Player Focus: Romulo - the Spartak star on Arsenal's radar
Russian football isn’t what is used to be. No teams left in the UEFA Champions League, the 2014 FIFA World Cup fiasco, and the struggle to qualify for UEFA Euro 2016. The country has certainly seen better footballing days, although all isn’t lost yet. Yes, the domestic championship isn’t progressing, but the Russian league does hold some unhidden talent who should have a big future ahead of them.
One problem stands out from the rest – Russian footballers of this generation, and seemingly the next, are nowhere near the level of the team which reached the Euro 2008 semi-finals. There is no Andrey Arshavin to weave some magic, no Roman Pavlyuchenko or Pavel Pogrebynak to bag the vital goals when it counts, and goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev is paying for never leaving hometown club CSKA Moscow.
Even Zenit Saint Petersburg with all their millions flattered to deceive, with the likes of Hulk, Axel Witsel and Ezequiel Garay failing to help the team achieve success in the Champions League. There are still some positives which can be found however.
Spartak Moscow have been slowly losing their place amongst the Russian elite, but they have a midfield gem in the shape of Romulo Borges Monteiro or, simply, Romulo. The 24-year-old Brazilian defensive midfielder has made only 25 appearances for Spartak in two and a half years due to injury, but that has been enough time to make a real impact.
Spartak themselves are having another shocker of a campaign. Despite the best efforts of owner Leonid Fedun, including the building of a new state of the art stadium, they have been average at best lying in sixth place on 29 points. Star midfielder Roman Shirokov has left after a bust-up with head coach Murat Yakin, and the departure of promising forward Artyom Dzyuba looks to be on the cards.
Spartak fans need something to be positive about, and Romulo is just that. After gradually working his way back into the team he has added class to their midfield, and he netted a fantastic goal against Ural in December. He took his aim from the edge of the area and curled beautifully into the right-hand corner for his first league goal since August 2012.
Many Brazilian players are lured to either Russia or Ukraine from their home country when young, and sometimes it works out. Vagner Love, legendary CSKA Moscow forward, is a perfect example of someone who made their name in Eastern Europe, while Shakhtar Donetsk’s Bernard is suffering for being greedy. Romulo so far doesn’t fall into either category.
He hasn’t managed to set the world on fire in Russia, but at the same time it’s clear to see that he has something special. Indeed back in 2012, he really captured Europe’s attention. At the Nou Camp against Barcelona, a Spartak 2:3 defeat, he scored a wonderful goal as the Russians threatened to cause a huge upset.
It was almost the perfect start, but then disaster struck. Torn knee ligaments put him out for the best part of a year, and it put paid to any hopes of a further move to Western Europe. Finally he looks to have fully recovered though, and two years on he is proving just why he made so many fans sit up and take notice. Although he does have a wonder goal in him, his main job is to sweep up the danger in the middle of the field, in the meantime allowing the forwards to do their stuff.The sort of player that every team needs.
His current side Spartak have just been downright unlucky with Romulo though – had it not been for that terrible injury back in 2012, he could have really improved their fortunes. And as soon as he is back on form, Europe’s big guns are after him. A tidy, clever and competent defensive midfielder with an eye for a killer pass is just what Arsenal are crying out for, and the English outfit are rumoured to be heavily interested in his services.
But would Spartak let him go now? In just a couple of months’ time, the Russian winter break will come to an end, and the Muscovites face a race against time to make European competition for next season. The majority of Spartak’s woes come from a shaky back line, and a fully fit Romulo, hanging just in front of the defence, will only help shut down the likes of CSKA’s Seydou Doumbia and Zenit’s Hulk.
Still, for the right price even Russians aren’t going to say no. Romulo was bought from Corinthians for around eight million euros, and if I were Leonid Fedun, I would be demanding around double that for him now.
Not too long is left in the winter transfer window though and Arsenal, as well as any other potential buyers, are going to have to speed up to get any sort of deal done. Romulo isn’t the finished article yet, but he has all the potential to become one of the best defensive midfielders in the European game – sharp tackling, alert reactions, and the ability to swiftly set up counterattacks.
Spartak better start making use of him, as they may not have his company for much longer.