On Thursday, Artem Dzyuba become part of Rostov’s history, netting a penalty in the shoot-out as Miodrag Bozovic’s side claimed the first major trophy in the club’s history, beating Krasnodar 6-5 on penalties after 120 minutes of goalless action in the Russian cup final.
Dzyuba’s prominence in Rostov’s season is littered with ironies, not least in the fact that he may, by helping Rostov to shoot-out glory, have cost his actual employers a place in Europe for the coming season. Had Krasnodar taken the trophy, the Europa League spot allocated for the champions would have moved to 6th place in the league – assuming Krasnodar remain 5th – which would give Spartak Moscow, the club Dzyuba has been loaned from, a shot at Europe.
Instead, Rostov have claimed the spot for their own, leaving Spartak unlikely to be playing in European competition of any form, and Dzyuba tasting success while his team mates in Moscow face yet another disappointing campaign. Along with the diminutive Georgian Jano Ananidze, Dzyuba was shipped out to Rostov at the start of the season to gain first team experience, deemed not good enough for the Spartak shirt and behind the likes of Yura Movsisyan, Pavel Yakovlev and even Majeed Waris in the pecking order.
What the striker has produced has been nothing short of revelatory, showing up Valeri Karpin’s decision to loan him out as dubious at best. With just two games to go of the Premier League season, Dzyuba sits atop the goalscoring charts, level with CSKA’s Seydou Doumbia on 17 goals. Five may have come from the penalty spot, but his contributions in both league and cup have been a key aspect of Rostov’s successful campaign – their current 9th position a marked improvement on last year’s relegation fight.
Such has been his emergence as an attacking force that the more wildly speculative elements of the Russian media at one point suggested him as a transfer target for none other than Barcelona, their laughable reasoning being that the Catalans were in need of a more physical option up front. Pure tabloid fantasy it may have been, but the very fact the attention landed on Dzyuba is testament to his development over the past year.
What perhaps is most surprising is the fact that his playing style has not been dramatically changed in Bozovic’s Rostov team. His physical stature ensures that his primary function will always be that of a target man, and it could be argued that Rostov’s more lowly stature benefits him more than the passing game expected by Spartak’s demanding fans – a style which all too often has fallen short in the current campaign – but he has also not been afraid of receiving the ball into feet, and has provided a varied focal point for the likes of Jano to feed off over the course of the year.
Bozovic came out immediately after the cup final and stated his desire to purchase both Dzyuba and Jano from Spartak, but quickly turned to lament the fact that the provincial club would be able to afford neither the transfer fee or wages to satisfy the two internationals and their parent club. While his statement highlights the financial inequality present even between the sides sat 6th and 9th in the table, he is right to do so – a transfer fee in the millions of Euros would be expected for one, let alone both players, and for little Rostov, even with the paltry prize fund from winning the cup, to suddenly come into the money required to sign them, would be suspicious at best.
The only way Dzyuba can realistically leave Spartak now is by freezing himself out, exercising the type of player power which is rarely seen in the Russian leagues. Moreover, although his loan move was undoubtedly a snub from Karpin and the club, the arrival of a new manager over the summer may see fresh chances for the hitman, and a chance to win over the fans who once jeered his arrival on the field of play at Luzhniki.
While his club future remains uncertain, and will no doubt continue to be so until the Spartak managerial situation has been resolved, a more pressing issue is that of the Russian national team, Fabio Capello’s favourites and the World Cup in Brazil. Under the management of the Italian, Dzyuba has been in and out of the squad on a relatively regular basis, and to date holds just three caps for the national side – the same number as Lokomotiv’s Maxim Grigorev, or Dinamo’s Alexei Ionov.
More pointedly, it is two caps less than Fedor Smolov, the much-maligned Dinamo striker on loan at Anzhi who, whilst admittedly netting twice in five international appearances, has found the back of the net just six times in 100 league appearances during his career so far. At the age of 24, inexperience is no longer a valid excuse for Smolov, who has been the subject of much criticism from fans and media alike, yet his presence in the national squad has been a feature of Capello’s management.
Dzyuba, on the other hand, is only a year older than his compatriot, is in the form of his life, has just helped his team to the first major trophy in their history, and over the last three years has a strike rate in league play of roughly a goal every three games. Statistically, and when current form is taken into consideration, Dzyuba – who leads the next highest Russian goalscorer, Alexander Kokorin, by seven clear goals this season – should be a shoe-in for Brazil.
Yet because of his physical appearance, because of the stigma some Spartak fans have appeared to attach to him, it remains unclear as to whether Russia’s form player – he has scored in seven of his last 10 games across all competitions – will be on the plane. Should Capello leave him out and Russia fail to meet expectations, it will be one decision the press will be quick to blame.