The Russian Paradox

With 10 days remaining for World Cup opening match, the Russian national team's troubles are flowing. The hosting country's team is considered as one of the weakests in the tournament, with miles of potential being wasted and promising players who disappered throughout the years. Although it has been majorly talked about the lack of centre-backs in the hosts' squad after recent Berezutski brothers' retirement, lest it be forgotten that most of other positions are not much better.

A quick review of the squad reveals that only 3 out of 28 players play abroad – third-choice goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov (Club Brugge), naturalized Roman Neustader (Fenerbahce) and Denis Cheryshev (Villarreal). A squad which is based on the local league players may definitely be an advantage, improving the players' comprehension, but not when the league is as weak as the Russian Premier League.

The truth is there are no Russian players who are good enough, physically and mentally, to play abroad. Anderi Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko playing in the English Premier League are a distant memory, whilst players who were expected to lead the national team failed to do so. Alan Dzagoev, who was marked as a future star, spent all of his senior career at CSKA Moscow. Although he is one of the Armeitsy's best players, he could have played in a better league and become a better footballer. Artem Dzyuba was also marked as a possible key player but got loaned out from Zenit St. Petersburg to middle-table Arsenal Tula. These are just two examples of this disturbing phenomenon.

The main reason for that is the desprate will to make Russian Premier League more attractive by signing foreign players. Nowadays, the best way to convince a player to move to a non-top league is usually a high salary, and this is what the major Russian clubs did. The results were devastating. If Hulk, Axel Witsel and Willian raised the Russian League level, most of the foreigns fell short of expectations or simply were past their peak. For some reasons they were preferred over local players, who  stayed on bench and stopped improving. The few Russians who kept playing became indispensable for their clubs since they had no replacement, regardless of their performances' quality. Considering their astronomical salaries, moving abroad meant less money received and more efforts required. And so a Golden Cage was created.

Another aspect of the issue is the absence of a new generation of young players. Aging Berezutski brothers played alongside Arshavin and Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who quitted national team long ago. Instead of investing in young players promotion, Russia chose the easier way and used the old generation players as long as possible. Sadly for them, the they've lost their shaped in the worst timing.

As for today, only three youngsters could make an immediate impact – the Miranchuk twins, Aleksei and Anton, and Aleksandr Golovin, 22 and 20-years old respectively. The Miranchuk brothers took massive part in Lokomotiv Moscow's fantastic season, becoming unexpectedly champions, and Golovin helped CSKA to finish second. It is to be said that Anton Miranchuk started playing first team football only the past season, previously being plying his trade in the Estonian League. He took to chance and have produced high quality performances. Maybe now young players will get more chances, following his case.

Russia will start the tournament against Saudi Arabia, whom they can and ought to beat. At least one of the other teams - Uruguay and Egypt - will lose points, which may give the hosts an advantage before the next two games. Although stopping Luis Suarez and Mohamed Salah with no center-backs is not an easy task, a successful opening game along with massive support from the tribunes may help the locals in advancing to the next stage. With two brothers in squad again, this time attacking players, Russia might manage to avoid early exit from the tournament they are hosting. After all, the famous phrase says that the best defence is a good offense. The Russians will have to count on that. 


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