Season Preview: Rubin Kazan

Kazan Arena. Photo: Andrew Wiese/RFN

Kazan Arena. Photo: Andrew Wiese/RFN

This time last year, Rubin Kazan fans were filled with hope and promise. Their team had spent €40m on transfers, and appointed Spaniard Javi Gracia as their coach, but come the end of the season, they were languishing in 9th place, with Gracia working on borrowed time.

A month later, Gracia was gone, and after lengthy rumour, Rubin’s legendary manager from 2001-2013, Kurban Berdyev, rejoined the club after two highly successful seasons at FC Rostov. Berdyev is not alone in making the swap from Rostov to Kazan, with defender Vladimir Granat and Fyodor Kudryashov also making the move, while Soslan Dhzanaev and Sardar Azmoun have trained with the squad over the last month ahead of being announced as signings at the club. Cesar Navas was also linked with a move back and trained with the squad, but he has decided to return to Spain due to his father falling ill.

Rubin have managed to clear out a lot of the deadwood in their squad, players who had not featured for them in many years, while they also lost two senior players, with Solomon Kverkvelia joining Lokomotiv Moscow permanently after spending time on loan there last season, and Denis Tkachuk departing after the expiry of his contract. Many expected some of the big names from last summer to leave, Alex Song, Maxime Lestienne and Sergio Sanchez in particular, but Berdyev has kept them all around so far and played them all regularly in pre-season.

Head coach

As previously mentioned, Kurban Berdyev has returned to Rubin, whom he coached between 2001 and 2013, after four years away. The last time the Turkmen was in charge of the Tatars, he won the championship twice, the cup once and famously defeated Barcelona in the Champions League.

Berdyev has brought his 5-3-2 formation from Rostov and immediately implemented it at Rubin with it being used in all the friendly matches in pre-season, though unlike Rostov, it’s believed he does not wish to park the bus, and has been working primarily on attacking in training, perhaps a nod to the talented players Rubin possess.

Greatest strength

Rubin’s greatest strength currently is probably squad depth. With the addition of Kudryashov as a possible left back or centre back, Rubin now have at least two players in each position who can play comfortably in the RFPL.

Considering the 6+5 limit, now in it’s last season in it’s current state, Rubin can rely on their Russian players without having to worry about one player letting the team down. Last year, Vitaliy Ustinov often had to play due to injuries, and he was responsible for making mistakes which cost Rubin goals and wins. Ustinov is now set to join Rostov on loan, and Rubin can now solely rely on Kuzmin or Bauer at right back.

Greatest weakness

Berdyev is a very picky manager, especially when it comes to signings, and so to inherit a squad with so many foreign players is quite an unknown situation for him to be in. It remains to be seen how Berdyev will gel with players like Song, Lestienne and Jonathas, and if he finds a reason to not get along with them then Rubin’s play and squad morale could suffer as a result of some of the “better” players not actually playing.

On a secondary level, the 5-3-2 obviously does not operate with wingers, so players like Gokdeniz Karadeniz, Rifat Zhemaletdinov and Maxime Lestienne are being played out of positions, asked to play in centre midfield or up front, perhaps out of their normal comfort zone.

Key player

Based on last season, Rubin will be heavily reliant on two players, striker Jonathas, and perhaps more importantly, veteran goalkeeper Sergey Ryzhikov. The 36 year old was Rubin’s player of the season last year, putting in excellent performances week after week to save Rubin further embarrassment in the league. His contract was due to expire, but the addition of Berdyev to the scenario made renewing for another two years an easy decision. Now in his 9th season at the club, Ryzhikov is the heart and soul of the squad, sparking life into the team, and all being well, he will be nearing his 300th league appearance for the club by the end of this season, a marvellous achievement.

Young starlet

Rubin have a small batch of young players around the first team at the moment. With Elmir Nabiullin now 22 and fully established, eyes turn to Timur Akmurzin, Georgiy Makhatadze, Ilzat Akhmetov and perhaps the player who will make the biggest impact this season, Rifat Zhemaletdinov. The 20 year old, signed from Lokomotiv Moscow last summer, made 23 appearances for Rubin last season, including 12 starts, but did not score or assist a single goal, despite having plenty of chances. After bursting onto the scene at the end of the 15/16 season with Lokomotiv, Zhemaletdinov needs to gain some composure and confidence in front of goal, and a sign that this may be in progress was shown as he scored his first senior goal in a pre-season friendly recently.

Season prediction

Last year, hopes were high due to the money spent, this year, hopes are high due to the man in charge. Kurban Berdyev is a legend in Kazan, and having him back at the club should draw fans to the stadium in their droves. If he can achieve anything near what he did with Rostov, then Rubin will be delighted after a couple of very poor seasons.

Pre-season friendlies have seen mixed results while using experimental line-ups, with their training camp in Austria ending with a 4-0 defeat to German 2nd tier side Arminia Bielefeld, enough to spark a little bit of nerves into the fans, just one week ahead of the season.

Author: David Sansun

Arsenal and Rubin Kazan fan. Possibly too optimistic for Russian football which means I’m left disappointed a lot.


  1. Amin Hamidi says:

    hope azmoun will make his impact too , i wanna see him scoring important goals again specially under Berdyev’s lead

  2. hansomreiste says:

    With the ownership and management change I can see Rubin challenging for the title again in a couple of years. Even in this upcoming season I expect them to fight for European spots in worst case scenario. Berdyev is just a magical guy and the squad he has at his disposal is simply too good for him to ruin. All Rubin needed was a well-structured, organized and disciplined presence, which now they have in the probably best form available. The future is bright.

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