Our season round up Round Table discussion centers around a review of the RPL transfer action.
Andy – @AndyShenk – a Moscow based writer and Russian language translator, Andy supports Anzhi
Pavel – @russianpotter – a Nizhny Novgorod-based young journalist and Spartak supporter, Volga attendee
Manuel – @homosovieticus – PhD Student with focus on Soviet history and football, as well as blogger at Futbolgrad.com (@futbolgradlive)
Connor – @Con_027 – Russian Football follower, CSKA supporter, England resident
John – @JohnSager – Russian Football follower, Zenit supporter, California resident
1) Who are the top 3 transfers of the season?
1) Wanderson (Krasnodar). The 27-year-old Brazilian forward joined Krasnodar on loan from Swedish club GAIS in early September. He scored in each of his first two appearances, despite coming on as a sub and went on to record 13 goals and 3 assists in 21 appearances. His hat trick against Anzhi in March highlighted a stellar year in which he tied with former teammate Yuri Movsisyan for top scorer in the RPL. He officially moved to Krasnodar in the winter, signing a two-year contract. The transfer fee came to just €1 million, easily the best deal of the season.
2) Ivelin Popov/Aras Ozbiliz (both Kuban). I’ll cheat here and go with two Kuban midfielders. Both came over cheap in the summer – Ozbiliz for €3m from Ajax and Popov for €2m from Gaziantepspor. While Ozbiliz put Kuban in contention for Europe in the fall, scoring 7 goals in 15 appearances, Popov sealed the deal, finding the back of the net 6 times in the club’s final 7 RPL matches, including the game-winner against Anzhi on the last day of the season. Between them, Ozbiliz and Popov scored 18 goals, more than making up for the departure of Lacina Traore, who led Kuban with 18 goals in 38 appearances the season before.
3) Which leads us to our final transfer – Lacina Traore (Anzhi). He consistently gave Guus Hiddink’s surprisingly sluggish offense the boost it needed. Though rarely on for the full 90 minutes, Traore scored 12 goals and gave out 4 assists in 24 appearances. His price tag, however, was high. Anzhi reportedly spent €18m on the Ivorian international in the summer.
Vagner Love. The player with the greatest name in football returned to CSKA Moscow. I will further elaborate this story below.
Laciana Traore. What a player, what a striker. Traore has a towering figure who stands at 2,03 meters, but at the same time his footwork is amazing. Also he is only 23 years old, the question how long will it take until a big club from one of the European top leagues will try to lure him away.
Willian. Everyone thought he would be going to Chelsea, instead he ended up living in Moscow and playing for Anzhi Makhachkala. Willian is a fantastic acquisition for Anzhi. He will rule their midfield come next season. This is transfer that in future will pay huge dividends for Anzhi.
1) Mario Fernandes (Gremio—CSKA)
2) Rasmus Elm (AZ Alkmaar—CSKA)
3) Salvatore Bocchetti (Rubin—Spartak)
Somewhere here must be Hulk and Witsel, but, in the end, these players made the best impact in their teams. Also would like to mention Wanderson (GAIS—Kransodar.)
1) Aras Ozbiliz – A €1m buy from Ajax is an absolute steal for this guy. 9 goals including some great free kicks and some very crucial winning goals for Kuban. He was crucial this season and will no doubt play a part in Kuban’s European games as well.
Rasmus Elm (CSKA) – Slightly more expensive at €6m but the partnership between him and Pontus Wernbloom was solid and he even chipped in with 5 goals leading to a league winners medal.
Ivelin Popov – Another Kuban signing, just €2m, 9 goals from midfield when playing on the wing or just behind the striker.
1) Pick a Kuban transfers, anyone of them. They could qualify for transfer of the season.
2) Elm– Looks good every time I see him play. A solid signing that contributed to the league title.
3) Wanderson will probably be sought by a big club in the future.
2) Who are the biggest 3 worst transfers of the season?
1) Juan Insaurralde (Spartak). The centre-back came over from Boca Juniors in the summer for €3.3m and figured prominently for Unai Emery in the first half of the season. But inconsistent play, a stoppage-time own goal that gave Anzhi a 2-1 win in October, as well as red cards against Celtic in the Champions League and Zenit at home, saw him benched for good when Valery Karpin took over in late November.
2) Hulk (Zenit). Signed for €55m from Porto and brought on to lead Zenit to Champions League glory, the Brazilian forward’s arrival destabilized team chemistry and coincided with a terrible run in September that ultimately cost Zenit a third straight title (1 point at home against Lokomotiv and Terek and draw on the road against Krylia Sovetov). Hulk actually played fairly well in the RPL, collecting 7 goals and 5 assists in 18 appearances, but his net impact in 2012/2013 was negative. If he stays with Zenit next season, we may get a better sense of his worth to the team, with 2012’s drama left behind for good.
3) Renan Bressan (Alania). Bressan cost Alania €3.5m over the winter and was expected to lead Vladikavkaz out of the drop zone after a miserable start to the season. Despite playing a key role in BATE Borisov’s eye-opening Champions League run in the fall, the naturalized Belarusian midfielder couldn’t get comfortable at Valery Gazzaev’s club. He contributed just two assists in 10 appearances this spring and was often invisible on the pitch. Surprisingly, he’s said he’ll stay with Alania in the FNL next season
MANUEL: I find this section unfair. To pick a transfer flop after just one season, often a player might need a year to settle in and might not have a breakthrough year right away.
Gökhan Töre: had such a promising season with Hamburg, and instead of extending his contract elected to leave the club and play for Rubin Kazan. He played five matches last season. That statistic says it all.
Gordon Schildenfeld: Eintracht Frankfurt couldn’t believe their luck when Dinamo Moscow was willing to pay €1.5 million for the defender. Schildenfeld played six matches for Dinamo before he was loaned to the Greek club PAOK.
Hulk: A great player who moves to a good team, this seemed to be a match in heaven. Hulk’s arrival, however, would create a massive rift throughout the entire Zenit Football Club. This I will elaborate further below.
1) Juan Insaurralde (Boca Juniors—Spartak)
2) David Bentley (Tottenham—Rostov, loan)
3) Yann M’Vila (Rennais—Rubin)
OK, OK, i’m probably wrong putting M’Vila here, but he hasn’t shown anything at the time. He, of course, would need a season, but 10 millions should be spent expecting immediate result.
1) Gokhan Tore (Rubin) – Signed for €6m, played just 5 league games and is suing the club for extortion, nice work.
2) Romulo (Spartak) – €8m from Vasco in the Summer, just the 4 league games since.
3) Otman Bakkal (Dinamo) – A free transfer from PSV but has played just 7 minutes of football all season.
1) Yann M’Vila (Rubin) – Supposed to be a top talent on the verge of Arsenal, he was a coup for Rubin. An established French international, he should have been a key signing. But he seems to be unable to stay out of trouble with prostitutes- having been robbed or legal issues with underage prostitutes. Combined with disciplinary issues with the French FA, it appears he has not learned any lessons, and I believe he will not have the mental make-up to perform in a far different culture and climate than his home. I would not be surprised if his talent goes unrealized.
2. Gokhan Tore (Rubin) – Wasn’t he supposed to be really good?
3. Royston Drenthe (Alania) – Seeing this former Real Madrid hotheadpop up on relegation bound Alania on surely inflated wages while they couldn’t afford to play wages has to be a poor decision.
3) What team had the best transfer season?
ANDY: CSKA Moscow. Leonid Slutsky’s championship squad quietly took care of business in the RPL, and much of the credit should go to savvy summer signings of right-back Mario Fernandes and midfielder Rasmus Elm. They cost Evgeni Giner a total of €19m, about 1/5 of Zenit’s Hulk/Witsel combo, and fit in seamlessly with CSKA’s veteran leaders. Fernandes missed just two RPL matches, while Elm missed four. Consistent and productive, they exemplified CSKA’s breakthrough season, which, few remember, began with getting bounced out of the Europa League by AIK and early 3-1 losses to Amkar and Zenit.
PAVEL: I was in doubt in choosing between CSKA and Kuban. They would never be where they are without those players. But, as Kuban moved on more table positions from last year than CSKA (weird logic, but the best I currently have), I will go with Kuban because of improvement.
CONNOR: Got to be Kuban. As already mentioned they bought Ozbiliz and Popov but also bought Ibrahima Balde for €3.5m. They also got the defender Xandao in January who has been solid enough and Charles Kabore in midfield from Marseille. They probably got the best value for money out of anyone in the league and have ended up in Europe.
JOHN: Although it is hard not to go with Kuban, CSKA cannot be overlooked as the team making the best transfer moves. Not only winning the title, CSKA have set themselves up with a well-balanced, attractive side, with great depth. Vágner Love’s return was a solid addition softening the blow of Doumbia’s injury. Mario Fernandes was RFN’s unanimous Right Back of the year. And Rasmus Elm was excellent in midfield. The core of CSKA was already good, and the transfers supplemented it perfectly at a fraction of the cost Anzhi and Zenit have been paying for their isolated stars. The Championship speaks for itself.
4) What team had the worst transfer season?
ANDY: Alania Vladikavkaz. Bressan’s failed transfer was just the tip of the iceberg in North Ossetia. Some bad luck was involved, of course, as well as numerous suspensions that limited Gazzaev’s selection options, but summer signings Diego Mauricio, Vladimir Khozin, and Rudnei da Roza had little impact, while only Royston Drenthe and Soslan Dzhanaev helped much after the winter break. Bressan, Georgi Gabulov, Georgi Chanturia, Ognjen Vranjes and Welinton were largely disappointments as Alania didn’t even come close to escaping relegation.
MANUEL: For many reasons I will have to pick Zenit for this one. The Hulk story will be further evaluated below. But Zenit spent enormous amounts of money on transfers this season. This was to be Zenit’s season; the goals were simple to defend the title in Russia, and to compete in the Champions League. Instead the club’s transfers created a massive rift in the dressing room. The league title is gone, and the club was not even able to make it out of the group stage of the Champions League.
PAVEL: There are many competitors for this title. Zenit transfers looked amazing at first, but spoiled the team atmosphere. Spartak completely failed the summer window (the biggest mistake though was not to sell Welliton and De Zeeuw), with just Romulo coming in, who slightly improved in winter. Dinamo wanted to sign good players without spending a rouble – and look at the table. Rubin spent 17 millions on Gokhan Tore and Yann M’Vila – and what? 6th place? Rostov signed loads of good players – and will be welcome in relegation playoffs for second year in a row. You can’t choose between all these poor decisions.
CONNOR: I’m tempted to say Zenit but I’ll refrain from doing so. I’ll go for Alania. They brought in 10 players in January alone, including Royston Drenthe and Bressan from BATE, yet they still finished bottom putting up very little of a fight. No doubt be a huge squad turnover in the Summer due to relegation.
JOHN: I feel Anzhi did not have an excellent transfer season. While the big attacking names were once again signed, the team lacked cohesion, balance, and depth. When players were injured, Anzhi was forced to use subpar replacements. The midfield contained too many of similar type players. The sale of Samba was an inopportune time. The result was a free-fall from League title contention to significantly off pace for Champions League qualification all after the break. With the exception of Traore, I feel Anzhi fell into the trap of signing whoever they were able to as opposed to targeting team needs based on tactical plans. Lassana Diarra was an average signing and Willian did not benefit the team this season (although he will in the future.)
5) What was the most interesting transfer storyline of this past season?
ANDY: As an Anzhi fan, I have to go with Andrei Eschenko’s January move to Makhachkala from Lokomotiv. While he suffered a season-ending injury in the 4-0 loss to Krasnodar, the inked-up Russian wideback was a huge hit with Anzhi fans in Europa League play and the first first RPL matches of the spring.
Adding intrigue to it all was that fact that Lokomotiv reportedly let him go for free or for just €1m, depending on who you talk to, even though he’d appeared to have beaten out Aleksandr Anyukov and Dmitri Kombarov as Fabio Capello’s top choice wideback in the fall. Much like Roman Shirokov before him, the 29 year old has been a late bloomer, but he could play a major role at Anzhi and on the Russian national team for the next few years.
MANUEL: By far the best story was the return of the one and only Vagner Love. The best name in Russian and perhaps world football returned to CSKA. In my opinion that is were he belongs and I think it is fantastic that he has returned to the Russian Premier League. Vagner Love a player who slowly is becoming a legend of Russian football. Then there is the never-ending Hulk story. I would even say that this transfer cost Zenit the title. The arrival of Hulk (and Witsel) split the Zenit dressing room. Later the fans also rebelled against the player. Then there is the continues fighting between Hulk and coach Spalletti, and right now it seems like that one of the two will leave in the offseason. This transfer that was to catapult Zenit towards being a Champions League contender has (so far) done more harm then good to Zenit but also Russian football in general.
PAVEL: And again choosing between two previously discussed transfers – one that happened and one that didn’t. Hulk, as I couldn’t believe he would choose Zenit; and Glushakov, because he advanced beyond Lokomotiv’s level and lost motivation. I expected him to join Spartak, but it’s still possible he will join this summer in summer.
CONNOR: Well it has to be the Hulk/Witsel debacle. Zenit players striking and getting suspended by the club because Hulk is getting paid more, all very petty and very hard to sympathise from the outside considering they’re multi-millionaires anyway. In the end the strengthening of the team probably cost them the title so Zenit will have to hope that both players are in form next season for it all to have paid off.
JOHN: Zenit’s signing of Hulk, Alania’s debacle, Rubin’s sputtering, Anzhi’s big money, etc….. Tons of drama to keep us interested this season with transfers. I’ll go with Traore moving to Anzhi from Kuban. Kuban lost their star striker to another southern team, with even more money, and yet got better. Amazing management and a great reflection on the organization.