Manuel Veth –
It was a night made for Aleksandr Golovin. In the first leg of the UEFA Europa League quarterfinals, been often his side CSKA Moscow were facing Arsenal, the very team that often has been linked with wanting to sign the creative Russian playmaker.
It seemed to be indeed a bit of a fairytale early on in the match. Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey had brought the English side ahead in the ninth minute in what was a fantastic beginning by both sides that could not have been predicted by anyone betting on the game using the Mansion Bonus Code.
Six minutes after the opener CSKA were given a freekick on the edge of the box and the midfielder curled the ball beautifully into the top corner. It was Golovin’s second goal in his fourth Europa League match this season and could have set the stage for CSKA to get a positive result in London.
In a game, however, where both sides were playing wide open football, CSKA were quickly overwhelmed by Arsenal’s superior firepower and lost the match 4-1. Nonetheless, the 21-year-old Golovin stood out in the match as he has many times this season for a CSKA side that is very much in transition at the moment.
Golovin – From Kaltan to Moscow
Born in the Siberian town of Kaltan, which is located in the Kemerovo oblast, which was in the news for the fire in a shopping mall that took the lives of 64 children, Golovin was discovered by CSKA in 2012 while playing for Metallurg Novokuznetsk. Making a move from Siberia to Moscow can be tough for young players, but Golovin made the most of the opportunity.
In 2013 he was part of the Russia side that won the 2013 UEFA European Under-17 Championship. Two years later the core of that team finished second in the 2015 UEFA European Under-19 Championship. That side, in particular, has now often been identified as having the potential to become Russia’s golden generation.
Golovin, however, has been one of few players from that side to break through to Russia’s senior side. Among the players called up for Russia to face Brazil and France in the March friendlies Golovin was the only player to have played in the 2013 and 2015 tournaments—only goalkeeper Anton Mitryushkin and midfielder Rifat Zhemaletdinov have thus far succeeded in making an impact on their respective senior sides, and both have an outside chance to make the Sbornaya this summer.
Golovin without a doubt, therefore, stands out from that 2013 generation. In fact, he might be the most sought-after prospect in Russian football at the moment. Capable of playing several roles in midfield Golovin is a flexible midfielder with shades of Bastian Schweinsteiger when placed in a holding midfield role.
Hence, while Golovin often played as an attacking winger or second forward in a 3-5-2 when breaking into the lineup earlier on in his career CSKA head coach Viktor Goncharenko soon realised that Golovin is better suited playing further back. This season Golovin played 25 games in the central midfield role and only three games as a winger.
Golovin has benefited from playing in a deeper role
The result has been spectacular. In 21 Russian Football Premier League games, Golovin has averaged 49 passes per game with an average completion rate of 81.7%. Playing 1.5 key passes per game Golovin may have just recorded two assists this season, but he often plays the pass before the assist that leads to the goal.
Furthermore, as a result of Golovin playing further back, the midfielder is able to track back further which accentuates his defensive abilities. A strong tackler as well as a player who likes to drop deep to pick up the ball to initiate counter-attacks Golovin is now the key player for CSKA Moscow and could also silence the critiques that want Sbornaya head coach Stanislav Cherchesov to recall Igor Denisov.
Going by Golovin’s numbers, it would not be hard to imagine to see the 21-year-old play the anchor role for Russia at the 2018 FIFA World Cup next summer. For CSKA the Red Armyman often operates in the number eight role alongside fellow national team player Alan Dzagoev. Both have the ability to drop deep to back up each other to go forward when needed and playing together on the club level will be a big bonus for the Sbornaya in the summer.
Whether the two will be still together at CSKA at the end of the season remains to be seen, however. For years it was expected that Dzagoev would be CSKA’s next big export. But the boy from Beslan is now unlikely to ever leave Moscow.
The story could be different for Golovin, however. Linked with a move to Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal in the past the midfielder seems well suited for the game in one of Europe’s top leagues. Before then, however, Golovin will be part of a side that will attempt a miracle against Arsenal in the second leg and then will challenge for one of three Champions League spots in the Russian Football Premier League.
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds 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 is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth. Or contact him via email: [email protected]