Russia's RT sports anchor Kate Partridge takes a look at the star foreigners lighting things up for CSKA Moscow and Spartak Moscow this season.
With the Russian Premier League in full swing, much is expected - and demanded - from the high-profile foreigners now running around in our competition.
I thought we'd take a look at some new arrivals now catching the eye - and also several imports familiar to Premier League fans.
Anyone watching the Olympics football tournament will be aware of Spartak Moscow's new Brazilian midfielder Romulo.
Ahead of Saturday’s game at home to twice former champions Rubin, Spartak were on a low. The previous week had seen them endure their worst defeat to archrivals Zenit St. Petersburg in 63 years - a ten-man 5-0 mauling at the Petrovsky Stadium – a humiliating demise to their 100 per cent start – and an opportune time for a defensive midfielder to stake his claim.
Romulu, 21, was bought from Vasco da Gama for around 8m Euros to supersede Demy de Zeeuw. The 29-year-old has had a disappointing first season in Russia after high expectations he would be unto Spartak what Nigel de Jong was to Manchester City. Unai Emery’s title-chasing side need Romulu’s strengths of slick passing and speed - he was immediately named in the starting line-up against Rubin and made an immediate impact.
After 73 minutes in the Moscow rain, Spartak were trailing 1-0 when the Brazilian showed his class with a goal on debut, helping his side snatch a late 2-1 win.
At Spartak there is also Aiden McGeady, who had started all four of their League matches so far this season, and scored their equaliser as they came back to win 2-1 at home to promoted Volga. However, he was sent off for what seemed an innocuous challenge in Spartak’s thrashing at Zenit, and missed the match at home to Rubin.
According to the rumour mill, the 26-year-old winger is still happy in Moscow – particularly after Spartak’s storming end to last season that saw them finish second and in the Champions League – and he wants to see out the remaining two years of his contract. As far as gossip coming out of Sunderland, it’s simply a familiar case of connecting Irish manager Martin O’Neill with an Irish former Celtic player in transfer window time.
One pundit pointed out that it’s an unusual time for Spartak, as they have plenty of strikers and no longer rely on Welliton. The suggestion was that shrewd General Manager Valery Karpin would sell the Brazilian if an offer came in. That view aside, the 25-year-old now needs to regain his fitness and form after a series of niggly injuries, which would allow him to showcase his talents in what is probably a decisive season for him. Back at his best, he could attract a top European team or opt to return to Brazil. The world could literally be at his feet.
Kim Kallstrom is another well known to European fans now pulling on a Spartak shirt.
In football terms, he’s strong, at the peak of his game, and with at least two or three good seasons still to come. In nationality terms, a Swede would find it much easier to adapt, on every level, to life in Russia than, for example, a Brazilian. The fans are excited to see Kallstrom play and expect him to lead the team to top honours. And the fact that he said Valery Karpin was his favourite player as he was growing up has already helped cement his loyalty among 'The Meat'.
CSKA Moscow have been busy over the summer, adding Mario Fernandes and Ahmed Musa.
Fernandes has played all 450+ minutes of CSKA’s five League games so far. After being pipped to second place last season by Spartak, when so long looking title contenders with Zenit, Leonid Slutsky’s side have started where they left off – inconsistently. The Armymen have won three and lost two, conceded six goals, scored seven, but have seen one assist from the promising right-back.
With stalwart Vasily Berezutsky now 30, CSKA produced the 15 million Euros needed to procure the “new Lucio” from Gremio ahead of Europe’s footballing grandees. And, so far, the defender says he’s adjusted to Russia’s quicker and tighter playing style, is impressed by CSKA’s passionate fans, and feels “at home” at the club. Expectations in Brazil are that he will succeed Dani Alves in the national team. If he fulfils that potential at CSKA, it bodes well for the Armymen’s title and Champions League ambitions.
It’s a sign that a player really is a sensation when rival Spartak fans say: “Love Musa”. After lighting up the Eredivisie with eight goals in 37 games for struggling VVV, the 19-year-old Nigeria winger has already made an impression in Russia, starting up front for CSKA in their 1-0 win at home to Anzhi, and 3-0 victory at Mordovia.
One pundit summed him up best: “He’s very fast, and his game is very simple: he runs down the wing, and crosses into the middle. Everyone knows it, but no one can stop him. So exciting”. With CSKA boasting providers such as Musa with finishers such as Seydou Doumbia, as well as Tomas Necid, Keisuke Honda, Alan Dzagoev and Zoran Tosic, it could well be a close-run season at the top.
Manchester United fans will be aware of Tosic.
He's now a leading player for CSKA, featuring in 77 games, scoring 18 goals and winning the Russian Cup in two-and-a-bit successful seasons.
The free-kick specialist’s silky skills, and talent for scoring spectacular and important goals, has won over the Armymen’s fans and pundits, particularly with his stunner in CSKA’s defeat to Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League quarter-finals. He has been a regular supplier to free-scoring Ivorian striker Seydou Doumbia, and netted the 74th-minute winner in CSKA’s 1-0 home win over Anzhi, as well as the opener at Mordovia, so far this season.
One of the most famous names at CSKA is Keisuke Honda. Of course, the Japanese star has long been linked with a move to England.
Honda is undoubtedly a talented and industrious player, but it’s debatable if he could handle the physical rigours of a top English club. In terms of pedigree, the midfielder would also be an unusual target. He has played in Japan, at a struggling Dutch club and in Russia. However, Honda has scored 17 goals in 79 appearances for CSKA, a record of one in five. He’s six feet (1.82m) tall, 26 years old and in his prime, and the general consensus among pundits and fans is that he wants to move on.
While over in England – and Robin van Persie aside – Manchester United don’t usually sign players who are over 27 so, if Honda were to make a switch to one of the title-chasing sides, he would have to do it now. Given the overall experience of Russian players in the English Premier League, I suspect a top-four club would be reluctant to take a risk on him, but he could be a revelation at Everton, Fulham or West Bromwich Albion.
CSKA themselves have domestic and European ambitions and are keen to hang on to their prized assets of Honda, Doumbia and Dzagoev. After the humiliation of being overtaken on the line by Spartak last season in the race for the Champions League spots, Leonid Slutsky’s side have much to prove this campaign – as much to the personal aspirations of their players as to their fans and owners.