Aleksandr Belenov – The Prisoner of Dagestan

Aleksandr Belenov – The Prisoner of Dagestan

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Manuel Veth –

Aleksandr Belenov has been one of the best keepers in the Russian Football Premier League during the last few seasons. At the same time, however, Belenov also, more often than not, seems to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Last season Belenov was the starting goalkeeper of Kuban Krasnodar. Kuban, affected by severe financial problems,, however, and were relegated at the end of the 2015-16 Russian Football Premier League season.

Then in the summer, Belenov joined Anzhi Makhachkala. Anzhi, then owned by Suleyman Kerimov, appeared to be once again a club on its way up. Several interesting players were signed, among them the likes of Hamburger SV winger, Ivo Iličević, Spartak Moscow’s Sergey Parshivlyuk, as well as several players from Kuban Krasnodar, among them defender, Xandão, Sergey Karetnik, Svyatoslav Georgievski, and Rabiu Mohammed.

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The Kuban Krasnodar signings, in particular, pointed towards the influence of the oligarch, Oleg Mkrtchyan, and his family clan who were involved at Kuban Krasnodar but saw their influence diminish last season. As a result, Mkrtchyan withdrew his funding and Kuban Krasnodar found themselves in financial trouble.

Belenov could be the victim of another Mkrtchyan project going sideways

The Mkrtchyans’ influence football in the post-Soviet space by acting as high profile player agents. This season, after the Kuban Krasnodar project, they worked together with Suleyman Kerimov, which explains why the likes of Aleksandr Belenov signed for Anzhi Makhachkala.

But the honeymoon between Oleg Mkrtchyan and Suleyman Kerimov ended when Kerimov pulled the plug on Anzhi Makhachkala, put all the major players on sale, and also let go of the Czech head coach, Pavel Vrba. Kerimov has now sold the club to the businessman and former KGB agent, Osman Kadiev.

With Kadiev in charge, Anzhi Makhachkala continued to sell players who were connected with Oleg Mkrtchyan. The sale of top players, among them were the Albanian striker, Bernard Berisha, who joined Terek Grozny, and Jonathan Mensah, who has joined Columbus Crew of the MLS.

Surprisingly, however, Belenov has remained with the club so far, even though top clubs like Spartak Moscow and Zenit Saint Petersburg were looking to sign new goalkeepers in the winter transfer window. In the end, Zenit signed Andrey Lunev from FC Ufa, and Spartak secured the signature of the talented Amkar Perm keeper Aleksandr Selikhov.

There is little room for Alexander Belenov at Russia’s top clubs

Going down further the table, the only other option among Russia’s elite clubs appears to be Krasnodar. But Krasnodar signed Stanislav Kritsyuk on a permanent deal last summer. Kritsyuk is under contract until 2020, and is four years younger than Belenov.

GROZNY, RUSSIA - APRIL 13: Ezechiel N'Douassel (L) of FC Terek Grozny scores a penalty past goalkeeper Aleksandr Belenov of FC Kuban Krasnodar during the Russian Premier League match between FC Terek Grozny and FC Kuban Krasnodar at the Akhmad-Arena Stadium on April 13, 2013 in Grozny, Russia. (Photo by Rasul Yarichev/Epsilon/Getty Images)

 Aleksandr Belenov had a disappointing season with Kuban Krasnodar last year (Photo by Rasul Yarichev/Epsilon/Getty Images)

This means that Aleksandr Belenov, despite being one of the top ranked keepers in Russia according to championat.com, has found himself somewhat out in the cold among Russia’s elite clubs. But Belenov still has options.

Perhaps one club that could be interested in bringing in a new goalkeeper would be Rubin Kazan. Kazan embarked on a fascinating project at the beginning of the season when they signed the Spanish coach, Javi Gracia.

With Gracia at the helm, Rubin signed several top players. But the project is stalling with Gracia and his new signings struggling to get used to football in the Russian Football Premier League. After matchday 17, Rubin are just ninth in the table, and are in danger of failing to reach their minimum goal—a spot in the Europa League.

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One key factor in the club’s struggle has been stability in the back. Rubin, in fact, have one of the top scorers in the league with Jonathas, but Rubin’s goal difference of 20-19 points toward the club needing more stability in the back.

Belenov, in the meantime, has conceded 18 goals in 17 games, but he had to anchor the backend of a team that, at least on paper, is less talented than Rubin. Furthermore, Belenov actually managed seven clean sheets this season, which is a strong return. Finally, Belenov is also significantly younger than Rubin Kazan’s starter Sergey Ryzhikov, who is already 36.

Whether Belenov will actually join Rubin is, of course, an entirely different matter. The situation now is that Anzhi Makhachkala are once again in a complicated restructuring process and, as a result, the club is looking to let go of most of its top players. It would be a major surprise, therefore, if Belenov is still at Anzhi when the Russian Football Premier League kicks off the second half of the season.

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Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist,  writer for Bundesliga.com, and podcaster for WorldFootballIndex.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.

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