Manuel Veth –
The Georgi Dzhikiya (or Georgi Jikia to use the Georgian spelling) transfer from Amkar Perm to Spartak Moscow is the latest episode in what seems to amount to an arms race between the title challengers Spartak Moscow and Zenit Saint Petersburg.
The importance of the three-month-long winter break in Russian football has been discussed in several Futbolgrad Podcasts in recent weeks. For Russian Football Premier League teams, this is a period when they take stock of their squads, and try to adjust their squads in order to improve the likelihood that they will achieve their long, and short-term goals.
In the past, the Russian Football Premier League, and the Soviet Vysshaya Liga before that, ran on a spring-to-fall schedule, which meant that the winter break was the end-of-the-season break for clubs. In 2011, however, the league switched to its current calendar format, in order to be more closely attuned to the big European leagues.
Winter weather in Russia, however, means that the winter break is longer than the end-of-season break and, as a result, Russian clubs tend to focus most of their transfer business in the winter rather than in the summer.
The second half of the Russian Football Premier League – From marathon to sprint
This, in turn, has led to peculiar state in which the season is almost broken into two separate parts—the long marathon to the winter break (this season 17 of the 30 games were played before the winter break) and the sprint to the end of the season (the last 13 matchdays) that will be played in just under three months.
In the case of the title race between Spartak and Zenit, the two clubs seem to have embarked on an arms race in order to come out with the best possible squad that will decide the sprint to the title in their favour.
Spartak struck first by securing the signature of the talented Amkar Perm keeper Aleksandr Selikhov from Amkar Perm, and are also close to securing the signature of Lokomotiv’s winger Aleksandr Samedov—although that deal has not been concluded yet. Zenit reacted by signing the Brazilian midfielder Hernani from Atlético Paranaense for €8 million, and goalkeeper Andrey Lunev from FC Ufa for €3.5 million.
Georgi Dzhikiya is like a Boxing Day Present
Spartak then gave themselves their very own Boxing Day present when they signed the 23-year-old newly capped Russian national team defender Georgi Dzhikiya from Amkar Perm.
Georgi Dzhikiya has been one of the revelations of this season’s Russian Football Premier League season, and has been considered one of the key reasons for Amkar Perm’s rise to sixth place in the RFPL. In many ways, Dzhikiya would be the perfect replacement for Serdar Tasci, Salvatore Bocchetti, or Maurício, who are all connected with a move away from the club.
At 183cm Dzhikiya is not the tallest defender, yet he seems strong in the air nevertheless. He also possesses great mobility, dribbling skills, and the ability to stop through balls thanks to his positional awareness. More importantly for Spartak, however, Dzhikiya, or to use his Georgian name Jikia, has recently been capped by the Russian national team and, therefore, seems unlikely to play for the Georgian national team in the future, which would have meant that he would have been listed as a foreigner.
Dzhikiya’s signing leaves room for a foreign born forward
By signing Dzhikiya, and perhaps selling one of their foreign defenders, Spartak will now have room to strengthen their forward line. Here, the Cape Verdean, Zé Luís, and the Paraguayan, Luis Melgarejo, have been good options. Zé Luís, in particular, has been a revelation, when healthy, but the Cap Verdean struggled with fitness throughout his time at Spartak, and Melgarejo, despite having shown that he can be a good RFPL striker, has not always been up to the task up front.
It is, therefore, no surprise that Spartak are strongly linked to former Shakhtar Donetsk striker, Luiz Adriano, and Fenerbahçe forward, Emmanuel Emenike, who had played for Spartak from 2011 and 2013.
Dzhikiya’s move from Perm to Spartak for €2.5 million, therefore, will allow Spartak to further strengthen their forward line with foreign talent without sacrificing one of their foreign born forwards—another indication that a potential Quincy Promes to Liverpool transfer is unlikely this winter.
Leonid Fedun also announced a transfer budget of €25 million this winter break. The transfers of Selikhov, and Dzhikiya have now meant that Spartak have spent €6 million. Samedov will probably cost another €5 million, which would leave head coach, Massimo Carrera, and sport director, Sergei Rodionov, another €14 million to spent this winter—more if they sell one of their foreign born defenders.
This could leave the club with enough room to sign both Luiz Adriano and Emenike, although I believe that they will likely just sign one of the two forwards, and use the rest of the money to strengthen one of the other areas of the squad.
Spartak and Zenit are changing the landscape of the Russian transfer market
What this indicates, though, is that Spartak’s recent outlay just represents the beginning of the winter transfer activity, as the club seems determined to win the sprint against this season’s title rivals Zenit Saint Petersburg.
It also means that Zenit will not rest either and, in response, will remain active in the transfer window as well. This could mean that, after years of being mostly a seller’s league, the Russian Football Premier League, fuelled by the big two on the top, could turn into one of the big buyers of the winter break.
In fact, the race at the top has already had an impact on smaller clubs. Perm, in fact, might be one of the big losers of the winter transfer window, as their top players are being picked out like raisins from a cake. At the same time, however, Perm’s sporting director, Igor Rezvukhin, has actually welcomed the transfer, by saying, “This move has been a testament to our hard working coaching staff.”
Furthermore, he pointed out that, like many smaller Russian clubs, Amkar depends on earning money from the transfer market in order to survive. Hence, with the big two clubs spending big this winter, it seems that even the smaller clubs are benefiting from the arms race between the two leaders.
To be continued…
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.