Round Table: The Greatest Players to Play in Russia


This spring, Russia celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Russian Football Premier League. Russian media Sport-Express recently published their list over the greatest players to ever grace the league, and now it is time for the Russian Football News team to look back and remember the maestros. 

This time, the panel consists off:

Joel Amorim (@Vostok1981): Writer for Russian Football News, WhoScored, FutnSoccer, Bola na Rede and Futbol Pulse

Robert Ustian (@Robustmsk):  Football Supporters Europe Committee Member

Alexey Spektrowski (@LoonySpectre): Spartak Moscow historian and writer for ProSpartak

Andrew Flint (@AndrewMijFlint): Writer for Russian Football News,  Senior writer at These Football Times


Question 1: Who is the greatest player to ever play in the Russian league?

Joel: I took some time to decide whether to choose Dmitri Alenichev, Dmitri Loskov, Andrey Tikhonov or Yegor Titov, but after thinking for about 15 minutes I have decided to give my vote to “Dima” Alenichev, who was an outstanding footballer, one of the best East European midfielders of the last 30 years.

Robert: Igor Akinfeev. He broke all of Rinat Dasayev and Lev Yashin’s records. He has won 19 trophies with CSKA, including the historical UEFA Cup in 2005 and bronze medal at Euro 2008 with Sbornaya. 

Alexey: The greatest ever player in the Russian league is Andrei Tikhonov. He was the leader of Spartak in the 1990s, and after leaving, still played on a very high level throughout most of the 2000s, despite being in his thirties.

Andrew: Of modern players, the impact of Andrey Arshavin, Igor Akinfeev and Hulk are hard to look past, while few have inspired a side quite as significantly as Dmitry Loskov for Lokomotiv’s title winning sides at the start of the century. Egor Titov was the fulcrum of the most dominant side since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, so he would have to get my vote; although I never saw him play in person, to be the hub of the most successful side for so long is special.

Question 2: Who is the greatest foreigner?

Joel: I honestly can’t decide who to choose for this particular category. The name of Veli Kasumov has instantly come to my mind, but the Azerbaijan international only played in Russia for one year. Vagner Love and Milos Krasic were the other names on my shortlist, but I can’t hide my admiration for the former Serbian ace. Although his career turned out to be extremely disappointing, Krasic was a tremendous winger during his days at CSKA.

Robert: Vagner Love. Evgeni Giner’s “son” will forever remain in CSKA’s golden history. He was absolutely mental when we won UEFA Cup in 2004/2005 season. Vagner, with his impressive 124 goals, is the only foreigner who is a member of legendary Grigory Fedotov Club (for players who scored 100 and more goals during their professional career in Soviet Union (Russia).

Alexey: Vagner Love, no questions. The only foreigner to ever make the Grigory Fedotov club by scoring 100 goals for a Russian team.

Andrew: It is impossible to look past Vagner Love. In the early years of the newly-formed Russian Premier League, a flood of vastly overrated and overpaid foreigners poured into the country and were quickly forgotten, but Love, who won 14 major honours in almost a decade in the capital was a class above. It is very rare for a ‘legionnaire’ to breed such an emotional connection to fans as the Brazilian did, and his record individually and as part of the UEFA Cup-winning side speaks for itself.

Question 3: Who is the most underrated player?

Joel: Oleg Veretennikov is probably the most underrated player in Russian football history. The Revda-born attacking midfielder was the league’s top scorer on three different occasions and scored around 170 goals for FC Rotor Volgograd in nine years. He scored more the 250 goals during his career and should have been given more opportunities to show his class in the Russian National Team.

Robert: Gökdeniz Karadeniz. I always expected him to play for one of the Russian top-clubs but unfortunately it never happened. Knowing him from Trabzonspor, I always thought he might shine much brighter than he did in Rubin. His amazing talent and creativity have been severely limited in Kazan. 

Alexey: I can’t really say.

Andrew: Admittedly this is a very subjective question, but I have absolutely loved Gokdeniz Karadeniz ever since he scored THAT goal in the Nou Camp all those years ago. I realise he is still extremely well-regarded, but not enough in my opinion. To have adapted his style of play as his age has advanced and still offer such a spark is wonderful, and yet he often seems to be overlooked in discussions over the greatest RFPL players. Pontus Wernbloom would be my honourable mention – an absolute beast of player, critical to CSKA’s success, but at least he’s starting be appreciated more.

Question 4: Who is the most overrated player?

Joel: Journeyman Maximiliano “Maxi” López was probably the most overrated player ever to set foot in Russian football. From River Plate wonderboy to FC Barcelona flop, his stint at FC Moscow only served to prove that his busy life outside the football pitch was far more important than scoring goals for his team.

Robert: Aleksandr Kokorin. A player who receives one of the highest salaries in the RFPL for no reason. A player with a loser mentality and a disgusting personality. A player who plays in one of the Russian top-clubs only because of having “necessary” citizenship. A player who almost always comes to mind first when a football supporter hears that horrible phrase “limit on foreigners”.

Alexey: Probably Aleksandr Kokorin. Still touted as a top-level striker, even though the last seasons were erratic at best.

Andrew: I’m tempted to say Luis Neto purely because he is still gets a game! In all seriousness though, I’d have to say Fernando Cavenaghi. He came with a reputation of a wonderboy from Argentina but failed completely to establish himself in Russia, and unfortunately represents the poor transfer success rate of many clubs at that time. His career never truly recovered afterwards, and while it is understandable that Spartak held high hopes of having landed a class player, their signing never matched the early promise.

Question 5: Who is the best coach?

Joel: Oleg Romantsev is by far the best head coach of Russian football, not only because of all the titles he won with Spartak Moscow, but also due to the tactical innovations and improvements he brought to the game. Spartak’s “tiki-taka” style was born and continuously improved in his sometimes twisted mind and I risk to say that the team led by Romantsev who defeated Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabéu back in 1991 is one of the best ever in the history of European football.

Robert: Valery Gazzaev. A person with extremely controversial personality, but what he did with CSKA when we won UEFA Cup 12 years ago was a miracle. Having a very limited budget and zero-trophy record for Russian teams in Europe he managed to create a team that forever changed Russian football history. Nothing seemed impossible after that triumph for a Russian players. That was a complete shift of mentality which later brought Russia bronze medals at Euro 2008 under magnificent Guus Hiddink.

Alexey: Oleg Romantsev, no questions too. The most decorated coach in the history of Russian football, nobody got even close despite Romantsev retiring from high-level football back in 2005.

Andrew: There are three who could be considered for this in my view, but one stands out ahead of Yury Semin and Leonid Slutsky – Oleg Romantsev. Not to take away from Semin and Slutsky’s achievements, but there are very few figures in world football who can honestly claim to have built a dynasty like Romantsev certainly did. He was a former player, president and manager, winner of eight titles, with an association that stretched across five decades. His descent into alcoholism was sad as his magical touch faded, but his legacy can never be matched.


Toke Møller Theilade

Author: Toke Møller Theilade

Brøndby supporter, groundhopper and more importantly Editor-in-Chief at As a hopeless romantic, I still believe Fyodor Smolov and Viktoria Lopyreva has a future together.

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