Russian football has strong links with South America but as well as strengthening the existing ties, they're also looking to new areas to plunder young talent. Domm Norris reports.
The nature of football across Europe means that competition is rife to cherry pick the finest young talent from across the four corners of the globe before rival clubs have a chance to contemplate a move. The expansion and development of the Russian - and Eastern European - game in the 21st century has resulted in even more competition in the pursuit of the world's next big star. It is a sign of the progression of football that previous 'backwaters' who had paled in comparison to the supposed elite of England, Italy and Spain are now able to entice talents to nation's which remain notoriously difficult to adapt within.
During the Russian off season - which at present occurs over the winter months - rumours are banded around about seemingly every player under the sun. The likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Domenico Criscito and even Everton's Phil Jagielka have been linked with a variety of Russia's major footballing powerhouses. However while renowned stars are the players who grab the headlines beneath the surface there are the youth prospects who make moves to clubs that seem typically premature.
Russian clubs have developed a strong link to South American talent and this winter has seen a number of players poised to make the journey that comes in at over 10,000km. The staggering scale of distance would likely put off a number of teenagers but the power and gravity of professional football entices vast numbers of South American youngsters into the leagues of Eastern Europe.
A recent report has seen Botafogo's William linked with a move to CSKA Moscow - partnering up with compatriot Vagner Love. The deal hinges on the success of a prolonged trial which William will undergo within the Russian capital before CSKA decide whether to lodge a formal bid for the player. Vagner Love has proven to be a particularly significant mover in the deal as it will be his role to supervise William as he attempts to come to terms with the new lifestyle he has thrown himself into. The use of Vagner Love within the deal is a means of CSKA attempting to impose a sense of continuity as the club look to provide help to William as he settles in. However Vagner Love himself is hardly the epitome of the ideal professional footballer - after all this is a man who craves partying, alcohol, girls and rocket launchers, yes really. Russian clubs obviously need to create a support system for the youngsters who travel from around the world to play for them. However in William's case it seems as though CSKA have more than one eye on sweetening Vagner Love and enticing him to stay in Russia for what could be an important season for the club.
Krylya Sovetov have been linked with a hugely surprising move in the transfer market which shows just how far afield Russian clubs are looking for fresh talent. 17 year old Canadian midfielder Joseph Dichiara has been linked with a move to Samara in a deal that could open up a previously untapped market to the Russian game. Dichiara has been learning his trade at the Spartacus football academy in Ontario which began in the early 1990's and has witnessed gradual levels of expansion which has resulted in hundreds of youngsters coming through the ranks of the academy. The plucking of Dichiara may seem like a bizarre turn of events however Spartacus is founded and run by Yuri Studin - a man of Russian descent. Even the name 'Spartacus' reveals the Russian heritage in the heart of Canada.
The purchasing of such a young player who is entirely alien to the culture and lifestyle of Russia is a substantial gamble for not only the club but the player himself. The purchasing of South American talent over the past decade has resulted in Russia accumulating a strong network of players who are able to create a 'hub' - where South American players can easily speak to one another, creating a 'home away from home' atmosphere. It is dangerous for youngsters to be permitted to merely transport their culture over from Brazil or Argentina without attempting to adapt to the Russian way of life but at least players are able to form bonds with one another. The problem that Dichiara will likely face is one of isolation. There is a limited amount of North American players plying their trade in Russia - with Tom Tomsk's American youngster Yevgeni Starikov the obvious exception - so it will take a huge level of adaptation to succeed in Samara.
Russian clubs are becoming more adept at providing a solid support structure for young players who come to clubs from abroad. While in previous years players had been simply left to their own accord in the hope -more than expectation - that they will succeed now clubs are much more likely to provide services and education to their newly acquired players. Even though the money spent was far more significant, the manner in which Aiden McGeady has been helped settling into life in Moscow shows that Russian clubs realise that they have a duty to help players transition to Russian life.
The migration of young players to Russian clubs - as well as other prominent leagues in Eastern Europe - looks to be a process that will continue for the foreseeable future. The emergence of William and Joseph Dichiara shows that Russian clubs are not only intent on looking for talent in the obvious hotspot of South America but also in areas that are yet to be uncovered even by Europe's elite. With the correct implementation of support systems for these youngsters - and ensuring that they are not merely pawns in a larger game as in William's case - then there is no reason why Russia cannot become a place for young global talent to develop and flourish.
Domm writes regularly for IBWM and if you would like to read more from him please visit the excellent football ramblings.