Top 10 Foreign Players in the RPL

The Russian league has a vast amount of foreign talent, but these are my Top 10 international stars.

(10) Joaozinho. The little Brazilian is a massive part of the reason FC Krasnodar have been able to stave off relegation and cement their place as a mid table side. Along with fellow Brazilian Wanderson and now Ari, they form a potent partnership for Krasnodar. And while Joaozinho’s scoring record on paper doesn’t make look like one of the best players on the team, his on the field performances more than make up for it.

Joaozinho and Wanderson celebrate a goal

(9) Jano Ananidze. The Georgian-born Ananidze on loan at FC Rostov from Spartak is a key reason why Rostov have enjoyed their early season success. Ananidze stands at a tiny 5 ft 8 inches, but his height and low centre of gravity enables him to breeze past players and feed in passes for Rostov to score. He enjoyed a very successful end to his debut season and was on Arsenal and Liverpool’s radar. Still just 20, the little Georgian has got bags of potential that will be fulfilled in my opinion. While on loan at Rostov this season he has 1 goal and 5 assists in 11 games and has been named man of the match on 3 occasions. The best thing for Ananidze would be to go out on loan for the 2014/15 season also. This would mean he would come back to Spartak a much more mature and better player.

Ananidze playing for Rostov in the 2013/2014 season

Ananidze playing for Rostov in the 2013/2014 season

(8) Ibrahima Balde. The big African played a huge role helping Kuban qualify for the Europe League group stages. The 6 foot 3 striker plays a huge part in Kuban’s dynamic offense. He is able to hold the ball up and bring other teammates into play, great in the air, deadly in the box and able to run the channels, which for a big man of his size and stature is not an easy feat. Last season, by scoring12 goals, he showed how valuable he was. Now, however, with Cisse joined up to carry the scoring load, it could spell great things for Kuban in the coming season, both domestically and in Europe.

Balde challenges for the ball

(7) Salomon Rondon. The most expensive Venezuelan in history plays a vital part in Kazan’s success in qualifying for the Europe League and reaching the quarter finals last season. The hit man bought from Malaga for a reported 10 million euros is now the spear head of a very effective Kazan attack. Scoring vital goals last season for Kazan has also made him a firm fan favourite. Running the channels is Rondon’s best quality. His performance against league champions CSKA Moscow in a 2-0 victory was the stand out from last season. He has also started this season with a flyer by netting a hat rick against FC Ural on September 1st, before falling victim to injury and is set top be out for 2 months. Having Rondon fit could make Kazan’s season.

Rondon battles in the 2-0 win against CSKA

(6) Lacina Traore. The 6 foot 8 striker could well be Anzhi’s only hope of staying in the top flight of Russian football, with the recent turmoil and player sales, Traore is the only player left in the squad that could post +20 goals this season. With recent speculation linking him with a move away in January to clubs such as AS Monaco and Liverpool, it could spell the end for Anzhi in the top flight. He was a big money signing from Kuban in July 2012 for 18 million euros. Still, he was never able to reach full potential, having to play second fiddle to Eto’o in a potent Anzhi attack. However, the striker is the full package of pace, power, height and technical ability and would make a huge asset to any team.

Traore showing his height and skill

(5) Axel Witsel. One of the highest profile signings in Russian footballing history, given the 40 million euro buy-out clause paid by Zenit to Benfica on September 3, 2012 and subsequent 5-year contract. The centre midfielder has a wide range of passing ability and skill, and is a big reason why Zenit have been successful in their quest for Champions League football.

He’s often on the radar of top European  clubs, with Man Utd and Real Madrid among those interested in him. A major player on the Belgium national team, he’s become indispensable at Zenit as well and will help push for a league title. He’s only scored once this season, but has appeared in all 19 matches for Zenit, with 16 starts.

Calm on the ball under pressure

(4) Seydou Doumbia. Playing in perhaps the fastest strike partnership in the league with Ahmed Musa makes Doumbia’s overall game much more focused on scoring. With his blistering pace, power and skill, he’s one of the best strikers in the league without a doubt. He showed that in the 2011/2012 season, finishing top goal scorer with 28. However, recent back and lower body injuries have plagued Doumbia. When injury free, he is unstoppable. His goal scoring record from Switzerland and Russia backs this up – 50 goals in 64 games for Young Boys, and 57 goals in 88 games for CSKA.

Doumbia and Musa together

(3) Hulk. The biggest name in Russian football today and probably the player with the most talent. The Brazilian has a huge frame with pace to burn, making him a real handful for defenders. He’s also able to play anywhere across the front line or on the wings. Given half a chance he will cut in and unleash a rocket into the net. Most defenders fear Hulk, which makes him such a good asset for Zenit. The only downside to Hulk’s game would be the temper and disagreements with coaches and players on the Zenit team, which have caused him to miss games. Scoring 13 goals in 25 games doesn’t represent how good Hulk can be, however, he’s always a threat to turn a game on its head. One of, if not the best, in his position in the Russian League.

Hulk beating a player with ease

(2) Yura Movsisyan. The Armenia forward is now Spartak Moscow’s main striker with the sale of Emmanuel Emenike, Movsisyan is one of Spartak’s most expensive signings at 7.5 million euros in the 2012/13 season. Hitting the ground running in his first game for the club by scoring a hat trick, Spartak fans hoped that it would be a sign of things to come, but injuries have slowed his progress. Still, the quick forward with a clever footballing brain knows where to put himself to get the opportunities to score. With his strong eye for goal, he could be the catalyst to Spartak qualifying for the Champions League this season. A very big player for the big games like the derbies.

Celebrating his hat trick on his debut

(1) Danny. Often hailed as the best midfielder in Russia, the Portuguese master can play anywhere in the midfield and has been a rock for Zenit in past years. Arriving with a 30 million euro price tag was always going to bring hype and Danny has certainly lived up to it, most famously scoring the winner in a 2-1 victory over Man Utd in the UEFA Super Cup. When healthy, he’s a huge reason for the team’s success domestically. A tricky, smart footballing brain and quick feet make Danny a complete midfielder. With 48 goals and 45 assists in 149 appearances for Zenit all-time from the midfield, the club from St. Petersburg know just how lucky they are to have him.

Danny winning the UEFA Super Cup in 2008

Author: Matthew Neasham


  1. Mark Constable says:

    Err, where’s Keisuke Honda?

  2. i’m always against such lists like “Top 10, Top 40″ because it may always create conflicts between the writer and the readers as we’re all human beings we may have different choices. That’s why I’d have preferred to choose a title like ” Best Foreigners in RPL”

    Also as Mark stated, Honda should have been on this list definitely. Probably he’s excluded as he’ll leave during winter transfer window.

  3. Aleksandr says:

    I can’t agree with your opinion. Lacina Traore isn’t full-fledged player. He is just big talent. I can’t remember his important goals at this season. Now he doesn’t deserve to be in this list. As for me, N’Doye and Corluka are better.
    Also I think Movsisyan can’t pretent on 2-nd place in this list. He is good player, but he also can’t change the course of the game.
    Also I consider that Rondon is perfect striker for RPL. He is very important for Rubin, because without him Rubin can’t play their usual style.

    • Matthew Neasham says:

      I actually didn’t state that Traore had scored important goals. Only that he is capable of scoring enough to keep Anzhi in the division. That’s why he’s in the top 10.

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