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