Ten Young RPL Players to Breakthrough in 2019


As each new year passes, new sporting talent emerges. The RPL is no different and throughout the last five years, the likes of Aleksandr Golovin, Aleksey Miranchuk, Magomed-Shapi Suleymanov and Ivan Ignatiev emerged as some of the league’s best young players. With the season set to resume next weekend, here are ten young players aged 20 years and under who could make a big breakthrough in 2019.

Leon Musaev

Age: 20
Nationality: Russian
Position: Defensive Midfielder
Club: Zenit St Petersburg

Over the last decade Zenit established themselves as one of the dominant clubs in Russian football. However, the Piter outfit struggled to bring through young players from their reserve and youth teams into their first team squad.

However, Leon Musaev is one player who looks to have promise. A regular and occasional captain in Zenit’s B team, who have struggled in the second tier FNL this season, Musaev was promoted to the first team for their Europa League last 32 tie against Fenerbahce. The 20-year-old who is of Azeri origin then made his debut in the second leg against Fener as a late sub when Zenit were attempting to see out the game.

Tellingly, Sergei Semak summoned Musaev onto the pitch by in place of a regular back-up defensive midfielder, Argentine Matias Kranevitter. Kranevitter struggled for game time this season in Piter and has generally not impressed at Zenit and put in a terrible performance in a rare starting role in the first leg of Zenit’s Europa League win over Fener.

Kranevitter’s poor display could have been the final straw for his Zenit career in the eyes of Semak. Potentially, it could mean from now until the end of the season that Musaev is the first reserve to recent Zenit signing Wilmar Barrios in the defensive midfield role at Zenit. Can Musaev impress enough in training to get some more minutes in Zenit’s first team for the remainder of the season?

Matvei Safonov

Age: 20
Nationality: Russian
Position: Goalkeeper
Club: Krasnodar

Over the course of the 2018/-19 season, Krasnodar are finally fulfilling their potential as RPL title contenders. It is also the season where the Southern-based outfit are beginning to fulfil owner and founder Sergei Galitskiy’s prophecy of bringing through young players from their academy and reserve sides into the first team.

Magomed Shapi-Suleymanov and Ivan Ignatiev broke through into the first team this season and established themselves as regular first team players. The next player to come off Krasnodar’s production line could be goalkeeper Matvei Safonov.

The 20 year-old previously played as a regular for, Krasnodar-2, the club’s reserve side in the second tier FNL this season before making his first-team debut in the Round 14 RPL victory against Enisey. Safonov then kept his place in the side for Krasnodar’s next league fixture, a 3-0 win against Arsenal Tula. Safonov also made 3 Europa League appearances for Krasnodar this season, including the famous 2nd leg last 32 tie away at Leverkusen where Krasnodar shocked the Bundesliga outfit by eliminating their German opponents.

At the moment, Stantislav Kritsyuk remains Krasnodar’s number one keeper and is a reliable performer between the sticks. However, one could consider Safonov to now be the number two keeper as Krasnodar could sell soon to be former number two keeper Andrei Sinitsyn. As number two, Safonov will likely play in the cup competitions until the end of the season. If he continues to impress as he has done so far, Krasnodar could have a big decision to make on the number one goalkeeper position for next season.

Safonov featuring for Krasnodar U19 in the UEFA Youth League in 2017/18 | Getty Images

Daniil Utkin

Age: 19
Nationality: Russian
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Club: Krasnodar

Another promising young player to emerge through the Krasnodar production line is Danil Utkin. Originally, more defensive midfield player, Utkin has played further up the pitch into a more attacking midfield role. This shift resulted in Utkin scoring 8 goals in 19 games with Krasnodar-2 in the second-tier FNL where this season.

Utkin has so far been eased into the first team set-up at Krasnodar, his RPL debut consisted of a brief 8-minute cameo in a 1-1 draw against Ufa on Matchday 17. Utkin also played twice in the Russian Cup for Krasnodar so far this season against Krylia in the last 16 and in the 2-2 draw against Rostov in the first leg of the quarterfinal tie against Rostov.

Utkin, prior to the winter break was behind both Mauricio Pereyra and Cristian Cueva in the Krasnodar pecking order. However, after a disappointing 6 months in Russia, Peruvian summer signing Cueva has been loaned out to Sao Paulo after failing to impress. Utkin’s emergence will have been another reasons for Cueva’s departure and it will be interesting to see if he can put pressure on Pereyra for a first team place come the start of next season.

Artem Golubev

Age: 20
Nationality: Russian
Position: Central Defender/Defensive Midfielder/Full-Back
Club: Krasnodar

The third Krasnodar youngster who could emerge onto the scene in 2019 is Artem Golubev. The 20 year-old captained Krasnodar-2 in the FNL for large chunks of this season and has recently debuted for the first team against Ural in round 16 of the RPL. Golubev also made appearances in both the Russian Cup and Europa League for Krasnodar this season.

Golubev played the majority of his games for Krasnodar-2 this season in a defensive midfield role but has occasionally filled in at right back and central defence. Whilst one would expect him to play a defensive midfield role for the first team at Krasnodar when given an opportunity there could be an opening for Golubev at central defence.

Having loaned out Norwegian defender Stefan Strandberg to Ural, Uros Spajic, Aleksandr Martynovich and Jon Fjoluson remain the only central defenders for Krasnodar. Having joined the club in the summer, Spajic and Fjoluson are yet to impress this season. Therefore, it would not be unreasonable to see Golubev given games at central defence from now until the end of the season.

Lassana N’Diaye

Age: 18
Nationality: Malian
Position: Striker
Club: CSKA Moscow

African players previously impressed in the RPL before moving onto bigger clubs in bigger leagues over the years. CSKA have arguably functioned as a springboard for young African talent in recent years. Seydou Doumbia and Ahmed Musa both impressed in Russian football at CSKA before moving onto AS Roma and Leicester City respectively.

The Muscovite Red-Blues now have high hopes for another young African player, 18-year-old Lassana N’Diaye. The Malian striker was one of the stars of the 2017 FIFA Under 17 จีคลับคาสิโน สมัครคาสิโ as Mali finished in 4th place at the tournament. With six goals at the tournament for his country, N’Diaye was the joint 2nd highest scorer behind England’s Rhian Brewster.

These performances attracted the interest of European clubs and N’Diaye reportedly had a trial at Swiss club FC Zurich last summer. However, CSKA won the race and signed N’Diaye on a five-year contract from Guidars in Mali on his 18th birthday in October for a fee of €63,000. CSKA interest from English, German, Italian and French clubs for the talented teenager.

Despite being one for the future, N’Diaye may find first-team football more quickly than first expected at CSKA. Since signing in the summer, Uruguayan Abel Hernandez has suffered constant injuries and CSKA reportedly have a clause to terminate his contract should more frequent injury issues occur. Furthermore, in the winter transfer window, CSKA surprisingly loaned out promising 21 year-old youngster Timur Zhamaletdinov to Polish club Lech Poznan. With no other strikers impressing at CSKA apart from Chalov, the undisputed starter, there is every chance CSKA could give N’Diaye chances in the first team from now until the end of the season to impress.

Reza Shekari

Age: 20
Nationality: Iranian
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Club: Rubin Kazan

Another RPL club undergoing a transitional period are Rubin Kazan. Due to Financial Fair Play issues, the Tatars are banned from playing in European competition in 2019-20 should they qualify by virtue of league position or by winning the Russian Cup. Under the guidance of veteran legendary manager, Kurban Berdyev, Rubin are therefore in the process of rebuilding with young players.

One young player who could finally see more regular playing time in 2019 at the Tatarstan-based outfit is Iranian Reza Shekari. The 20-year-old attacking midfielder has long been touted as a top future prospect, however, he has found first-team football hard to come by since signing for Rubin in the summer of 2017.

This could be the ideal time for Shekari to emerge at Rubin, Berdyev and the club are gradually integrating more young players into the first team. Alongside winter transfer window signings Vladislav Panteleev and Georgian Zurab Davitashvili, Shekari is one of a crop of exciting young midfielders for Burdyev to work with over the next few years.

Mikhail Ignatov

Age: 18
Nationality: Russian
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Club: Spartak Moscow

In a challenging season for Spartak Moscow, several youth prospects from the club’s academy emerged as one of the few positives for the first team. One to watch for a breakthrough in 2019 is 18-year-old attacking midfielder Mikhail Ignatov.

Ignatov debuted for Spartak in the first team as a late substitute in a 1-1 draw against CSKA on Matchday 8 of the RPL and scored on his next appearance on Matchday 10 in a 3-2 away win against Enisey. However, it was in the Matchday 12 1-1 draw against Rubin in Kazan where Ignatov outlined his talent with a full 90 minutes and a fine individual performance.

During the winter transfer window, Spartak sold Ivelin Popov to Rostov leaving Algerian Sofiane Hanni as the only senior central attacking midfielder in the squad. Young Ignatov is now Hanni’s deputy and expect the Russian U19 International to recieve a good amount of game time from now till the end of the season.

Ignatov in action for Spartak against Rangers in the Europa League this season | Getty Images

Rail Abdullin

Age: 18
Nationality: Russian
Position: Full-Back
Club: Rubin Kazan

Another exciting youngster who could emerge at Rubin is 18-year-old Rail Abdullin. The Tatar youngster is capable of playing as either a right back, right wing-back in a 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation, right midfielder as well as left back. After impressing in the U19’s RPL competition, Abdullin made his first-team debut for Rubin in the final game before the winter break, Rubin’s fine 2-1 away win against Zenit in Matchday 17 of the RPL.

Currently, Rubin’s first choice right back/right wing back is veteran Vitaly Ustinov. However, with Cesar Navas recently retiring and Chico Flores having his contract cancelled, Rubin now lack depth in central defence and therefore could move Ustinov to central defence, owing to his height. This could mean an opportunity for Abdullin to get some first team football to develop at Rubin in 2019.

Danil Glebov

Age: 19
Nationality: Russian
Position: Central Midfielder
Club: Rostov

It has been a testing winter window for Rostov. Once again, the Southern club have been pillaged of their playing talent as Sverrir Ingason, Dimitri Skopintsev and Ayaz Guliev, stars of their supurb season have all departed. However, the Southern club actively marketed themselves looking for replacements.

Whilst Danil Glebov is arguably the least high profile and well known of all the winter recruits by Rostov, it is a transfer of fascination. Having recenlty turned 19, Glebov debuted for Anzhi Makhachkala in the RPL this season, one of several young players used by the Dagestani based outfit currently beset with financial problems.

After 8 appearances for Anzhi in the RPL, Rostov paid a fee of just €50,000 for Glebov in the winter transfer window. Summer transfer window signing Anton Saletros failed to settle in Russia and was loaned back to Swedish club AIK in the winter. Rostov also sold Artur Yusupov to Dinamo in the winter while veteran midfield duo Timofei Kalachev and Alexandr Gatcan are ageing. All things considered, Glebov could see some game time from now until the end of the season.

Gamid Agalarov

Age: 18
Nationality: Russian
Position: Striker
Club: Anzhi Makhachkala

As aforementioned, Dagestani based outfit Anzhi are another RPL side presently struggling with financial issues. Many senior stars have departed the club in the last two transfer windows and the club are firmly in a relegation scrap.

However, one shining ray of light is the club’s youth academy, one of the strongest in Russia. Last season, Anzhi’s U19’s won the 2017-18 RPL U19 Championship and qualified for the 2018-19 UEFA Youth League, a Champions League competition for U19 sides.

One of the most promising players to emerge from that Championship winning crop is 18 year old striker Gamid Agalarov. Agalarov made his debut for Anzhi earlier in the season against Ural and is a regular in Russia’s U19 national team.

However, Agalarov’s reputation developed following his performances in the 2018 Granatkin Memorial youth tournament. In that tournament, Agalarov was voted as the best striker and, in addition to his two goals and one assist, earned praise for his all-around game at the tournament.

Only Venezuelan Andres Ponce scored goals with relative frequency for Anzhi this season and is the club’s top scorer with 4 goals. Therefore, Agalarov could get some minutes from now to the end of the season. Given Anzhi’s financial problems, not only could 2018-19 see Agalarov help save Anzhi from relegation, it could act as a shop window for Agalarov to attract the attention of a buyer in the summer.


Author: Richard Pike

Wigan Athletic season ticket holder whose first memories of Russian football were TV highlights of Spartak’s 4-1 victory against Arsenal in the 2000-01 Champions League. Huge fan of the Russian Premier League, other mid-ranking European leagues and the English Football League

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