Russia enter next summer’s World Cup as something of an unpredictable entity, with the eastern European nation’s side in transition. Fabio Capello will be charged with the task of qualifying for the knockout stages of football’s biggest tournament for the first time in the country’s history, with Belgium, Algeria and South Korea standing in the way in Group H.
There has certainly been a switch in Russian club football of late, with the trend of the top players heading abroad seemingly turned on its head.
The Premier League for example has seen some of Russia’s most well-known players head to English shores over the last five years. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Andrei Kanchelskis and Dmitri Kharine, fives Russian stars have stepped out for English sides in recent times.
The highest profile Russian addition to the Premier League was Andrei Arshavin, who became Arsenal’s record transfer signing after moving to north London in 2008. Capable of wizardry and with the four goals against Liverpool in mind, the skillful attacker was labeled as the poster boy of Russian football.
However, Arshavin suffered a notable dip in confidence and form, and departed the Emirates Stadium outfit in the summer to return home.
Yuri Zhirkov had an ill-fated spell at Chelsea between 2009 and 2011, but failed to make a significant impact on affairs at Stamford Bridge. The versatile left-sided player was largely used as a back-up to Ashley Cole, and has since headed back to the Russian Premier League.
Tottenham thought they had signed a striker capable of getting them the goals to challenge for major honours after adding Roman Pavlyuchenko to their squad in 2008, but over a four-year stint at White Hart Lane the forward failed to establish himself.
Capable of match-winning form, the attacker was never given a consistent run of games to fully adapt to life in England, and left the club in 2012.
Finally, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and Pavel Pogrebnyak have also graced British shores. The former had three largely ineffective years at Everton, while the latter started at Fulham and now plays for Reading in the Championship.
Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko had moments where they threatened to be top Premier League players, but none of these five Russian stars could really be adjudged to have had a successful spell in England.
Looking at the dynamics of the Russian squad selected for recent friendlies against Serbia and South Korea, none of these five players featured. In fact, the entire 23-man squad ply their club trade in the Russian Premier League.
The failed experiments of the afore-mentioned stars seems to have taken its toll on football in the nation, with every likelihood that Capello’s contingent that travels to Brazil next summer will be entirely comprised of players playing their club football in Russia.
Pogrebnyak is a possible exception, as is Sevilla’s Denis Cheryshev; however, not many nations travelling to the tournament will have as many players based on home soil as Russia.
With the growing number of young Russia stars on the rise, the experiences of the five players who moved to England and failed will surely be taken into consideration when they decide their club futures.
The likes of Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Kokorin will not be short of suitors in the next couple of years – whether they decide to stay at home or attempt to become a success overseas could well shift the dynamic of the Russian national side for years to come.