- Joãozinho (Krasnodar, Brazil)
Birthday: 25 years old (25-12-1988)
Position: Midfielder (Center, Left, Right)
Average Grade: 7.13
Price Tag: €8 million
Joãozinho’s current club FC Krasnodar represent Russian football’s Cinderella story, having been only formed in 2008. Since then, they have made remarkable progress towards becoming a side that can compete year in, year out for European qualification places, with Joãozinho having played a significant part of this development having arrived from Levski Sofia in 2011. The tiny Brazilian, who only stands at a diminutive 163 centimetres, is now an essential cog of how Krasnodar operate on the field. Through both his resemblance, and ability to convert fantastic free kicks, Joãozinho is often compared to Roberto Carlos, another Brazilian who has tasted life in Russian football; however, a closer comparison would be with Liverpool’s number ten, and fellow Brazilian, Philippe Coutinho. Krasnodar paid €1.5 million for Joãozinho but his transfer value, according to Transfermarkt.de, has since risen to €9 million, which reflects the form of a player very few, other than those intimate with Russian football, have heard about.
- Saba Kvirkvelia (Rubin Kazan, Georgia)
Birthday: 22 years old (06-02-1992)
Average Grade: 7.55
Price Tag: €1 million
Kvirkvelia’s height (197cm) and weight (80 kilograms) demonstrate the physical potential of the young defender as well as on what aspects need to be worked on in for the order for the Imereti-born youngster to develop. Eighty kilograms will not be enough to make Kvirkvelia a formidable defender in one of the top three European leagues, having found Russian football already a touch overly physical. That being said Kvirkvelia has performed well for his club, especially when one considers the fact that they are currently experiencing a transition, having played all 19 games for Rubin Kazan up until the winter break. Kvirkvelia also made his debut for Georgia in March 2014, and if developed the right way, the young Georgian could finally bring some defensive stability to his deteriorating national side.
- Aleksandr Kokorin (Dinamo Moscow, Russia)
Birthday: 23 years old (19-03-1991)
Position: Attacking Midfielder (Center); Forward
Average Grade: 7.15
Price Tag: €18 million
Aleksandr Kokorin, along with Alan Dzagoev, have for a long time been the promise of a new brand of Russian football. While Dzagoev has not even made this list, because of injuries and a surprising lack of form in the fall of 2014, Kokorin’s talent should have secured him a higher spot on the FGT30 list. In 2013 Kokorin was part of a controversial transfer that took him from Dinamo to Anzhi, and back to Dinamo within a couple months. Needless to say the disorientated Kokorin thereafter struggled for most of the 2013/14 season and like the entire Sbornaya was dismal during the World Cup in Brazil. Yet his statistics since the World Cup show that Kokorin has perhaps understood the gravity of his situation and that the time is now for the young offensive midfielder, who can also play as a false nine, to make his mark on Russian football.
- Aleksey Ionov (Dinamo Moscow, Russia)
Birthday: 25 years old (18-02-1989)
Position: Attacking Midfielder (Left, Right)
Average Grade: 6.90
Price Tag: €4.5 million
Aleksey Ionov has hugely benefited from Dinamo’s resurgence in the Russian Premier League. The attacking midfielder, who is equally adept on both sides of the pitch, has been deadly this campaign, scoring 9 goals in 21 games. Ionov arrived at Dinamo as part of the Anzhi fire sale in 2013. With all the big name signings that were swapped between Anzhi and Dinamo during that period Ionov appeared to be somewhat of an afterthought. Now, however, the €5 million paid for the midfielder appears to be an act of robbery, when one takes into account the inflated prices Russian players now demand. Watching Ionov one can become unsure whether or not the midfielder is actually in fact a striker, which may explain his impressive goals tally. The downside to this is that Ionov has a tendency to leave his own defence exposed, with tracking back a task he engages in rarely. At 25 Ionov is in a position to cement his place at both club and national level: whether he chooses to do so will depend very much on the curious temperament of Russian players in this era.
- Kevin Kuranyi (Dinamo Moscow, Germany)
Birthday: 32 years old (02-03-1982)
Average Grade: 7.25
Price Tag: € 4 million
Kuranyi’s story is that of a young footballer who came to Germany as a football immigrant from Brazil. Although Kuranyi is a former German national team player he is truly cosmopolitan. Kuranyi’s grandfather is Hungarian, while his mother was born in Panama. Kuranyi’s father was born in France but grew up in Germany before immigrating to South America. And Kuranyi himself was born in Brazil but grew up in Panama before moving to Stuttgart in 1997.
Kuranyi holds three passports (Germany, Panama, and Brazil). But it was his South American temperament that led to perhaps his biggest sporting disappointment, after being called-up, but not selected, to play for Germany in a World Cup qualifier against Russia in October 2008. On this occasion Kuranyi left the squad under mysterious circumstances. Shortly after the incident Germany’s manager Joachim Low announced that he would never select Kuranyi again with the public still unclear about what truly happened that evening. In any event, it deprived Germany of one of its most prolific goal scorers.
In eight Bundesliga seasons Kuranyi had always managed to score at least 10 goals in each, and it was therefore a surprise when the striker sealed a deal to move to Dinamo Moscow, where for a time he was the highest paid player in Russia. In Germany, however, the move was perceived as sporting exile.
At Dinamo, Kuranyi continued his goal scoring abilities, and has already 8 goals to his name this season. Furthermore, Kuranyi has also become the face of the new Dinamo era that is striving hard to reach the glories of their illustrious past.
- Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow, Nigeria)
Birthday: 22 years old (14-10-1992)
Position: Attacking Midfielder (Left, Right) Forward
Average Grade: 6.97
Price Tag: €12 million
Ahmed Musa made the move to Moscow in 2012, after impressing in the Dutch Eredivisie where he played for VVV Venlo. At that time Musa had a host of possibilities from suitors in Ukraine, Germany, and England, with Arsenal having been particularly interested. CSKA, however, were, at that time, quickly becoming a club that were attempting to invest in the best young prospects from around Europe with long-term visions to buy and develop, with such young players acting also as financial assets. Musa joined the likes of Doumbia, Tosic, and Honda to form a robust unit that challenged Zenit, managing to win a couple Russian Premier League titles. Musa is once again having a promising season, but CSKA’s failure to qualify for the next stage of the Champions League, or even the Europa League, together with the rouble crisis, may mean that Musa may be pawned sooner, and for less, to the West than was originally expected.
- Domenico Criscito (Zenit Saint Petersburg, Italy)
Birthday: 27 years old (30-12-1986)
Position: Defender (Center, Left), Midfielder (Left)
Average Grade: 7.49
Price Tag: €10 million
Italians have played an important role in the history of Saint Petersburg, with much of the former capital designed by Italian architects, while the city is still referred to by some as the ‘Venice of the North’. Today it is once again an Italian who is making a mark in the city of the white nights, as Domenico Criscito is one of the creators of Zenit’s counter-attacking game from defence to offence. Criscito is versatile because he is a player who is comfortable playing in several positions in the back as well as in midfield. Like many wing backs Criscito began his career as a centre back and central midfielder, but was forced out to the wing due to his relatively small stature. Brought to Russia by former Italian coach Luciano Spalletti for €12 million, Criscito may be able to make a similar transition that Philipp Lahm made for Bayern under Guardiola, from left back to defensive midfielder with Villas-Boas prone to creative experimentation with his back three, albeit with mixed success.
- Artyom Dzyuba (Spartak Moscow, Russia)
Birthday: 26 years old (22-08-1988)
Average Grade: 7.03
Price Tag: €6 million
Artyom Dzyuba stated once in an interview that he wanted to play like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which was at the time ridiculed. For only a couple years ago Dzyuba was struggling at Spartak, even failing to impress at loan spells at Tom Tomsk in 2009 and 2010. Many had already given up on the abilities, who at 196 cm actually is slightly taller than the modest Swede. But a loan spell at FC Rostov in 2013/14, which saw Dzyuba score 17 goals in 28 games, appears to have changed the trajectory of his career for the better. It therefore seems that Dzyuba is a classic late bloomer, with his good form continuing since returning to Spartak Moscow. A better comparison however would be with Eintracht Frankfurt’s Alex Meier, who like Dzyuba is not the classic centre forward but rather a lanky yet technically-gifted player with an unlikely good first touch. While this particular comparison is not quite as glamorous for Dzyuba, reaching the level of a player like Alex Meier is a more obtainable goal, and not one without merit either: after all the German is currently leading the Bundesliga with 13 goals.
- Jose Salomon Rondon (Zenit St. Petersburg, Venezuela)
Birthday: 25 years old (16-09-1989)
Average Grade: 6.86
Price Tag: €15 million
Having arrived in the Russian Republic of Tatarstan from Malaga, where management and financial issues meant that Rondon’s abilities had to be traded in, Rondon’s apparent choice of club, snubbing the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham, raised many an eyebrow. However, with Russian-Venezuelan relations strong, thus visa problems eliminated, Russia fit appears was a more practical choice. Once in Russia, at Rubin Kazan, however, Rondon was once again on the move, this time trading oil for gas when he signed for Gazprom’s Zenit St. Petersburg in a deal that was worth €18 million in the winter of 2013/14.
- Yevhen Konoplyanka (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine)
Birthday: 25 years old (29-09-1989)
Position: Attacking Midfielder (Left)
Average Grade: 6.74
Price Tag: €16 million
Konoplyanka was sitting on his packed luggage awaiting confirmation for his transfer to Liverpool FC in the winter of 2013/14. In the end the president of Dnipro Ihor Kolomoiskii refused to sign the contract, despite the fact that Konoplyanka appeared to have an release clause, which was activated. It now appears that Konoplyanka will leave Dnipropetrovsk on a free transfer next summer, making him one of the most valuable free agents in world football. But Dnipro’s recent fall in the Ukrainian Premier League standings, and a breakdown in contract talks could even see a move as early as this winter.
Regardless of what happens it would see the end of a transfer saga that involves Ukraine’s brightest prospect after after Dinamo Kiev’s Yarmolenko. In fact Konoplyanka’s biggest shortcoming is the fact that no one has ever seen the player on the biggest stage at club level. Players like Mkhitaryan have highlighted the fact that the step from Ukraine to Europe’s strongest leagues can be massive, with the lack of Champions League football making Konoplyanka too big a gamble for many clubs to take. Yet for those in the know there is very little doubt that Konoplyanka is not only ready for the next step but that at this point the step is long overdue.