Saul Pope –
Sport-Express have called it “possibly the main sensation” of the summer transfer window – Zenit St. Petersburg, usually a side confident and some might say profligate in spending money, have not signed a single player.
In one sense, new Zenit manager Sergey Semak does have new signings to run the rule over. Previous incumbents Roberto Mancini and Mircea Lucescu were managers in times of more generous spending on players, leading to bloated squads. Mancini also fell out with some of his key charges.
Therefore back from loan spells have come ex-outcasts Artem Dzyuba (his recent performances for both club and country point to how poorly the player was managed under Mancini) and Oleg Shatov, alongside those previously deemed surpluses to requirements: Hernani, Robert Mak and Christian Noboa. Hernani has looked useful whenever he has appeared this year, whilst Mak and Noboa were vital in the 8-1 win over Dinamo Minsk in the Europa League. All three could have undoubtedly played a bigger role last term as well.
Semak wanted new signings in the summer
Nevertheless, it seems that Semak wanted to make signings to fill spots where he feels the side is weak. Well-known sports.ru blog Our Name is Zenit published a post last month which detailed all of the times the manager had referred to needing reinforcements in the media.
The blog detailed five occasions on which he had, in his short tenure, referred to squad rotation, needing strengthening in almost every position and needing a squad of 18-20 good quality players. That was before he described Zenit as an “average” team after the 2-1 defeat to Molde.
Semak is perhaps unfortunate to have taken on the job as a time when Zenit’s leadership team are possibly growing tired with spending money on players who haven’t been fully utilised, and are also wary of the ramifications of Financial Fair Play when the club are facing a second season without Champions League funding.
Sport-Express refer to the club still owing instalments on players bought last season. Semak will need to be patient with this situation so early in his tenure and likely little clout at present at the very top level within the club. However, if Zenit are underperforming by the winter break, there will be more pressure to make up for the lack of signings made this summer.
On one level it is refreshing to see Zenit being parsimonious rather than splurging on players that may not have been needed. Also, this is a transfer window that has overall weakened the Premier Liga: Golovin and Promes both gone, and Smolov recycled once more following an indifferent World Cup.
No summer transfers – Is there enough depth?
In short, there was probably no need for Zenit to buy if they want to challenge for the title. However, questions remain around strength in depth.
Zenit already have injuries to essential players (Noboa, Shatov, Zhirkov, Kokorin) and are coping, but what happens if Dzyuba picks up a knock and Kokorin is not back? Zabolotniy leading the line on three fronts? The decision to loan out forwards Emiliano Rigoni, Luka Djordjević and Zenit-2 success story Andrey Panyukov all at once is perhaps short-sighted.
In defence, things are even more pressing, with error-prone Miha Mevlja making slightly less error-prone Luis Neto feel like the better option at centre back. On the flanks, the team have had to rely on Aleksandr Anyukov, who turns 36 this month, on either side. He has looked good – and was another player perhaps mismanaged by Mancini when he was demoted to Zenit 2 – but he is not a long- or even medium-term option as a regular starter given the number of games Zenit have.
Zenit’s dry transfer campaign may well prove to be a masterstroke that helps bed in the nucleus of a team that will be successful for the next few seasons. But they will need to ride their luck with injuries – otherwise, the dry transfer campaign might turn into yet another average season with, as Semak has suggested, largely average players.
Saul Pope has been following Russian football since the mid-nineties, and first saw a live game in 1998 (Zenit St. Petersburg vs Shinnik Yaroslavl’). He has been contributing to When Saturday Comes magazine for over a decade, with a particular focus on social, economic and political issues surrounding the game in Russia and, to a lesser extent, Ukraine. He has a particular passion for teams in and around St. Petersburg. A fluent Russian speaker, he graduated from the University of Surrey with a Master’s degree in the language. He lives in the UK but travels back to Russia on a regular basis. You can follow Saul on Twitter @SaulPope.