This article is an authorized translation of « How the Russian League system is improving football across Central Asia« sure « Russian Football News »
The 8 + 17 rule
When it was announced that the very unpopular “8 + 17” rule would come into effect for Russian Premier League teams in the 2020/21 season, it reminded all fans of the championship of the various regulations in place. place by the League to limit the number of foreigners in order to promote the development of Russian players. The 8 + 17 rule means that RPL teams are only allowed to have eight foreign players on their squad, with those eight players all allowed to be on the pitch at the same time. The 6 + 5 rule no longer exists, so the number of legionaries is in free fall.
The idea behind the move is to improve the development of the Russian national team by forcing teams to focus on hatching local talent rather than recruiting foreign players. In fact, the rule highlighted a problem similar to that of the Chinese Super League, with the presence of a “fake” market with hyper-inflated prices and salaries for local players. On top of that, the move from a ‘team limit’ to a ‘squad limit’ simply made Russian clubs competing in Europe even less competitive. The rules also appear to undermine the appeal of RPL to foreign players; Andre Villas-Boas had criticized the limit of foreign players when he was at the head of Zenit, furious at having to sell star striker Salomon Rondon to West Brom.
So what are the benefits? Who benefits from all this chaos? Well, the answer is Central Asia. Without getting too caught up in the complexities, the RFU decided that players from EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union) member countries would not count towards the foreign player limit. Players from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan weren’t instantly considered foreigners, with countries like Moldova, Uzbekistan and Georgia likely to join the movement in the future, which means that their players would not be considered legionaries. Everything is in place for Russian teams to improve recruitment and detection networks in Central Asia, so that they can focus on developing talent in the region and financially supporting football facilities.
The rise of Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked mountainous region nestled between China and Kazakhstan. The Kyrgyz National League has long been in decline since the Soviet era. Despite the involvement of some of the country’s big fortunes, the league struggled to gain traction with a very low audience and general interest. Which underlines the extent of the incredible work done for the national team by Russian coach Aleksander Krestinin. In 2013 Kyrgyzstan was ranked 201st in the FIFA World Ranking, Krestinin courageously accepted the post in 2014 and the federation has not looked back since. In 2019, the country played its very first Asian Cup and although the “White Falcons” could not get out of the group stage, it was a historic achievement, they were placed 75th in the standings. world and were welcomed back home as heroes by Kyrgyz fans.
This sudden rise could not have been achieved without the structure and organization of Russian national football. Krestinin focused on nationalizing players of Kyrgyz-Russian nationality, which allowed him to select players who had benefited from various training in Russian club academies, which, combined with relying on players now or formerly playing in Russia, brought Kyrgyz football to a higher level. One of the key players was Valery Kichin, an experienced left-back who played for Ufa, Anzhi and Tyumen. Kichin spoke about the link between Russia and Central Asia in 2019:
“This will benefit not only Kyrgyz football, but all UEE football. We have players capable of strengthening the RPL: Pavel Matyash, Kayrat Zhyrgalbek Uulu and Farkhat Musabekov, for example. “
The most interesting aspect is that the nation’s progress both domestically and internationally is far from over, with many more talented young Kyrgyz players likely to take advantage of the incredible opportunity to play in Russia.
The best players in Central Asia
The regulatory change means that talented players from all over Central Asia who already play in Russia should be put more and more prominence. The nugget is Baktiyar Zaynutdinov of CSKA Moscow, who is the revelation of the Kazakhstan national team. Zaynutdinov could be seen as a role model for how Russian football can help the progression of football in Central Asia. Since moving to Rostov in 2019, the 22-year-old has exploded – especially on the international stage. To underline this, it suffices to know that Kazakhstan’s all-time top scorer Ruslan Baltiev has scored 13 times in 73 appearances. By comparison, Zaynutdinov already has 7 goals in 14 games, one in every other game, a record that, if he even vaguely sticks to it, could see him become the best player in Kazakhstan history.
Jasurbek Jaloliddinov, who was included in The Guardian’s ‘Next-Generation 2019’, and Oston Urunov are both Uzbek talents set to play big roles in the RPL over the next few years. Urunov was bought by Spartak Moscow after just ten RPL games for Ufa and the imposing midfielder has formidable ball control and technique. While 19-year-old Jaloliddinov has yet to make an appearance in the RPL, he is expected to become a future starter. The nimble winger showed good pace and dribbling ability in any glimpses people may have had.
The league’s continued refusal to relax the limits of foreign players has become extremely frustrating for just about any fan of the Championship, but if we are looking for a bright spot, it is without a doubt that it does wonders for the Central Asian football now and in the future.