20 Defender FC Rubin Kazan Russia
Where does one start with Elmir Nabiullin? On these pages we’re restricted to a sensible word count based on the fact that people need to be able to read these profiles, should they wish to do so, but the truth is we could bend your ear about Nabiullin for hours and hours and hours.
The 20-year-old full back was born and bred in the Russian city of Kazan and played his youth football at his local flagship club, FC Rubin, where he’s now a fresh-faced fixture of the first team. He started six Russian Premier League games down the home straight of the 2013/14 season and became a regular last season, taking his place in the first eleven 24 times in the league.
Nabiullin is a fascinating prospect. He’s played in big games and starred in many league games despite his age and inexperience, but he’s very much a Rubin product. Unlike so many of the other players on this list he’s barely featured for the under-age national teams, boasting just a couple of Under-21 caps won last year. He won’t go unnoticed for long.
2015 has been…
Impressive. Nabiullin ended 2014/15 strongly and in the team and he’s continued that into the new season. He’s now very much established as a regular starter both in the Russian Premier League and in the Europa League, for which Rubin qualified through their 2014/15 league position, Nabiullin’s contribution being not insignificant.
First thing’s first: we’re talking about Nabiullin as a left back but he actually plays very flexibly on the left hand side – you’ll see him placed on tactics maps anywhere between attacking left back and wide left forward.
Nevertheless it’s at full back where we’ve watched him most regularly and there he plays with a very familiar, ultra-modern style: he gets high up the line, looks to give-and-go with a man inside and bombs past the play to get forward when he can. His footwork is tidy and he’s calm in possession, and willing to attack the edge of the box like a forward.
Nabiullin is tenacious, able to skip past a man and never still. He has good energy and a decent understanding of the game around him, and, most noticeably of all, he’s absolutely rapid. Like, silly fast.
When he does play more defensively his positioning is reliable – at least in his channel – and he defends the back post comfortably when attacks come down Rubin’s right. Like so many full backs he’s not always set as part of a back four so he’s often defending by instinct rather than as a learned position, but his defensive instinct is mostly good. He reads the play well enough to nip in for an interception but he can be caught out in that situation.
His pace helps him recover from defensive lapses and there are a few, particularly when he’s required to defend close to his own goal, a more unfamiliar central space than the wing he tends to dominate. His decision-making is better on the ball than off but there are also times when he can be too easy to read and dispossess, and his crossing is something of a mixed bag.
Playing as extraordinarily high as he does, Nabiullin takes some covering. It’s a tactical sacrifice that’s worth accommodating because he’s a thrill-a-minute player with many attributes and, although there are aspects of his game that obviously need work at 20 years of age, he might not be in his home town for much longer.
His contract runs to the summer of 2017 and, as such, next summer puts him in prime target territory for the big clubs west of Russia. Whether he’s in the shop window at UEFA EURO 2016 is another matter. His senior international debut in a friendly against Kazakhstan in March remains his only cap and he hasn’t been called into Leonid Slutsky’s squad since June.
Breaking into that Russia side and pinning down a place is going to represent a huge challenge for a young player facing some established and formidable competition for his place. But his flexibility and raw potential should stand him in good stead in the medium-term. As the shins of many a Russian winger will testify, he’s not one to shirk a challenge.
C+ Did we mention he’s fast?
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