Manuel Veth –
Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund and various other clubs were interested. But in the end, Sardar Azmoun has made the unlikeliest move of them all and returned from Rostov to Rubin Kazan this summer.
Often described as Iran’s biggest footballing talent Sardar Azmoun had the doors to the footballing worldwide open over the last year. Azmoun was part of an excellent Rostov side that managed to finish second in the 2015-16 Russian Football Premier League season. Rostov were within one goal to win the Russian championship despite the fact that the club was on the brink of bankruptcy for the entire season.
The run was only possible because head coach Kurban Berdyev was able to assemble a squad that was not only loyal to his tactics but also sacrificed everything for the club’s success. Berdyev’s ability to assemble teams that are 100% loyal to him is, in fact, one of the main reasons why he has been successful in every job he has taken on.
Berdyev’s ability to install complete loyalty in him also allowed Rostov to hang on to several key players last season. One of these players was Sardar Azmoun. Azmoun was only on loan from Rubin Kazan when he played at Rostov during the 2015-16 season.
Sardar Azmoun was an Integral Part of Berdyev’s Tactical Plan at Rostov
An integral part of Berdyev’s transition game Azmoun quickly became a major star in the Russian Football Premier League. Scoring nine goals and three assists in 24 RFPL games, it was no surprise that Rubin Kazan wanted the Iranian back in the summer of 2016.
Azmoun, however, wanted to remain at Rostov where he hoped that he could develop under Berdyev. Furthermore, Rostov had the chance of qualifying for the Champions League, and by playing on the biggest stage, Azmoun must have reckoned that he could make a name for himself in European football.
As a result, he refused to report back to Rubin and in a major act of defiance forced a full transfer to Rostov. His desire to stay on the Don worked out well for him. Azmoun was a key player in Rostov’s elimination of RSC Anderlecht and Ajax Amsterdam on the way to the group stage of the UEFA Champions League by scoring in both second leg matches.
Once in the group stage Azmoun continued his development. Rostov collected five points and managed to advance to the round of 32 of the Europa League. It was the sort of result few dreamed of in Southern Russia, and it was only possible thanks to Rostov’s fantastic 3-2 victory over Bayern München on matchday 5 of the UEFA Champions League.
Bayern had come to Rostov needing to win the match to have a chance to secure first place in the group ahead of Atlético Madrid. At the same time, however, Carlo Ancelotti rested several key players, and Rostov made the most of a Bayern squad that may have underestimated them.
Sitting deep the Selmashi used their quick transition players Dmitry Poloz and Sardar Azmoun to hit the Bavarians on the counterattack. Azmoun, in particular, had a field day scoring once and being a constant pain for Bayern’s defence it was at that point that scouts around Europe had taken note.
Liverpool and Dortmund were both Interested in Azmoun
It was, therefore, no surprise that he was linked with a move to both Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool during the winter transfer window. But instead, he stayed put and completed the season with Rostov.
Rostov, however, were unable to build on their impressive 2015-16 campaign and finished the 2016-17 season outside the Europa League spots. Plagued by financial problems Berdyev, who at that point was officially the vice-president and not the coach, and several players left the club.
Berdyev, in fact, returned to his former club, Rubin Kazan. Azmoun in the meantime had offers to move to Western Europe or one of the big Moscow based teams. Lazio Rome, in particular, was interested. Instead, he chose to follow Berdyev to Rubin Kazan creating the somewhat awkward situation of returning a club he had previously forced a move away from.
The move back to Rubin would in fact not have been possible without Berdyev. Azmoun is one of the players who are loyal to Berdyev. Hence, when Berdyev was given the position at Rubin, the club handed complete control over to the native of Turkmenistan. Any opposition of Azmoun returning was therefore smoothed over.
For the 22-year-old Azmoun, the move now means that he can develop another year under the tutelage of Berdyev. How long Azmoun will remain in Russia remains to be seen, however. Rubin are not playing in Europe next season and qualifying for the competition will be tough this year.
There is no doubt that without European football next season Azmoun will be off to a bigger league in Europe. Because without a doubt the Iranian has what it takes to play in one of Europe’s top five leagues.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and social media junior editor at Bundesliga.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 @ManuelVeth.