Manuel Veth –
It has been a busy Tuesday for Zenit Saint Petersburg. The Sine-Belo-Golubye announced the signings of French winger Yohan Mollo from Krylya Sovetov Samara, and Volgar Astrakhan defender Sergei Zuykov.
The 27-year-old Yohan Mollo has been one of the best players in the Russian Football Premier League this season. Playing for Krylya Sovetov Samara, he has scored five goals, and three assists, in 12 Russian Football Premier League games this season—including one goal and one assist in Krylya Sovetov’s sensational 4-0 victory over Spartak Moscow.
Zuykov, in the meantime, is an interesting 23-year-old prospect from the Football National Team, and he could add much needed depth to the backline, but whether he will become an important first team player right away remains to be seen.
Yohan Mollo will likely be just the beginning
Zenit, however, may not be done there, however. Sources from Russia have also reported that Anatoliy Tymoshchuk could be back with Zenit Saint Petersburg. The former Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit Saint Petersburg, and Bayern München midfield star will join the club, as an assistant coach.
On top of that, there are rumours that Zenit could sign FC Rostov Ecuadorian midfielder Christian Noboa, to fill the void that was left by Axel Witsel, who left the club for China. In many ways, Axel Witsel’s transfer to the Chinese Super League club Tianjin Quanjian has made the recent flurry of activities possible.
Witsel was sold to China for €20 million in what has been a gigantic deal for Zenit. In fact, the Futbolgrad team discussed this move on Episode 7 of our podcast series, and we all agreed that this was not only a good deal for Zenit, but that it would also give them the necessary room to answer Spartak’s recent transfer activities.
At the time, we more or less believed that Spartak Moscow, who had secured Luiz Adriano for €1 million, were winning the winter transfer window arms race between the two clubs. To some extent, Spartak still look stronger after the first week of activities, especially as Yohan Mollo is a forward, who likes to play at the left-wing or as a striker, and, consequently, can not be seen as a replacement for the departed Axel Witsel.
Zenit have in many ways emulated Bayern München in their transfer strategy
To some extent, Zenit has long emulated the likes of Bayern München not only by signing stars from abroad, but also by signing the best players from their domestic rivals. There are good reasons to follow such a policy. Players who already play in your league will have an easier time adapting to the level of play and the culture of your country.
For that reason, it makes sense that Zenit have signed the best player that the league had to offer, and who had not already played at one of the other major Russian clubs. Yet, there is a major question mark behind this transfer, as the attacking wings were not exactly a weak spot for Zenit.
Mircea Lucescu, of course, prefers to play in a 4-2-3-1 formation that often looks like a 4-3-3. In this formation he often used the recently signed Róbert Mak and Oleg Shatov on the left-wing. Oleg Shatov’s performances, in particular, have stood out over the last two seasons, which has made him the target of speculations for a move abroad.
Shatov, however, can also play as a central midfielder, and perhaps Lucescu will move the Russian to a more central role to replace Axel Witsel internally. Zenit targeting Noboa, however, indicates that the club does not necessarily believe that Shatov can be the answer for Zenit’s central midfield problems.
Is Yohan Mollo an upgrade to existing squad players?
The question, therefore, is whether Yohan Mollo will provide an upgrade to Shatov and Mak? Mollo’s current stats are certainly an upgrade, but whether the French winger can translate his game from Krylya Sovetov to Zenit remains to be seen.
As one of the smaller teams in the RFPL, Krylya Sovetov often sits deep, and tries to attack quickly on the counter. In some ways,, Lucescu, despite having one of the best squads in the league available to him, also likes to play this style. His teams often sit deep, and then use fast players on both wings to quickly break forward hitting teams while they back track.
— FC Zenit in English (@fczenit_en) January 10, 2017
Speaking to Zenit’s official homepage, Mollo admitted that the move will be a major transition for him:
“I will play wherever the coach and the team need me. I love to have the ball as much as possible. It all depends on what style of play the manager wants—whether he wants me to use my speed or my ball control. When I was at Krylya, we played with five defenders, and I didn’t use my technique as much. With a new coach, I can use all of my abilities.”
It will certainly be interesting to see how Lucescu will use Yohan Mollo in the squad. But perhaps, to refer back to our underlying theme of an arms race between Spartak and Zenit, it will be interesting to see what other deals Zenit concludes in the winter, and how Spartak will respond to them.
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.