Alan Dzagoev 22 Midfielder CSKA Moscow
UEFA Euro 2012 ended in disappointment for Dick Advocaat but it had begun in swashbuckling style on opening day. With co-hosts Poland unable to unlock the Greeks, it fell to Russia to ignite the tournament. An entertaining 4-1 victory in Wroclaw did just that and more. Alan Dzagoev, a prodigious young playmaker, thrust himself into the European football mainstream with a performance that coupled accomplished, confident play with two goals more befitting a striker than a fresh-faced number ten.
He was perfectly positioned to smash home Aleksandr Kerzhakov's header when it came back off the post to open the goalscoring, and he killed off the game with a composed finish after being played through on goal by substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko to make it 3-1.
Russia's untimely exit in a painfully tight Group A did little to reduce the inevitable attention drawn to their newly famous star. No sooner had his team been sent packing than some of the Premier League's wealthiest clubs began to express an interest in taking Dzagoev to England. Chelsea and Manchester United were both linked with the CSKA Moscow man by the English media, but it was a switch to North London - red or white - that seemed the likeliest outcome.
Neverthless, Dzagoev remains in Russia and continues to display the attributes that will have kept up the interest in him as the memories of Poland begin to fade. His close control is as good as almost anyone of his age in Europe, and he runs well at pace with the ball at his feet. His passing is a key feature of his game; his range is impressive, and his eye for the lethal final-third pass is sharper than most. At set pieces, Dzagoev's delivery is a constant threat.
So why is it that some Russian football experts are beginning to wonder whether CSKA might have had enough of the jewel in their crown? Dzagoev is a temperamental small town boy seemingly struggling to adjust to life in Moscow and the pressures of being the great footballing hope of an enormous nation. Born in North Ossetia in Southern Russia, he grew up in a community founded on religion and clan culture and is now living a very different life to the one that might have been expected of him.
Dzagoev comes across as a sensitive character with a short fuse, a trait that is beginning to manifest itself on and around the field and have an effect on his reputation. He was suspended last season for swearing at CSKA's coach, Leonid Slutsky, an unsavoury incident that will live long in the collective memory of the club. The red cards this season are already in the plural.
The second might just as well been a window into his emotions, resulting from his attack on Dynamo Moscow's former Bristol City and Middlesbrough player Luke Wilkshire. The provocation was a barely over-aggressive tackle, the retaliation swift and unnecessary. Wilkshire's gesture after Dzagoev's dismissal suggested the Russian is suffering from a loose screw, a harsh but understandable assertion. The 22-year-old has the potential to go on to big things in football, but he must ride out this difficult period and rid his game of such unnecessary mistakes.
For all the issues and temperamental reactions to pressure and adversity, Dzagoev's ability continues to shine through, and the important goals are starting to flow. CSKA started the new Russian Premier League season strongly, bettered over the first ten matches only by the wealth of Anzhi Makhachkala and comfortably ahead of inconsistent big spenders Zenit. Dzagoev's brace against Volga laid the foundations for a second half turnaround from 2-0 down to a 3-2 win.
That it was quickly followed by his altercation with Wilkshire is a damning spotlight on the two sides of his game.
"Despite a petulant streak that can rear its head, Dzagoev remains the future of Russian football. His stature has grown at CSKA, but Capello seems to have a misgivings toward his mentality." - Domm Norris (Slavic Football Union)
"After over 200 senior matches for club and country, we might expect Dzagoev to be a little further down the road to fulfilment than he actually is, but this has been a decent year for him. His decisive performances at Euro 2012 showed that he's started to conquer his well-documented big-match nerves, so maybe a move out of his comfort zone at CSKA is something that would help him truly flourish." - Andy Brassell (UEFA, The Independent, BBC)
C+ Exceptional small town prospect with a lot to learn