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7 Best Russian Soccer Players of All Time 

It used to be the norm for many young and talented soccer players to move to countries where the soccer leagues were a higher profile, ensuring better salaries and stronger competition, but for many Russian players, this hasn’t always been the case. 

Many superb Russian players have preferred to remain with Russian teams, carving out excellent careers, although some do move to Europe and have successful spells at top clubs before returning to Russian soil to continue their playing careers. 

Technically gifted and with a strong work ethic, Russian players that have moved abroad to play have displayed the mentality, skill, and determination to succeed. Not all have become the household names they perhaps should have, but all have had huge impacts in whichever league they played in.

Let’s look at the best 7 Russian soccer players of all time. 

7. Igor Akinfeev 

  • Position: Goalkeeper
AppearancesGoals ConcededClean Sheets

A leviathan of a goalkeeper, Igor Akinfeev is part of the furniture at CSKA Moscow, having played his entire career for the Russian giants. Akinfeev has been part of the CSKA setup since he was four years old, and at 36 is one of the club’s greatest ever players. 

Having made his debut at the tender age of 16, the shot-stopper has made over 700 appearances for the club, and being a superb Russian goalkeeper, the inevitable comparisons with legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin were inevitable.

Several opportunities to move to Europe came and went, however, as the loyal Akinfeev has remained faithful to the club that raised him. 

6. Yuri Zhirkov 

  • Position: Left-Back

Another excellent player with a history of playing for most of the top Russian soccer teams, Yuri Zhirkov also stands out as a player who moved abroad and excelled. Part of the Abramovich-era Chelsea team, Zhirkov was a Premier League winner with the London club. 

An excellent left-sided player, Zhirkov could play at either left-back or left-wing and was a key player thanks to his energetic runs on the left, as well as for being an excellent passer of the ball.

With 105 international caps to his name, Zhirkov was one of the players of the tournament at Euro 2008, and even received a nomination for the Ballon d’Or.

After leaving Chelsea for Anzhi Makhachkala, Zhirkov also went on to play for Dynamo Moscow and Zenit Saint Petersburg, and the evergreen player is now into his 21st year as a player. Zhirkov isn’t known for his goalscoring exploits, but his athleticism and experience make him a valuable team member. 

5. Roman Pavlyuchenko 

  • Position: Striker

A tall, rangy striker with an eye for goal, Roman Pavlyuchenko carved out a highly successful career in Russian soccer, especially while playing for Spartak Moscow.

His 69 goals in 141 appearances for the club earned him a lucrative move to Tottenham Hotspurs in 2008, where he had four very successful years, despite not always being the first choice striker. 

Pavlyuchenko scored in every competition he played in for the London club, including several vital Champions League goals. The tall Russian striker often played many fewer minutes than his fellow strikers, but was a constant goal threat, making him an invaluable impact player.

It may be way off the mark, but given his skills, and obvious ability to score goals, If Pavlyuchenko had been born a Brazilian, he may have got more opportunities. 

An eventual move back to Moscow in 2012, this time for Lokomotiv Moscow, Pavlyuchenko continued to do well, scoring goals for several clubs over the next eight years. Currently at Znamya Noginsk, he is still scoring vital goals. 

4. Andrei Kanchelskis 

  • Position: Right Midfield

There are few greater sights on a soccer field than a winger flying past opponents with the ball, delivering a killer pass after jinking along the touchline, and Andrei Kanchelskis could do it as well as anyone.

After spells at Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar Donetsk, it was at Manchester United that Kanchelskis got his big break. 

Signed by legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who agreed to buy Kanchelskis on the back of seeing him only on VHS tape, the Russian became one of only 11 players in the Premier League (or the First Division as it was then) not to have been born in the British Isles.

Four excellent years followed, with the Russian helping United to their first League title in over 25 years. 

Successful spells with Everton, Fiorentina, and then Scottish giants, Glasgow Rangers, allowed Kanchelskis to display his explosive pace, putting the fear of God into defenders as he ran at them.

Kanchelskis also had an excellent shot, especially from long range, and chipped in with his fair share of goals.

On the international stage, Kanchelskis played for both The Soviet Union, the CIS, and Russia, despite being born in Ukraine. A superb player, with a phenomenal career, matched only by his ability, Kanchelskis remains a folk hero for Rangers and Manchester United fans. 

3. Alan Dzagoev 

  • Position: Central Midfield

Quite possibly the most naturally gifted player on our list, if not the most successful, Alan Dzagoev burst onto the scene for CSKA Moscow in 2008 and was voted as the best young player in Russia.

Dzagoev was talented enough to quickly be promoted to the national team, and his career quickly went from strength to strength. 

By 2012, Dzagoev was a joint top scorer at EURO 2012 and also played in two World Cup tournaments. Domestically, Dzagoev has won three Russian Premier Leagues, as well as four Cup victories.

A loyal player, the Russian has remained at CSKA since 2008, and while diehard soccer fans will know of the player’s incredible abilities, it is a shame he couldn’t shine in a larger European league. 

2. Andrey Arshavin 

  • Position: Striker/Winger

Easily one of the most successful and recognizable Russian players in history, Andrey Arshavin has a trophy room the envy of many players, not just those from Russia.

A three-time Russian Premier League winner with Zenit, the tricky attacking midfielder also has a UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup sat in his trophy cabinet. 

Arshavin was also once voted the sixth-best player in the world in the Ballon d’Or nominations for 2008, while playing for Russia at EURO 2008, and the player soon earned a move to London team Arsenal after his impressive displays. 

A career spanning two decades and over 500 games firmly puts Andrey Arshavin in the Russian legends category, The Russian player was able to play in most attacking roles, from the right-wing, attacking midfield, and even as a secondary striker.

His versatility, excellent technical abilities, and his eye for goal made him a constant danger to teams, and the classy player made the most of every opportunity to excel. 

1. Lev Yashin

  • Position: Goalkeeper
AppearancesGoals ConcededClean Sheets

When a player that retired over five decades ago makes the number one spot on our list of the greatest Russian players of all time, you know they must have been a quality player. And in the first place is Lev Yashin, one of the greatest goalkeepers of any nation, let alone from Russia.

A supremely gifted and confident player, Yashin was so far ahead of his time that opponents struggled to combat his goalkeeping style. 

While all other goalies stood on the goal line waiting for shots to rain down on them, Yashin was bellowing orders to his defenders, organizing them to try to spot shots even being taken.

Instead of standing on his line, the giant goalkeeper would rush out, jumping for crosses, closing down attackers, and generally being a nightmare to score against. 

While none of this sounds particularly unusual today, that’s because everyone started to copy Lev Yashin, as he revolutionized the position. An early proponent of throwing the ball out to defenders to start quick counter-attacks, Yashin also happily punched the ball away to safety if the need arose. 

The legendary Lev Yashin also seemed to never age, with a 20-year career for his only club, Dynamo Moscow, and a 16-year stint in goal for the Soviet Union, the greatest player Russian soccer has ever produced mastered his art, and goalkeepers worldwide should thank him for it.

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