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Finding new world class talents in Russia has never been a serious problem, in fact looking back over the years, Russia has consistently produced players who are perfectly capable of playing at the highest level possible, and going on to star for the biggest clubs in Europe – just look at Andrey Arshavin for example. In the last few years however, new young prodigies are drying up somewhat.
Dick Advocaat, who was at the helm of the Russian national team for the last 3 years until Fabio Capello took over this year, himself stated his alarm at the lack of top level talent coming through the youth system and the lack of youthful options for the national team itself.
While there of course is Alan Dzagoev, whose ever rising reputation in Europe is only growing even more and more, it’s hard to single out many other players who are showing any potential to grow into international superstars – until you watch the Russian Premier League more closely that is.
Current league leaders Anzhi Makhachkala are finally showing why they spent all the money that they did. Finishing an average 5th last term, lead the way after 11 matches at the top of the league standings – 2 points ahead of Moscow outfit CSKA – and have won their past 6 league games in a row. The reason for many is obvious, Samuel Eto’o.
The Cameroonian goal machine has lived up to the heaps of expectation that were laid heavily on his shoulders, and makes goal scoring look very easy indeed. But as for why the reason is that Anzhi are having so much success recently, isn’t all just because of the ex Inter and Barcelona hitman.
You just have to look a bit behind him, and in the creative midfield that Anzhi possess, they have one of the fastest emerging Russian midfielders right now. 22 year old Oleg Shatov, signed from first division Ural Ekaterinburg early this year for a cheap sum in compared to what was spent on buying Eto’o, has arguably been Anzhi’s most effective signing of them all.
After making his professional debut for Ural back in 2007, Shatov has only gone from strength to strength, although admittedly he has had to wait until his early twenties for his big break. Sitting in the midfield with an emphasis for joining in on the attack, he emerged enough at Ural to be selected for the Russian under 21 team for the first time in 2010, making his debut as a late substitute in a 1-0 win away in France.
It soon became apparent that the big boys in Russia would come calling sooner or later, but after another couple of seasons starring in the Russian second tier, in 2012 finally he made the big step up. But Anzhi had a fight to get their hands on him. CSKA Moscow, who at the time were preparing for a major Champions League playoff match against Real Madrid were especially keen on the young midfielder and were reportedly very close to sealing a deal, until the Makhackala outfit snuck in and stole Shatov from under CSKA’s noses.
Anzhi at the time were just starting to really feel at home competing against the traditional Russian giants, and in an already very well balanced team, Shatov wasn’t exactly going to find it easy to find himself a place in the starting line up very often. But it was a challenge that he wasn’t afraid to take on and within a short space of time, it became apparent why Anzhi fought hard to acquire him.
In the final few months of the 2011/2012 season, he managed to get himself settled in his new team very quickly and comfortably, but right from the start of the new 2012/2013 season, Shatov has cemented himself as an irreplaceable first team fixture. Very rarely putting a foot wrong in the attack minded Anzhi midfield, his pinpoint passing has become a vital cog in Anzhi’s well oiled machine, and he has even weighed in with a couple of vital goals himself, notably a crucial equaliser against Zenit in a 1-1 draw at home.
Despite all this however, even in Russia, not too many plaudits have been laid upon him, and so far, no call from Fabio Capello. But all that will surely change soon. With Anzhi competing in the Europa League this season, Europe’s eyes will also be watching over the 22 year old, and surely if he manages to replicate his form in Russia in Europe, Russians themselves will be taking more notice of their rising star and Capello will be tempted to call him up for his first experience of the national team proper – and not just the under 21 team.
But the Russian media and fans themselves aren’t going to be able to keep their attention off Shatov for much longer, if he continues with his rich vein of form.
Written by Shaun Nicolaides
Follow him on Twitter @zenitfan93
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