The Russian Solution - Trawling the World's Oddest League for a Striking Answer

Firstly, I'd like to preface this with an explanation of how inexplicably odd Russian football is as a whole. It is a league in which Hulk has struggled and Roman Pavlyuchenko has looked like a world-class player. Teams can hardly be relied on to play the same team from week to week and key players can go for ridiculously low prices. Nonetheless, it is also the home of many extraordinarily underrated strikers, and it is for that reason that I am writing today.

The upper levels of the Russian Premier League contain both vastly overrated and underrated players that, as a whole, ending up balancing out. The bottom half is basically consistently mediocre, however gems pop up from time to time. The most notable of these gems in recent years is Yura Movsisyan, an Armenian target man who has kept Krasnodar mere inches away from mediocrity this season. The 25 year old is currently joint top scorer in the league and is strong, tall and has terrific hold-up play, which would make him the perfect lone striker or partner to Jermain Defoe up top for Tottenham Hotspur. Unfortunately, he has been snatched out of the mouths of circling teams by Spartak Moscow, who have approximately 47 first team strikers, none of whom are particularly brilliant. Shockingly, the move went through for only 6 million pounds; a steal for a player who has notched 9 goals in only 13 appearances this season.

With the delicate nature of Spartak's striker corps, it is likely that one of the players will have to make way and any interested teams could take their pick of any of the 6 first team strikers on offer. At worst, these players would all make decent third choices at a top English team like Spurs, whilst one or two could offer slightly more. In particular, Welliton catches the eye. Welliton arrived at Spartak in 2007 and was seen as Roman Pavlyuchenko's long term replacement (at a time when Pav was undoubtedly the best striker in Russia). After spending a year or two settling in, Welliton went on a two year scoring spree, during which he was the top scorer in the Russian Premier League for two years running. However an unfortunate incident in which he collided with and badly injured CSKA keeper Igor Akinfeev led to the Brazilian being banned for four months and he has struggled to regain form since. A change of scenery would do him well, especially as he drops further down the pecking order at Spartak.

One of the men who has moved above him in Emmanuel Emenike. The 25-year-old is strong, fast and has a brutal right foot. Last season he bagged 13 goals in 22 appearances and he looks well set to match that this season. Since joining from Karabukspor (via Fenerbahçe) in 2010, he (along with lanky Artyom Dzyuba and vastly overrated Ari) has ousted the once-brilliant Welliton and installed himself as the focal point of Spartak's attack. However, with Spartak's acquisition of Movsisyan, it is likely that he will find minutes restricted and could be had for a fee somewhere south of 10 million pounds, which is well below his true value and a swoop for the Nigerian would be a smart move by Daniel Levy.

Moving across town, CSKA's trio of highly rated forwards sits in wait. The most prominent of the three, Seydou Doumbia, has been mentioned alongside other illustrious names as a potential solution for Spurs' striker issues and would indeed mark a major improvement over both Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor. Unfortunately, for all his good features, injury has hampered his season thus far and he will only manage to make fourth appearance of the season when the league comes back from its winter break in March. Also suffering from injuries this season is Czech hitman Tomáš Necid, who has failed to make an appearance this year. Necid represents what a less selfish Movsisyan would look like and his link up play has long helped players like Keisuke Honda and Alan Dzagoev into play and made CSKA an effective and fluid unit. With solid scorers in midfield such as Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurðsson, Necid would thrive and rack up assist after assist, although his asking price (likely on the upside of 10 million pounds) and his fitness may scare away potential suitors.

The man who has benefited most from the absence of CSKA's two best strikers is Ahmed Musa. Usually a winger, Musa has been moved to centre forward whilst Alan Dzagoev has had to move to the wing. Musa's performance this year has looked somewhat surprising statistically, but in reality, his play has been average at best and the vast majority of his goals have come from being in the right place at the right time, in stark contrast to the skilful play that he demonstrated on the wing in the second half of last season. In essence, he is a very poor man's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Alexandre Pato and would not prove a sizable improvement over either Emmanuel Adebayor or Jermain Defoe.

Where the Russian league is coming into it's own is the development of several talented youngsters. The trio of Aleksandr Kokorin, Maksim Kannunikov (on a side note, I can't wait to hear Mechanick try and pronounce this) and Aleksandr Kozlov are all very highly rated and have starred for Russia's youth sides in recent years. Whilst Kokorin is the only player to have been playing club football consistently so far in his career (and he's even broken into the senior Russian side in recent months), both Kannunikov and Kozlov are slowly breaking into their respective teams (Zenit and Spartak) even though neither side have a particular dearth of strikers. Their development gives the national team quite some hope after an era in which the side only had the deceptively solid Roman Pavlyuchenko and Pavel Pogrebnyak and the outstanding Aleksandr Kerzhakov. Were Daniel Levy to go for one of this trio, whose asking prices are all on the lower side of 10 million pounds (Kokorin and Kannunikov would probably go for 8-9 million, whilst Kozlov, who has debatably the most potential, would only be about 6 million), it should turn out to be a smart and solid investment that could pay dividends for Spurs in the future.

Searching for strikers in Russia is practically a game of Russian roulette. For every Seydou Doumbia or Yura Movsisyan, there are 5 players that are just as overrated as Ahmed Musa or Ari. If Daniel Levy is to return to the Russian market to solve his striker problems, he must be careful to avoid the not-quite-strikers and the overrated national forwards and keep his search limited to the talented if slightly overpriced foreign imports and the under-21 up-and-comers, or else this expedition to Russia could end up even worse than his last.

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