Manuel Veth –
In recent weeks, FC Rostov has been the focus of international attention. Two weeks ago, rumours surfaced that linked Rostov’s talented 21-year-old Sardar Azmoun with a move to either Liverpool FC or Borussia Dortmund. Then on Wednesday, Rostov managed the unthinkable when they defeated German giants FC Bayern München 3-2 on matchday 5 of the UEFA Champions League (read the match report here).
The shocking result against Bayern München reignited talks about Sardar Azmoun, who was one of the goal scorers, possibly joining a big European club in the winter break. As pointed out on the Futbolgrad Podcast Episode 1, Azmoun, despite his wonderful display against Bayern, may not be quite ready for a move to a big club in Germany, or England.
Sardar Azmoun’s success rested on Dmitry Poloz’s shoulders
Furthermore, another thing that needs to be kept in mind is the fact that Azmoun’s success has also been dependent upon his partnership with the Russian forward, Dmitry Poloz. In fact, Poloz was key to setting up Azmoun’s tying goal against Bayern München, as the quick forward pounced on the ball in his own half, and then quickly broke to catch Bayern’s defence on the back-foot. He then spotted Azmoun who simply had to play the ball past Bayern keeper Sven Ulreich.
In many ways, the goal was exemplary for what had made Rostov a dangerous side last season, for the Selmashi had built their success in the Russian Football Premier League last season on overwhelming defensive lines with quick counter attacks. In order for this to work, Rostov use a defensive 3-5-2 formation in which the two wingers and one of the two forwards were lying deep in order to support the defence, but also to support the transition game.
In order for this to work, a system needs fast players. Azmoun’s pace has often been discussed both on Futbolgrad and also on various other Podcasts, but he is only one of the two regular forwards in the system, as Dmitry Poloz may even outpace his Iranian partner.
In fact, what has struck me throughout the transfer rumours surrounding Azmoun was the fact that there has been little talk about Dmitry Poloz. Like Azmoun, Poloz is extremely fast, and on top of that has the vision to spot teammates while going forward at top speed. This trait, in particular, was evident when he assisted Azmoun against Bayern München when he managed to get the pass through while performing at full speed.
Poloz also displays remarkable leadership qualities, and can perform under pressure. When Rostov where awarded the penalty against Bayern, it was Poloz, who stepped up and flawlessly converted the penalty.
Dmitry Poloz’s leadership are born out of adversity
Perhaps his leadership ability comes with the fact that Poloz had to deal with adversity early on. A product of the Lokomotiv Moscow youth academy, Poloz was unable to break into Loko’s first squad. In January 2012, therefore, Poloz joined struggling FC Rostov.
This was the year that the Russian Football Premier League switched its calendar year spring to fall season to the more common European season format, which goes from the fall to the following spring. By the time Poloz joined Rostov, the club was tenth but, in the end,narrowly escaped relegation by beating Shinnik Yaroslav in the relegation playoffs. Poloz played seven games in his first season without scoring a single goal.
The following season, Rostov again struggled, and was only saved after beating SKA-Energiya Khabarovsk in the relegation playoffs. Poloz, now aged 22, scored three goals in 17 games for the club, as he mostly operated at as an attacking midfielder or winger in a team that was desperately short of goals.
The following year, however, things were looking up, as Rostov won the Russian Cup that season, and finished the Russian Football Premier League on seventh spot. Poloz, however, still found it difficult to find the net, as the explosive winger only scored once in 27 games.
Then in 2014-15, Poloz scored four goals in 20 games, but once again Rostov were saved at the last minute when they beat Tosno in the relegation playoffs. The season then became crucial to both Rostov’s and Dmitry Poloz’s development when the club signed head coach Kurban Berdyev. Berdyev was tasked with saving the team from relegation, and the Turkmen coach introduced Rostov’s now famous 3-5-2 defensive formation.
Berdyev also changed the way Poloz and Azmoun played the game. Both players are more natural wingers, who look for an assist rather than scoring themselves. Both players also have tremendous pace, and the stamina to cover the entire field for both defensive and attacking tasks.
In 2015-16 Rostov went on their now famous run that saw the club finish second in the Russian Football Premier League, and which earned them the nickname the Russian Leicester. The most remarkable thing about the Rostov story, however, is the fact that they managed to finish second by scoring just 41 goals in 30 games.
Dmitry Poloz is Rostov’s silent star
Again, Azmoun stole Poloz’s spotlight by becoming the club’s top scorer with nine goals. Poloz built his record tally with seven goals, and also provided six assists. What is, however, not measured is his defensive contribution.
Some of this defensive contribution was on display against Bayern München when the forward could be found playing deep in front of the defensive line (more on how to beat Bayern here). Here Poloz was vital, as he played almost like a second defensive midfielder trying to steal the ball, and then quickly turned on Rostov’s transition game, using his pace to break into the open space, or by playing a long ball to his striking partner Azmoun.
Hence, what stood out was his tactical awareness, as he was extremely capable in identifying problem areas both in his own team, but also in the opposition’s defence. It is, therefore, no surprise that Dmitri Poloz has flourished under the leadership of Kurban Berdyev who, despite no longer being listed as head coach of the club, remains in charge, as the Turkmen tactical formation require tactical discipline and awareness to play several positions at once.
It is, therefore, surprising that amidst the talks about Sardar Azmoun, Poloz’s name has flown under the radar when it comes to a potential move to a bigger club in Russia, or even abroad. In many ways, his transition game would be perfect for a club in Germany, where even the top teams focus on what the Germans call Umschaltspiel, or for an English club like Liverpool FC. But perhaps those LFC and BVB scouts were not just in the stadium to take a closer look at Azmoun after all…
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and a writer for Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.