Manuel Veth –
Fedor Smolov won the golden boot for the most goals scored in the Russian Football Premier League with 20 goals and nine assists in 29 games. This season Smolov is leading the race once again, as the 26-year-old has scored 10 goals in 12 matches.
Smolov was recently discussed in the Futbolgrad Podcast, and both Andrew and myself agreed that Smolov was in many ways the best player in the league. In the Europa League Smolov also scored twice in two games, and the value that he brings to Krasnodar was evident when he missed several games with an injury this season.
Smolov is a flexible player, who can play as a forward but also a left-winger. Smolov managed six goals in 12 matches as a left-winger for Krasnodar last season. In fact the 187cm tall striker can often be found tanking down the left wing just to cut in at the last moment to look for a finish with his stronger right foot—a technique that is also often used by Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben or Dynamo Kyiv’s Andriy Yarmolenko.
Fedor Smolov is in his prime right now
Smolov is in his prime at the moment, and it is therefore no surprise that talk has emerged that he could be the next player to emerge from the post-Soviet space and establish himself in a major European league.
There has been talk about Smolov moving to England, as Stoke City were reportedly interested in signing the prolific Russian. But as was the case with Andriy Yarmolenko there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that Smolov will sign for the Potters.
Smolov recently spoke on the Russia television Match TV about his future where he stated that he would be interested to move abroad, and that while he could see himself signing for an English club, he would prefer to move to Germany.
Smolov also stated that he would prefer to finish the season with Krasnodar, but that “There is one team for which I would be willing to leave Krasnodar in the winter.” Asked which country the team is from he stated: “Germany.”
This statement left room for speculation over which club is willing to sign Smolov in the winter, who is valued €8 million, but will cost at least twice that much in the winter break.
Krasnodar could be tempted to cash in on the forward, as Krasnodar are somewhat restricted by Financial Fair Play regulations. Selling Smolov for between €15 and €20 million would allow Krasnodar to make much needed investments in their squad.
Furthermore, the Bulls are very much out of the title race this season, and with the money earned from a Smolov transfer could look to rebuild the squad for the 2017-18 season.
This, however, does not answer the question about which clubs from Germany could be interested in signing the Russian forward.
The Favourite – Borussia Dortmund:
Russian media has speculated that this club could be Borussia Dortmund, and indeed a move to Borussia could make sense in case Colombian striker Adrián Ramos decides to leave the club in the winter. Ramos had offers to move to China last season, but ended up staying with the club.
Smolov is a strong and fast forward, who is also technically gifted. His ability to see players around him would make him a better fit for a potential 3-5-2 system where he could play alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. His ability to play on the wing would also mean he would be an upgrade to Ramos, who was tested but unconvincing on the wing this season.
The Russian has a built in goal guarantee at the moment, and could therefore add depth on the bench, and be brought on should Aubameyang hit a dry spell, or get injured.
Then there is the fact that Smolov has only played in the UEFA Europa League this season, which would make it possible for Dortmund to register the forward for the round of 16 of the Champions League.
Some media in Germany have already considered this to be the most likely scenario, and Borussia Dortmund may be the only club that could afford the forward in the winter, but only if Ramos makes a big money move to China.
The Bavarian giants – FC Bayern München
It is hard not to name Bayern in the list of potential suitors, especially as the Bavarians have dabbled in the post-Soviet transfer market in the past. In the summer of 2015 Bayern signed the Brazilian Douglas Costa from Shakhtar Donets, who has since gone on to become an important member of the squad.
Bayern also signed Anatoly Tymoshchuk from Zenit Saint Petersburg in 2009. The Ukrainian was a part of the squad that won the UEFA Champions League with Bayern in 2013.
Bayern only have one real forward in their squad at the moment, as Thomas Müller is more of a false nine, and has at times struggled to play up front as a single striker. Robert Lewandowski on the other hand is world class, and Fedor Smolov would have no chance to replace the Polish forward.
But Bayern could face problems if Lewandowski would go down with an injury. In that case Smolov would be a top class backup, and Bayern would have no problem paying the transfer fee for the Russian forward.
Also there would be no doubt that Smolov would be keen to trade the green Krasnodar shirt for a red Bayern München kit in the new year…
Past interest – Bayer Leverkusen:
Bayer Leverkusen were linked to Smolov last summer, but then ended up signing Kevin Volland for €20 million. Bayer, however, has struggled this season, and is in danger of missing a Champions League spot. In that case it will likely be difficult for Bayer to keep hanging on to Chicharito.
This means, however, that Bayer would not likely look for a new forward until the summer, which could fit in well with Smolov’s plan to leave Krasnodar after the season, but also means that Bayer are not the club currently negotiating with the forward. Also it would be unlikely that Smolov would leave Krasnodar for a club not qualified for the UEFA Champions League.
The surprise team – RB Leipzig:
Fedor Smolov is strong, fast, and has the technical, as well as the tactical ability to fit into Ralph Hasenhüttl’s team. Perhaps the big question is age, as Leipzig want to sign young players, preferably 23 and under. On the other hand Smolov is only 26, and still has potential to develop further.
There are also marketing aspects to consider. Smolov carries a big profile in his home country, and could therefore become an important marketing vehicle for Red Bull in Russia.
Leipzig could certainly afford paying €15 to €20 million for the forward, but my biggest doubts are over Smolov’s age, and whether Ralf Ragnick would risk bringing in a player who may not develop a resale value for the club. Also with Davie Selke, and Yussuf Poulsen, RB Leipzig already have two similar forwards in their ranks. The club is also well stocked up on the wings, and Leipzig are therefore more likely to invest in defence this winter.
Capital Investment – Hertha Berlin:
Despite losing to Werder Bremen on Saturday, Hertha Berlin remains in the top three of the Bundesliga. Furthermore, Hertha have invested just €6.6 million in new players this summer. Some of this was down to the fact that Hertha were reluctant to spent big in the offseason, but rumours have it that die alte Dame is in advanced negotiations with another investor—Hertha already sold some of their shares to the private equity firm KKR last February for €60 million.
A new investor could bring in money to make the necessary signings this winter that could help Hertha consolidate a top four spot in the Bundesliga. Smolov could bring the necessary depth to the squad to help Hertha finish in the top four. Smolov is also significant younger than Vedad Ibišević, who is 32, and winger Salomon Kalou, who is 31.
Smolov’s ability to play multiple positions up front means that he could play together with Ibišević up front, or even in a 4-3-3 formation with Kalou, Ibiševic, and Smolov.
Berlin as a location also might suit the Russian forward, as the city has a large Russian expat community, which could make it easier for Smolov to make the transition from living in Russia to Western Europe. Also Smolov could be attracted to live in the German capital, which is perhaps the coolest city on the continent at the moment.
Volkswagen – VfL Wolfsburg:
Similar to Red Bull at RB Leipzig, VfL Wolfsburg could have a marketing interest in signing the Russian forward. Volkswagen are a big brand name in the Russian Federation, and Smolov could become a brand ambassador for both the company and the club in the country.
Furthermore VfL Wolfsburg are likely to restructure over the winter break, as the club has had a disappointing season thus far. Hence, the club will likely sell several star players in the winter break, among them national team player Julian Draxler, and focus more on youth team players. At the same time Wolfsburg will have to make a few signings in order to avoid relegation.
Smolov could be a good addition to national team striker Mario Gómez, especially when Draxler leaves the club. Furthermore Draxler’s transfer will without a doubt bring in the necessary cash to make the signing possible financially.
There is, however, a big but. Wolfsburg is hardly the sort of place Smolov is dying to leave Russia for in the winter break. Especially without the potential of Champions League football.
Dark horse – Hamburger SV:
Hamburger SV have started to dig themselves out of the relegation swamp by beating Darmstadt 98, and FC Augsburg on the last two matchdays of the Bundesliga. Indeed die Rothosen have looked much improved in recent weeks, and if they can keep their form could make significant strides towards moving out of the relegation zone even before the winter break.
That said it is apparent that the squad put together by managing director Dietmar Beiersdorfer, and former head coach Bruno Labbadia, is currently not balanced enough to compete in the league. Hamburg look desperately short up front where Bobby Wood has failed to show that he can be a regular scorer in the Bundesliga. Pierre-Michel Lasogga meanwhile has the talent, but his body seems not to be made for Bundesliga football.
Investor Klaus-Michael Kühne has already stated that he would be willing to make further investments in the winter, and a defender, as well as a forward will be likely on Hamburg’s shopping list. But whether Hamburg will be able to invest the potential €20 million price for Smolov is questionable. Also while Hamburg would certainly be an attractive place to live, it is unlikely that Smolov will sign for a club that will not be in a European competition next season.
Where will Fedor Smolov go?
It truly is speculation, but we do know that his likely destination will be Germany. Leaving out Bayern München, Smolov’s likeliest destination would be Dortmund, as it is a distinct possibility that Ramos could leave die Schwarz-Gelben in the winter break. In this case Dortmund would have the necessary funds to sign the Russian forward, and there is no doubt that Smolov would be extremely interested in playing Champions League football in the spring.
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.