Manuel Veth –
Sardar Azmoun rose up in the dark Rostov sky, connected well to the ball, and placed his header past Ajax Amsterdam keeper, Jasper Cilessen, to make it 1-0 for Rostov in the UEFA Champions League playoff match Rostov vs Ajax.
The goal in the 34th minute pushed the gates to the group stage of the Champions League wide open, as Ajax Amsterdam was now forced to play more offensively. In the second half, Ajax tried to gain control over the match, but Rostov’s counter game was poison for Ajax’s possession game, and Aleksandr Erokhin (52nd), Christian Noboa (60th), and Dmitry Poloz (66th) added three more goals.
The result means that Rostov’s unlikely run to the very top of European football continues—despite the fact that the club is hindered by financial problems and lost their coach Kurban Berdyev. Azmoun, in particular, was impressive as the 21-year-old Iranian spearheaded Rostov’s attacks throughout the match.
Azmoun’s night was over in the 73rd minute when fellow striker, Aleksandr Bukharov, replaced him. Hence, Azmoun was no longer on the field when Ajax pulled a goal back after Davy Klaassen scored a penalty.
Sardar Azmoun was on loan from Rubin Kazan
Indeed, Azmoun’s participation in the match was remarkable in itself. The Iranian was a major part of Rostov’s run all the way to a second spot finish in the Russian Football Premier League last season. But the quick Iranian striker was only on loan from Rubin Kazan, and the Tatarstan based club expected very much that Azmoun would return to the club.
In the end, Azmoun refused to play for Rubin Kazan insisting that he wanted to return to Rostov, and continue his work under Kurban Berdyev. In the end, Rubin granted Azmoun his wish, and the Iranian striker, who is valued €7 million, returned to Berdyev’s Rostov on a free transfer.
Azmoun then played in Rostov’s third round Champions League qualifier against RSC Anderlecht. His goal in the second leg made it 2-0 against Anderlecht, and pretty much ensured his club’s participation in the Champions League playoffs.
Berdyev departure put Azmoun’s Rostov future in doubt
Following the victory against Anderlecht, however, Berdyev was gone, and there were speculations that several players could soon join Berdyev in his departure. Among them was Azmoun, who was apparently scouted by several big European clubs—among them FC Liverpool, Everton, Schalke 04, Bayer Leverkusen, and Olympique Marseille.
Furthermore, Spartak Moscow, which for a long time seemed to be the preferred destination for Berdyev, were also interested in signing the Iranian striker. Yet, with Rostov having reached the group stage of the UEFA Champions League it is unlikely that Azmoun will depart the club in the summer.
Yet scouts will continue to keep close taps on the young and mobile striker, as the Iranian will certainly grow in his game during the UEFA Champions League group stage. Furthermore, Rostov’s new coach, Dmitri Kirichenko, shows signs that he can successfully emulate Berdyev’s coaching style.
In 2015-16 Azmoun was Rostov’s top scorer
Under Berdyev last season, Sardar Azmoun scored nine goals in 24 matches for Rostov. Although this doesn’t seem like a lot, it is substantial in a league that is widely considered a low scoring affair—the Ajax result aside—and with Rostov playing extremely defensively with often five men in the back.
Hence, in 30 games Rostov scored just 41 goals last season, which makes Azmoun’s goal scoring prowess even more impressive. Playing for Rostov, as a striker, means that you have to be extremely patient, lurking at the halfway line for a quick counter attack. Also Rostov’s defensive style means that strikers have to be complete strikers that are also expected to help out the defence whenever necessary.
Azmoun mastered those skills to perfection last season even though the Iranian has, so far, failed to score in two RFPL games this season. Like last season, Rostov will mostly rely on their defence first approach—but make no mistake, Azmoun will be deadly when he is given the chance to score.
Sardar Azmoun is a bit like Air Riedle
This goal scoring ability is especially impressive given the Iranian’s skillset. The striker is equally adept with both feet, and although, at 183cm, Sardar Azmoun is not a giant, his goal against Ajax Amsterdam highlighted his aerial ability. In fact, as the ball was crossed into the box it briefly appeared that Azmoun stood in the air.
This goal, in particular, made me recall former Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool FC striker Karl-Heinz Riedle. Riedle was a gifted striker who, despite his low height of just 180cms, was known as Air Riedle in Germany, for his ability of seeming to stand in the air to receive crosses.
Hence, it would not be an exaggeration to compare Azmoun to the former German international. It is now up to Azmoun, however, to prove that he can play at the highest level in the Champions League before he makes the inevitable move to a big European league.
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.