Manuel Veth –
Leonid Slutsky released the names of Russia’s Euro 2016 squad just hours after the last game was played in the Russian Football Premier League. In some ways Slutsky was late with his nomination, as most other major countries had already named their squads—although in most cases national team coaches of other countries released preliminary squads that will have to be cut down by May 31.
The main reason for Slutsky’s late nomination was the fact that Slutsky also coaches CSKA Moscow, and that he was directly involved in a narrow title challenge at the final round of the Russian Football Premier League (RFPL). With several tight decisions on the last day of the RFPL Slutsky did not want to appear to influence players by announcing his squad before the final matches of the season were concluded.
Roman Neustädter’s Surprise Inclusion
Slutsky, however, surprised the media by choosing his final 23 man squad for the tournament before holding a training camp. This, however, was not the only surprise, as he included Schalke 04’s Roman Neustädter in the squad. Neustädter is a German citizen, but was born in Dnipropetrovsk, which at the time was part of the Soviet Union. Roman’s father Peter Neustädter even played for Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk at the time.
Neustädter’s Soviet heritage made him technically eligible for Russian citizenship, but his naturalization for the Russian national team hit several road blocks with both German and Russian authorities in the past. By the time Neustädter was called up he was technically still without a Russian passport, but Leonid Slutsky told Sport-Express on Monday that Neustädter would receive his passport at the Russian consulate in Bonn on Tuesday. “We are 100% confident that this issue will be resolved.”
Hence, if everything goes as planned Neustädter will join Russia in France, and will most likely play an important part in Slutsky’s starting eleven, as the Schalke player can play both as a holding midfielder, but more importantly as a central defender where he will likely feature during the Euros.
Yuri Zhirkov’s Surprise Exclusion
Another surprise was the omission of Zenit Saint Petersburg’s left-back Yuri Zhirkov. Sport-Express believed that the reason for Zhirkov’s omission was a conflict following Russia’s friendly against France in Paris on March 29. Slutsky, however, told the media that there had indeed been a difficult conversation with Zhirkov following the friendly in France, but that this was not the main reason for his omission. Instead Slutsky had doubts whether Zhirkov’s Achilles tendon would be strong enough to last for the entire tournament.
It is understood that Zhirkov played his last few games of the season with Zenit as a left-winger as he had problems making quick turns and tracking back. But Russia has plenty of options up front, and therefore won’t need Zhirkov, who at best will only be partly fit for the tournament.
How will Russia Replace Dzagoev?
Another player, who will not travel to France for the European Championships is Alan Dzagoev. Dzagoev, who plays for Slutsky’s club team CSKA Moscow, broke his right metatarsal in CSKA Moscow’s last match of the season against Rubin Kazan.
Dzagoev has been long hailed Russia’s brightest talent, and at 25 years old the technically gifted midfielder is now at his peak, and the Euros would have been a great platform to demonstrate his talent. Dzagoev’s abilities would have been key to Slutsky’s team at the Euros, as the coach was hoping to largely copy the system regularly played at CSKA, where Dzagoev had been a key component in midfield.
With Dzagoev gone Slutsky will have to either find a player who can play Dzagoev’s position with the national team, or change the system. Slutsky has an interesting backup in the form of Krasnodar’s Pavel Mamaev. Mamaev has scored ten goals, and given 13 assists—his biggest tally, however, came as a right winger—in the RFPL this season, and has been identified as one of the key components of Fedor Smolov’s scoring success this season—the striker has scored 20 goals this season.
Mamaev could therefore replace Dzagoev, which in turn could have a major impact on the central striking position. Other than Smolov, Slutsky has also nominated Zenit’s Artem Dzyuba, and Aleksandr Kokorin. Kokorin will most likely feature as a winger during the tournament. Smolov is also known as a winger, but with Mamaev in the squad it would make more sense to play Smolov as a centre striker—rather than Dzyuba—in order to maintain the chemistry that Smolov and Mamaev have developed at the club level.
In any case it will be interesting to see how Slutsky will compensate the loss of Dzagoev for the European Championship, and how newcomer Roman Neustädter will fit into the team. Here is Russia’s Euro 2016 Squad:
Here is Russia’s Euro 2016 Squad
Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow, aged 30), Yuri Lodygin (Zenit Saint Petersburg, aged 26), Guilherme (Lokomotiv Moscow, aged 30).
Sergei Iganshevich (CSKA Moscow, aged 36), Vasili Berezutski (CSKA Moscow, aged 33), Aleksei Berezutski (CSKA Moscow, aged 33), Dmitri Kombarov (Spartak Moscow, aged 29), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit Saint Petersburg, aged 27), Roman Shishkin (Lokomotiv Moscow, aged 29), Georgi Shchennikov (CSKA Moscow, aged 25), and Roman Neustädter (Schalke 04, aged 28).
Roman Shirokov (CSKA Moscow aged 34), Igor Denisov (Dinamo Moscow, aged 32), Dmitri Torbinski (Krasnodar, aged 32), Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow, aged 29), Aleksandr Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow, aged 31), Oleg Shatov (Zenit Saint Petersburg, aged 25), Pavel Mamaev (Krasnodar, aged 27), Aleksandr Golovin (CSKA Moscow, aged 20), and Oleg Ivanov (Terek Grozny, aged 29).
Aleksandr Kokorin (Zenit Saint Petersburg, aged 25), Artem Dzyuba (Zenit Saint Petersburg, aged 27), and Fedor Smolov (Krasnodar, aged 26).
Russia will have to Rely on Slutsky’s Pragmatism
Russia will be facing England (on June 11), Slovakia (on June 15), and Wales (on June 20) in Group B. Russia will therefore open the tournament against the toughest opponent of the group, which means that Slutsky will have to find a strong starting eleven in the friendlies leading up to the tournament.
During the qualifiers Slutsky has shown his pragmatism by selecting teams that got the job done despite having very little time to prepare his squad after taking over from Fabio Capello. Slutsky will have to repeat this pragmatic approach when it comes to his starting eleven against England on June 11 in Marseille in order to have a strong start at the tournament.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and PhD candidate at King’s College London. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. His thesis is entitled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, and will be defended in November. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.