Toke Theilade –
Danish players don’t usually go to the Russian Premier League. However, Rubin Kazan have now signed Danes two years in a row, and Leonid Slutsky’s troops are again challenging at the very top of the Russian Premier League with both Anders Dreyer and Oliver Abildgaard being among the stars on the team.
Toke Theilade from Vilfortpark.dk examines the influx of Danish talent, and how they are perhaps leading the way for even more talent into the RPL.
Oliver Abildgaard Broke the Taboo
Few Danes understood what Oliver Abildgaard was thinking when he joined Rubin Kazan on loan in the winter break of the 2019/2020 season. The midfielder was playing well for his boyhood club Aalborg BK, and people were expecting him to move to a bigger league in Western Europe.
Before Abildgaard, Michael Lumb was the only Danish player to have played in Russia, an uneventful stint at Zenit between 2010 and 2013, which saw him play three games and go on three loans. Even Michael Laudrup, the country’s greatest player ever, failed miserably in Russia when he attempted to coach Spartak Moscow without any luck.
Perhaps because of the failures of his countrymen, and the arguably weak international performances by the Russian clubs, Abildgaard was seen as a greedy player who prioritized a paycheck over his career.
The skepticism didn’t influence Abildgaard though, who went to play 11 games during the spring part of the season, and his loan was quickly changed to a permanent transfer, which saw him sign a long-term contract with the Kazan outfit.
Following the season, Abildgaard told Danish football site Bold.dk that Kazan had turned out much differently than he had expected. The prejudice he had experienced towards Russia before moving had turned out not to be true, and he praised the professionalism in the club, his teammates, and the city of Kazan, which he stated “had a lot to offer.”
That Abildgaard had improved immensely on the Russian pitches, was proved to everyone in Denmark, when he made his debut on the national team in a friendly against Sweden in November 2020.
The season saw him finish with playing time in 28 of 30 league games in a season, where Rubin finished fourth and qualified for European football once again. As a cherry on top of the cake, he was even selected for WhoScored’s Team of the Season with the fourth-highest average grade in the entire league.
Anders Dreyer the Hattrick Hero
Perhaps because of Abildgaard’s success, Rubin once again looked towards Denmark this summer, when they needed attacking power. The choice fell on FC Midtjylland’s 23-year-old striker Anders Dreyer.
During his year and a half at Midtjylland, Dreyer had established himself as one of the biggest stars in the country, and he had outgrown the Danish Superliga. Usually playing behind the forward, Dreyer had proven himself to be both a lethal goal scorer as well as great at setting up his teammates. Capable of playing on all the offensive positions at a high level, he was just the kind of player Slutsky needed at Rubin before going into a season where the expectations were even higher than the previous year.
If there were any doubts about Dreyer’s abilities, he quickly erased them. In his debut, a 4-1 victory against FC Ural, the young Dane scored a stunning hattrick with the opening goal coming after just two minutes. Dreyer had in record time established himself as one of the hottest names in Russian football, and the stellar performance didn’t go unnoticed in the home country.
His goals, one of them a wonderful finish with the back foot, went viral in Denmark, and everybody was suddenly talking about Dreyer and Rubin Kazan.
Future National Team Stars?
Both Abildgaard and Dreyer are young players who should have long careers in front of them. And these careers could very well include playing time on the Danish national team.
Although neither of them was included in the latest Danish squad in August, head coach Kasper Hjulmand, highlighted both Abildgaard and Dreyer as future starlets.
“We are watching all his games. It’s impressive what he is doing,” Hjulmand, who famously led Denmark to the quarterfinals at the Euro in 2021, said about Abildgaard. “I love that the boy just goes out there and plays well. He’s a fantastic personality and we haven’t seen the last of him.”
About Dreyer, he praised his form in this season and revealed that he, together with Jesper Lindstrøm of Frankfurt, was one of the players just outside of the squad on the offensive positions.
Anybody who has watched the two Danish Rubin players live should have noticed the tenacity and passion they are playing with. This is certainly the case among the Danish sports journalists, who have taken a closer look at the duo this season following their stellar performances. These days, no one is talking about greed when discussing Rubin Kazan in the small Northern kingdom, and their performances can very well open the door for even more players taking the big, and slightly unconventional, step towards the East.