RT Sport presenter Kate Partridge reviews the Russian Premier League’s top January transfers.
Last year, I wrote the following for this column:
“…Despite the array of talent in Russia, it’s unlikely that any player will move in January because of the top teams’ remaining involvement in Europe, which would either leave an expensive player Cup-tied or simply unavailable. For this reason, very few big names are usually transferred, Europe wide.
The one “Russian” exception was Nemanja Vidic’s move from Spartak Moscow to Manchester United on January 5th 2006, when the old style Russian season would have been over. With the calendar now running on a similar schedule to Western Europe, such a deal is much less likely to happen.”
This January, there was a caveat. It’s a World Cup year, and the chance to prove themselves in first-team football and appear at this summer’s finals in Brazil trumped a European card in the eyes of many fringe or out-of-favour players, if not their prospective club managers. The issue then became whether there were any “Vidics” in Russia this January.
In defensive terms, the answer was no. There were a couple of defensive midfielders in the top flight whose names percolated through the transfer rumour mill, but those moves amounted to nothing - and one now infamous last-minute deal for a midfielder that isn't going to Brazil, but could amount to nothing.
While fans clamoured for a striker, Arsenal's only major January "signing" was the deadline day loan deal for Spartak playmaker Kim Kallstrom. The half-season contract was intended to provide cover for the injured Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, as well as Mathieu Flamini, who was suspended for three games, as Arsenal Wenger's side target their first league title since 2004.
The 31-year-old had twice won Ligue 1 and the French Cup with Lyon before joining Spartak in 2012, and has scored 16 goals in 108 appearances for Sweden. Unfortunately, he also hurt his back while playing beach football during Spartak's mid-season break in Abu Dhabi and will be out for at least six matches.
The extent of the injury was discovered at Kallstrom’s medical, but the Gunners still pressed ahead. Consequently, the Swedish stalwart is recuperating in Arsenal's treatment room not Spartak's and missed the Gunners' 2-0 home win over Crystal Palace. Crucially, he will also be sidelined for the two games against Liverpool, plus those against Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Sunderland, turning an already curious signing into a bizarre situation.
A more expensive midfield choice for a less cautious club might have been 28-year-old former France playmaker Lassana Diarra. Part of the Anzhi fire sale last summer, Diarra joined Lokomotiv Moscow in August on a three-year deal and was given shirt number 85 (the same year he was born).
Although he was sent off three times in the first half of the season – including the goalless home draw with Rubin before the winter break – Diarra established himself in one of two holding midfield roles, alongside lanky Dmitri Tarasov. “Lass” also won the fans over. In November and December, he won the Player of the Month awards en route to leading Loko to joint-top of the league with Zenit.
With Flamini and Everton’s Gareth Barry proving how an effective holding player can boost a squad’s title and European aspirations, Diarra could yet be a shrewd summer acquisition. However, with a 14m Euro price tag and the cost of paying out his contract, he may be staying a while longer in Moscow.
The second defensive midfielder who perennially appears in transfer gossip is Yann M’Vila. The much-admired 23-year-old caused a stir last January when he opted to leave French side Rennes for Rubin Kazan on a four-and-a-half-year deal for almost 11.6m Euros.
Industrious, physical and disciplined, the right-footer has drawn comparisons with Patrick Vieira, Claude Makelele and Yaya Toure. Yet, despite making 22 appearances for France, in November 2012 he was banned from national team matches until this June, following an unauthorised night out while on Under-21 duty, and will miss the World Cup.
However, matching a deal that currently sees M’Vila earn a reported 4.5m Euros a year after tax, as well as a 20m-Euro buy-out clause, a move is unlikely even this summer.
Liverpool had looked keen to take the Frenchman on loan before deciding whether to complete a permanent switch. Then Rubin reportedly asked for 12m Euros flat out, and that did not appeal to Brendan Rodgers.
Back in Moscow, Jose Jurado seems content to stay at Spartak, recently claiming the Russian Premier League was almost on a par with the top European leagues. The 27-year-old attacking midfielder has featured in 18 of the Red-and-Whites’ 19 games so far this season, bagging six goals, though interest in the former Spain Under-21 playmaker has been muted.
Two other midfielders though are on the move. Russia winger Vladimir Bystrov (or “fast” in Russian) has joined Anzhi on loan until the summer. The 29-year-old is reunited with Zenit teammate Aleksandr Bukharov at the rock-bottom club. Bystrov made just five starts in 15 league appearances for the St. Petersburg side this term. His contract with Zenit also expires after his spell in Makhachkala.
And it seems joining Bystrov on-loan in Dagestan will be Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. The former Everton midfielder, who is 29 this February, has played only two league games and one Europa Cup tie for Spartak this season.
Ivory Coast striker Lacina Traore also had an eventful January, leaving Anzhi for Russian-owned Monaco, and then heading to Everton on loan for the rest of the campaign after the Toffees pipped a miffed West Ham United in the race to acquire a work permit.
The 23-year-old is at the height of his career – literally. At 6’8’’ (2m), Traore becomes the tallest outfield player in Premier League history. The giant target man is an inch taller than Stoke's Peter Crouch, the same height as Manchester City goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon, and offers a formidable aerial presence to an Everton side temporarily missing the injured Romelu Lukaku.
And Traore isn’t the only “Russian” acquisition by Roberto Martinez, following the arrival of winger Aiden McGeady from Spartak. The 27-year-old former Celtic star penned a four-and-a-half-year deal at Goodison Park after scoring 13 goals in 93 games for the Red-and-Whites, as well as helping them to finish second in the league in 2011-12.
McGeady had not played since November after falling out with boss Valery Karpin. His contract was due to expire in the summer but Martinez opted to take him earlier as the club bids to build a squad that will secure a place in Europe.
So, eight Januarys have now passed since Nemanja Vidic left Moscow for Manchester United. The month after he joined, the Serbian won the first of three League Cups, before going on to win the Premier League and FA Cup five times, as well as the Champions League and Club World Cup. Now that’s a Russian Standard for everyone else to have a shot at.