Andy (@AndyShenk) – Moscow based writer and Russian language translator, Andy supports Anzhi
Pavel (@russianpotter) – Nizhny Novgorod-based young journalist and Spartak supporter, Volga attendee
Connor (@Con_027) – Russian Football follower, CSKA supporter, England resident
John (@JohnSager) – Russian Football follower, Zenit supporter, California resident
1) PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
ANDY: 1) Pontus Wernbloom (CSKA). The most valuable player on the best team, Wernbloom is my pick for Player of the Year, particularly given the absence of a dominant goal scorer this season in the RPL. Since joining CSKA two years ago from AZ Alkmaar, the 26-year-old Swedish defensive midfielder has established himself as a leader on the squad – particularly impressive given the many veterans on CSKA’s 2012-2013 roster.
Wernbloom reduced much of the pressure on CSKA’s already sturdy back line, while giving his teammates up front the confidence to push forward, knowing his tireless effort would almost always cover up their mistakes.
Pontus also scored four goals for CSKA, including two late game-winners against Terek and Lokomotiv in November, without which the Army Men wouldn’t have become champions. And, apart from his leadership on the field, Wernbloom is an outgoing, egregious personality who helped acclimate fellow Swedish international Rasmus Elm to Moscow and contributed to CSKA’s united team atmosphere.
2) Samuel Eto’o (Anzhi). Given his enormous status prior to joining Anzhi in the Russian Premier League, it’s nearly impossible for Eto’o to surprise anyone with his play. That’s why a 10-goal, 11-assist performance doesn’t seem too remarkable, even if he led the league in goal+assist and enjoyed big performances against Spartak, Rubin, CSKA, Lokomotiv and Dinamo. Eto’o, particularly in the second half of the season, was a big-match player, leading Anzhi to comeback wins against Rubin and Lokomotiv that secured 3rd place in the league.
He may not be as dominant as Anzhi fans hoped he would be when he first came to Russia, but he’s a generally clinical finisher and the focus of the opposing team’s defense every time he steps on the field.
3) Joaozinho (Krasnodar). There are lots of worthy players in the RPL – Alan Dzagoev, Ahmed Musa, Bibras Natkho, Lacina Traore, Balazs Dzsudzsak – that could also be featured here, but I’ll take Joaozinho because of his importance to his team and Krasnodar’s impressive campaign, even if they ended up in 10th.
The 24-year-old Brazilian midfielder collected 14 assists, tops in the league, to go with four goals of his own. Wanderson and Yura Movsisyan may have received more attention during the season for their scoring, but Joaozinho was the biggest reason Krasnodar finished in a tie with Anzhi for 5th-most goals scored – 45.
PAVEL: 1) Alan Dzagoev (CSKA)
2) Pontus Wernbloom (CSKA)
3) Wanderson (Krasnodar)
CONNOR: 1) Wanderson
2) Sergei Ignashevich
3) Samuel Eto’o
ROB: 1) Araz Ozbiliz (Kuban). With Traore leaving, Kuban looked like being a weaker side this season, especially when Dan Petrescu upped sticks for Dinamo. Ozbiliz arrived from Ajax for a pittance and tortured RPL defences all season, grabbing goals and assists aplenty to lead his club into Europe. He may not be the biggest name, but he’s the standout for me this season.
2) Ahmed Musa (CSKA). Doumbia and Necid got injured early on, and Slutsky couldn’t get Vagner Love until the transfer window. Last year, Musa was a one-trick pony who appeared unable to either finish or pass, this season he has matured into a capable striker as well as a lightning-fast winger, and his relative consistency up front ensured that while Anzhi and Zenit stuttered, CSKA didn’t.
3) Bibras Natkho (Rubin). Probably the difference between Rubin making Europe and suffering a fate similar to Lokomotiv. A class act in the centre of the park, and Rubin have to make it their priority to keep him in Kazan.
JOHN: 1) Pontus Wernbloom. Center midfielders are key and he was the best on the best team.
2) Ahmed Musa. Very dangerous, went from weak link to a main threat. A key part of CSKA playing great football.
3) Wanderson. Stepped up when Krasnodar lost Yura Movsisyan and looked the best player on the pitch, able to make something happen at anytime.
2) YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
ANDY: This is a toss-up between CSKA teammates Ahmed Musa and Alan Dzagoev. I’ll go with Dzagoev, only because he plays a somewhat more creative role and had nearly the same statistics as Musa in four fewer matches.
PAVEL: Pavel Yakovlev (Spartak)
CONNOR: Ahmed Musa
ROB: Aleksandr Kokorin (Dinamo). This kid is the future of Dinamo and of the national side, and with the exception of his brawl-sparking tackle at Alania, was a consistent threat for much of the season. A strike rate of pretty much a goal every other game is a great record for a 22-year-old, and he has both the poacher’s instinct and pace to create havoc for the opposition. Zenit have shown interest but he seems committed to his club, and Dinamo will do well to keep him around for as long as possible.
JOHN: Ahmed Musa. Stepped in and stepped up for CSKA in leading the front line as CSKA won the league.
3) RUSSIAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
ANDY: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA). While fellow national team players like Igor Denisov, Roman Shirokov, Yuri Zhirkov, Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Kokorin battled scandals, injuries or both, Akinfeev delivered another consistent season for CSKA, maintaining his position as Russia’s top goalie and possibly the most dependable player in the league. Igor missed just one Premier League match this season and delivered a clean sheet in 16 matches.
PAVEL: Alexander Kokorin, Sergey Ignashevich.
CONNOR: Alan Dzagoev. Scored some crucial goals and added a few assists as well but there aren’t many to choose from.
ROB: Aleksandr Kokorin. See above. Narrowly beats out Shirokov (not consistent enough this year) and the CSKA defence as whole (minus Mario Fernandes).
JOHN: Roman Shirokov (Zenit). Through all his drama, and Zenit’s drama, the team was still within range of the championship in the final weeks. Shirokov is the best Russian on that team, on the National Team, and in the league and without him, Zenit would have struggled far more. Shirokov is a key part of Zenit’s midfielder and a potent finisher.
4) FOREIGNER OF THE YEAR:
PAVEL: Pontus Wernbloom
CONNOR: Wanderson. Top scorer and the partnership with Joaozinho rivals that of the Swedes at CSKA.
ROB: Araz Ozbiliz. Reasons stated above, hauled Kuban into Europe in what could have been a down season for the club. He’ll be crucial to any hopes Kuban have of building on that next season.
5) DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR:
ANDY: Roman Pavlyuchenko (Lokomotiv). Though sharp in the first couple months of the season, scoring three goals and adding two assists in Loko’s first seven matches, as Slaven Bilic’s club looked like Top 3 contenders, Pavyluchenko’s season sank alongside his club’s, with just 12 appearances in the final 23 matches and zero goals or assists in 2013.
PAVEL: Denis Glushakov (Lokomotiv)
CONNOR: Hulk (Zenit). His fee and despite the goals he has scored, the amount of chances he’s missed is criminal.
ROB: Georgi Gabulov (Anzhi/Alania). Plenty to choose from, but as someone with a soft spot for the southern sides Gabulov was a particular disappointment for me personally. Signed for a rather inflated €5m last January from his hometwon club, Gabulov showed plenty of promise in midfield but was given far too few minutes in Guus Hiddink’s star-studded Anzhi side. Barely in the team, he was shipped back to Alania this winter in an attempt to drag them out of the relegation places, but their former captain was largely anonymous and did little to help their cause.
Other candidates – Yann M’Vila (Rubin) and Renan Bressan (Alania).
JOHN: Neto (Zenit). What was his purpose? He came in from Siena and seemingly lost games. Zenit had injuries at CB (and LB), but Neto should not have been a first choice if he didn’t have to be. Mistakes are much more costly at CB than LB, and Hubocan would have been more effective instead of Neto. Neto played a key part in Zenit’s problems in the Europa knockout stages.
6) BREAK-OUT PLAYER:
ANDY: Aleksandr Kokorin. If not for an injury suffered in the Russia – Brazil friendly in late March, 22-year-old Kokorin may have been in the discussion for Player of the Year, Russian Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year. As it is, he still gets Breakout Player for his string of clutch goals in the fall that rejuvenated Dinamo’s season, as well as his new-found role on the Russian national team. In a 12-match stretch from August 19 – November 25, Kokorin scored eight goals, to go with three assists, as Dinamo went 8-4 and improved from 16th in the table to 9th.
His jump from 2011-2012 to 2012-2013 is particularly striking. After seven goals and one assist in 41 senior team appearances last season, Kokorin ended 2012-2013 with 13 goals and three assists in just 26 appearances.
PAVEL: Alexey Sapogov (Volga)
CONNOR: Ahmed Musa. A huge season in which the young winger had to be CSKA’s main striker for the majority of the season.
ROB: Ivan Solovyev (Dinamo). He may have played less than 700 minutes for Dinamo this season, but Solovyev did enough to earn a move to Zenit at season’s end and looked like a potential player for the national squad. A tricky winger who brought another threat to a youthful Dinamo side, bagged himself a crucial winner against Loko back in March, and cemented himself as a part of Dan Petrescu’s squad in a fairly short time. He’ll struggle for time at Zenit so the ‘breakout’ may not be as spectacular as it could have been, but on a free transfer you’ll be hard pressed to find a shrewder piece of business this summer.
JOHN: Wanderson. Coming in from a Swedish club after time in Saudi Arabia, I didn’t expect much from this Brazilian. But he became a force in attack and a key component of Krasnodar’s rise as a club. I would not be surprised if bigger clubs are after him soon.
ANDY: Aleksandr Belenov (Kuban). The 26-year-old Kuban goalie was the biggest overachiever on the RPL’s top overachieving squad. The Kuban fans named him their MVP of the season and he finished second behind Igor Akinfeev for most clean sheets in the league, with 13. Belenov also played all 30 RPL matches for Kuban. His professional career began at Salyut Belgorod, before a move to Spartak in 2010, which resulted in just one Premier League appearance. Belenov signed with Kuban in 2011, but it won’t be a surprise if he joins another top club in Russia in the near future where he can command a bigger salary.
PAVEL: Samuel Eto’o (Anzhi)
ROB: Aleksandrs Cauna (CSKA). Not a glamorous name, not one of the stars of the show, but the ex-Watford man made 25 appearances in a title-winning season, contributing a couple of superb goals and keeping things ticking over nicely in the centre of the park. He’s a far from spectacular player, never in the limelight, and probably wouldn’t get a second look from sides of a similar level, but the Latvian is now Russian champion and a model for the understated grafter everywhere.
JOHN: Aleksei Ionov (Kuban). The promising former Zenit youngster did not breakthrough, and was transferred to Kuban. He had a good year and secured a move to Anzhi. A youngster blossoming or a player overachieving? We’ll find out next year.
8) COACH OF THE YEAR:
ANDY: Leonid Slutsky (CSKA). Despite handing in his resignation after the end of last season, Slutsky was told to stay put by CSKA President Evgeni Giner. The season began with more calls for his head from the fans, following a Europa League ouster at the hands of AIK and a sluggish start domestically, but from late August on, the Army Men were the model of consistency. Slutsky used new signings Rasmus Elm and Mario Fernandes to great effect, helped Ahmed Musa to a breakout season and overcame injuries to Mark Gonzalez, Keisuke Honda, Zoran Tosic, Tomas Necid and Seydou Doumbia to win the league over Zenit, Anzhi and Spartak.
PAVEL: Leonid Slutsky
CONNOR: Leonid Slutsky. He won the league and managed his squad very well including turning Musa into a goalscorer.
ROB: Stanislav Cherchesov (Terek). Quite frankly I’m in shock that Terek have sacked the man, although with Kadyrov at the helm you never know what to expect. To take Terek to within five points of third placed Anzhi is no mean feat given the huge gulf between the sides, and you have to remember that at times they topped the table. Yes, they fell away in the second half of the second and ended up 8th and out of Europe altogether, but Cherchesov turned an erratic outfit into one that is both difficult to break down and a threat to the top sides. Throw in the fact that they were denied a home cup final only by penalties, and you have to say it’s been a successful year for the old Zhemchuzhina boss.
JOHN: Cherchesov. He really overachieved with the talent available to him. Terek played some inspired, team football and the team played hard for their fans and Coach. He may have been a bit too reactive at times, but in the end it worked, and Terek were very close to making Europe.
9) WORST COACH OF THE YEAR:
ANDY: Valery Karpin (Spartak). Though Karpin did not begin the season on the Red and White bench, he brought Unai Emery over in the summer and, following the Spaniard’s dismissal in November, returned as Spartak coach. Unfortunately for Spartak supporters, Karpin didn’t improve matters. Despite a miraculous 4th-place finish, Spartak picked up just 22 points over 13 matches, slightly worse than Emery’s 29 points/17 matches. Karpin doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, but even if Spartak have a great season in 2013-2014, this year was an unqualified failure.
PAVEL: Unai Emery\Valeriy Karpin (Spartak)
CONNOR: The Gazzaev father/son combination. Together they took a team of decent players and got them to finish bottom and without an away win all season.
ROB: Slaven Bilic (Lokomotiv). Big contract and big budgets, but tactically naive and unable to get his side motivated. Overspent on a team of fragile players, and now the club can’t afford the compensation to sack him and move on. Has been given time to come up with some sort of crisis management plan, but the damage has been done. Rumours are that the board have demanded top three next year, which is a million miles away at the moment.
JOHN: Alania were so bad, and fell apart with so little fight, that this spot has to belong to one of the Gazzaev’s. Early in the season the younger Gazzaev played naïve and open but gained points. By the second half of the season, when the team of some talented players needed to show some fight to stay up, they folded under the older Gazzaev. All around terrible coaching and a sad end to the one year in the top flight.
10) DRAMATIC INCIDENT OF THE YEAR:
ANDY: There can only be one choice in this category – the called off Dinamo – Zenit match in November, in which Dinamo goalie Anton Shunin was nearly hit with a flare from the Zenit away stand. Dinamo led at the time, 1-0, and was later awarded a technical win, 3-0. Zenit protested the result, complaining that football matches shouldn’t be decided behind closed doors, and many point to that incident as the spark for Zenit’s subsequent push to organize a United Championship between Russian and Ukraine. The incident also helped push along legislative efforts to curb fan misbehavior at stadiums.
PAVEL: Dinamo-Zenit suspended match.
CONNOR: The Anton Shunin flare incident.
ROB: Dinamo 3-0 Zenit, AKA the Shunin flare incident. Not massively dramatic at the time in terms of the visuals, but what it led to has been remarkable. Zenit threw their toys out of the pram and threatened to leave the league, the United Championship idea really began to take shape, and the club taking the result to the Court of Arbitration for Sport threw the whole title race into doubt until the last possible minute. It still seems to have left a bad taste in the mouth, Zenit have made no friends in the process, and it could rumble on for some time.