If anyone thought Russia would fade away from the football spotlight after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, then they were mistaken. Russia has flourished as a footballing nation and seen many of its best talents shine on the European stage. This has seen some of the country’s biggest stars perform in Europe’s top leagues including the Premier League. Surprisingly, only 8 Russian stars have featured in the English top flight but that hasn’t stopped some of them winning titles and awards when it mattered. So let’s take a look at how Russia’s biggest names have fared in the Premier League…
Dimitri Kharine (Chelsea)
The Premier League had a Russian star from the very onset through the appearance of Dimitri Kharine. Kharine was one of Chelsea’s top foreign stars in the 1990s and was their first choice goalkeeper throughout their first few Premier League seasons. His consistency helped The Blues become a strong top-half side although injuries hurt his chances in the second-half of his time in London. After just a handful of appearances in the late 1990s, Kharine left in 1999 to join Celtic and reinvigorate his career.
Alexei Smertin (Portsmouth, Chelsea, Charlton, Fulham)
Despite being a regular for his national side in the 1990s and 2000s, Alexey Smertin never really settled much in English football. Moving to join Chelsea in 2003, the powerhouse midfielder took a while to settle with loan spells at both Portsmouth and Charlton. Injuries further hampered his time at Stamford Bridge before he left in 2006 to join Dynamo Moscow. Smertin tried to resurrect his career in England by joining Fulham in 2007 yet fitness issues made fitness an issue with Smertin only playing a few games before leaving in 2008 and retiring shortly afterwards.
Yury Zhirkov (Chelsea)
When Yury Zhirkov had a breakthrough season at Euro 2008, Roman Abramovich moved quickly to sign the Russian winger. Yet Zhirkov never looked like he belonged at Stamford Bridge. Zhirkov was not comfortable as an all-out winger and struggled in a left-back position. Furthermore, he suffered several injuries that saw opportunities limited for him in the first team. After a couple of wasted seasons, Zhirkov left Chelsea to join Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala and end a miserable spell in English football.
Dimitar Bilyaletdinov (Everton)
A winger capable of shining on either wing, Dimitar Bilyaletdinov looked like he would be able to cause devastation with real ease. This looked true in his first season where he showcased an acute ability to score goals from long range. He scored 6 goals in his debut season with an outrageous long-range strike against Manchester United named Everton’s 2009-10 Goal of the Season. This would be a highlight though for Bilyaletdinov who struggled for form in subsequent seasons and found himself on the fringes at Goodison Park. It was in 2012 when he left English football opting to move back to Russia with Spartak Moscow.
Pavel Pogrebnyak (Fulham, Reading)
One of Russia’s top strikers of the 2000s, many thought Pavel Pogrebnyak’s acute finishing abilities would help him flourish in the Premier League. There were flashes of potential for Pogrebnyak as his 6 goals for Fulham in the 2011/12 season proved. He would enjoy some strong form for Reading but that would materialise after the Royals were relegated to The EFL Championship in 2013. After remaining in the English second tier for two seasons, Pogrebnyak left to join Dynamo Moscow and end his underwhelming English adventure.
Roman Pavyluchenko (Tottenham)
During Tottenham’s rise to fame in the late 2000s, they had their frontline boosted by the presence of Roman Pavyluchenko. A powerful figure on the ball, Pavyluchenko used his good aerial skills and powerful shot to great effect for several seasons in the Premier League. This was seen particularly in the 2010-11 season where he scored 10 goals in 29 games. However, Spurs’ rise to fame saw the Russian striker slowly left on the bench and he opted to leave North London in 2012 to join Lokomotiv Moscow is a bid to enjoy a second wind in his career.
Andrei Arshavin (Arsenal)
Over the past 20 years, no Russian footballer has quite enjoyed the fame that Andrei Arshavin did. His pace, trickery, and ability to fashion chances from nothing made him one of Europe’s biggest football superstars. It was why he became one of Arsenal’s biggest stars when he joined in January 2009. He proved this by scoring 6 goals in 12 game in his debut season including 4 against Liverpool at Anfield – becoming the first person to score 4 goals for a side away from home in one match. He followed this by winning the April 2009 Premier League Player of the Month award to cement his superstar status. After notching 10 goals in the 2009-10 season, Arshavin’s fame and form dwindled as players worked out his style. He eventually left Arsenal in 2012 joining Zenit St Petersburg after 5 seasons outside of Russia.
Andrei Kanchelskis (Manchester United, Everton, Manchester City)
It would seem that one of Russia’s first Premier League stars would also be their most enduring. Andrei Kanchelskis could win games at a canter as he could kick into a lively burst of energy and turn a game on its head. He could play centrally on the wing making him difficult for defences to prepare for. This was particularly true whilst he played for Manchester United in the 1990s where he won two Premier League title in 1993 and 1994. It would be after theses success where he was at his best scoring 14 goals for United in the 1994/95 season. This improved even further when playing for Everton scoring 16 goals in the 1995/96 season earning the Premier League Player of the Month award in April 1996. He left Everton in 1997 to play for Fiorentina and Rangers before making brief cameo appearances for both Manchester City and Southampton with no great effect. However, Kanchelskis is an all-time Premier League great with over 200 games and 48 goals making him the most successful Russian player in English football history.