Russian fans celebrated when the Sbornaya (as Russia’s national team is often called) managed, with a 2-0 win over tiny Montenegro, to qualify for the European Championships that will take place in France next summer.
In truth, however, Russia’s match against Montenegro will not be remembered as a football classic; Russia was simply a pragmatic team that carved out a needed win against a poor opponent. Russia’s attacking tandem, made up of Dinamo Moscow’s Aleksandr Kokorin and Zenit Saint Petersburg Artyom Dzyuba, seemed lost at times as they received little creative support from midfield.
Despite scoring the second goal from a penalty, Kokorin’s performance was mediocre at best, as he still struggles at times to define his true position on the field. Kokorin has shown promise throughout his career, but in truth the Dinamo Moscow striker, referred to by some avant garde spectators as a false nine, has not quite lived up to early expectations since making his scoring debut at age 17.
It was thought that his big breakthrough would come after the 2013/14 season when he managed to score 10 goals in 22 appearances in the Russian Football Premier League (RFPL). He failed to duplicate that form in the following season, however, when he managed only 8 goals in 27 games. This year, Kokorin is off to a mixed start having scored only 2 goals in 6 matches for Dinamo Moscow.
To be fair, Dinamo Moscow are a club in transition because financial problems caused by the rouble crisis and bad management forced the club to sell several players in the off season.
Also, in the summer, Dinamo was also forced to sell several high profile players: the French offensive midfielder Mathieu Valbuena, who was sold to Oympique Lyon for €5 million; the French defensive midfielder William Vainqueur, who was sold to AS Roma for €3 million; the Hungarian winger Balázs Dzsudzsák, who was sold to Bursarspor for €1.6 million; and the Dutch-Brazilian defender Douglas, who was sold to Trabzonspor for €1.5 million. At the same time, the German striker Kevin Kuranyi, and the Russian internationals Vladimir Granat, and Fedor Smolov left on free transfers, because Dinamo could not afford to renew their contracts.
Despite earning €11.1 million on player transfers in the offseason, Dinamo continues to be in financial trouble, and as a result, has already agreed on the transfer of the Russian right winger Aleksey Ionov—for an undisclosed sum—to Spartak Moscow for the winter transfer window.
Meanwhile Kokorin has persevered in his struggle to truly define his game, and as Dinamo’s financial uncertainty continues, the young attacking player has to make a decision regarding his own playing future. Despite having failed to achieve a major breakthrough as of yet, Kokorin is still considered a bright talent in Russian football. As his form has stagnated, his market value—according to Transfermarkt.de—has dropped from €18 million in 2014 to €10 million at present .
Yet, there is still a market for Kokorin as Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, has taken an interest in him. But Arsenal is not alone; Zenit Saint Petersburg—fuelled by Gazprom’s riches—is also seriously looking at the player, and despite the Premier League’s new television deal, Zenit Saint Petersburg may actually outbid Arsenal.
Because new regulations in the RFPL forces clubs to field at least five players who are eligible to play for the Russian national team, Zenit might be willing to pay whatever is necessary to secure the services of Kokorin—also Russian football players are categorized as artists and pay almost no taxes. Wenger, on the other hand, is known for his careful financial approach, and therefore may not offer Kokorin the same financial rewards as Zenit—Wenger, however, has the ability to bring players to the next level, and might finally turn Kokorin into Russia’s brightest star. Hence, Kokorin has to make a decision: will he take Gazprom’s money, and live the easy life in the RFPL, or will he take a chance and try to prove himself in one of Europe’s toughest leagues?
About the author – Manuel Veth