Following the success of Khvicha Kvaratskhelia at Napoli, it has become apparent that collectors need to not overlook the Russian Premier League. The RPL has been a hotbed of young talent of late so I personally will be keeping a close eye on the league as a whole. The readers may be interested to know that Khvicha Kvaratskhelia didn’t put up huge stats in the RPL. In fact, his stats in Italy are far better – this gives us an indication that the RPL isn’t as weak as some may think.
Let’s see what the 2021/22 set has to offer.
10 – Sead Haksabanovic Rookie Sticker – #101 & 82
Haksabanovic currently plays for EFL team Stoke City, on loan from Scottish giants Celtic. He has bounced around from club to club throughout the years playing for: Halmstads, West Ham, Malaga, Norrkoping, Rubin Kazan (Pictured here), Djurgardens, Celtic and now, Stoke City.
Sead is versatile forward, operating mostly off the left where he tends to drift inside on his stronger right foot. He has an eye for goal and showed this from his time at Celtic under Ange Postecoglou. He has since fallen down the pecking order since Rodgers arrival as manager and subsequently been loaned to Stoke.
So in his career Haksabanovic has been a nearly player. Who knows maybe in the coming years he can fulfil his potential. Coming in at at the number 10 spot in the list, Sead is very much the wildcard of the bunch.
9 – Luka Gagnidze Rookie Sticker – #297
Luca Gagnidze (20) was signed from Georgian side Dinamo Tiblilsi by Dynamo Moscow. After spending a couple seasons on loan, he has developed to get regular minutes for the Russian side. Additionally, he is already a Georgian National Team player at the age of 20 with 4 caps.
Luca is a creative central midfielder who excels in his ability to find and execute key passes for his team. He is very confident on the ball and is very much a playmaker in the center of the pitch. He is a player that goes under the radar a little as he rarely gets on the scoresheet, rather he is the man behind the ball pulling the strings.
This is an interesting rookie sticker, I think. One of those players that could go either way – really excelling and earning a bigger move to Europe or fall into obscurity.
8 – Montassar Talbi Rookie Sticker – #90
Talbi is a Tunisian international center back, currently playing to Lorient in the French Ligue 1. He has featured 27 times for the National Team and recently represented them at the 2022 World Cup.
Montassar is a center back who anticipatesthe game well with his strengths lying at winning the ball back and his aerial dual success. He is not the glamorous ball playing defender the modern game often wants, rather he is more of a no non-sense defender that likes to keep things simple.
I think this is a nice rookie sticker – unlikely to be ever worth much but by the end of his career he should be pushing around 100 caps for Tunisia and in my opinion, thats a sticker worth collecting.
7 – Aleksandr Chernikov Rookie Sticker – #248
Chernikov is in fantastic form this season (23/24) with Krasnodar sitting top of the table at the half-way point of the season. He also earned his first Russian National Team cap in 2023. Initially making his debut in 2018, it has taken some time for Chernikov to cement himself as a first team regular. Now he is an indispensable player for the team and one of the first names on the team-sheet.
Chernikov is a midfield enforcer with a reputation of being aggressive in the center of the pitch. His playstyle has been compared to an old school English center midfielder or the Italian legend Genaro Gattuso. He is a very effective midfielder and it is no coincidence Krasnodar are sitting top of the table. On the flip side, Aleksandr picks up many yellow and red cards for his on pitch aggression.
His performances have been getting him linked to Europe and if he continues on the path, I think he will earn a transfer.
6 – Maxim Mukhin Rookie Sticker – #134
Mukhin, aged 22, has already been capped for the National Team 7 times and he is a permanent fixture in CSKA Moscow’s side.
Mukhin, similar to Chernikov, is a ball winning midfielder in the center of the pitch but with a very contrasting style. Maxim is more of a midfield dynamo (maybe he chose the wrong Moscoew club) who can run all day. His specialty is extreme work-rate and stamina. This enables him to snatch the ball off opponents who are a bit slow to react.
If there was a modern day comparison, I would say it would be along the lines of Kante. Unfortunately, Mukhin had a major knee injury late 2023 which will keep him out long term. If he comes back and hits the ground running, I think he could be a top top player.
5 – Viktor Melekhin (Melyokhin) Rookie Sticker – #230
Viktor Melekhin is a highly promising center back and one of the biggest prospects in Russian football. He made his Rostov debut at 18 years old and his since played 57 league games for the Russian team.
Viktor has good technique and experience playing in midfield, he is mobile and stable under pressure, which gave him a number of advantages in the fight for a starting place. This also helped with his transition into a ball playing center back. On top of that, it turned out that Melekhin is good at reading the game, especially when acting ahead of the curve.
While there is improvement on the defensive side of his game, Melekhin is in the mold of a modern center back with passing and technique being his major strength. This didn’t go unoticed as he was nominated for the European Golden Boy, finishing in 63rd place.
4 – Khvicha Kvaratskhelia – #98 & 411 – Rookie Sticker from Panini Russian Premier League 2019/20
Khvicha has been a sensation since joining Napoli with his dribbling skills taking the world by storm, leading Napoli to their first Serie A title since Diego Maradona was playing. It seems he is aptly names Kvaradonna!
I won’t go into too much detail on his playing style as most of us know by now. I will just note this is his third league sticker and his last in Russia before moving to Italy.
Despite being a third-year sticker, this is a highly sought after piece!
3 – Konstantin Tyukavin Rookie Sticker – #180
Tyukavin (21) has has gone from the Dynamo academy to the first team featuring 91 times in the RPL, scoring 26 times. Konstantin has showed maturity beyond his years and has been nominated captain for some matches for the Russian side.
Tyukavin can be described as an advanced forward who likes to play of intricate touches and rely on his speed and athleticism to get the better of his opponent. His reading of space has been a complimented aspect of his game showing his on field intelligence. He is not only known for his goal scoring prowese but he also gets involved with the general play of the game often registering assists.
At the midway point of the 2023/24 season, Tyukavin sits second on the goal scoring charts with 8 goals as well as 5 assists.
I am certain that he will earn a big move abroad and I am confident this will be a great rookie sticker for the future.
2 – Eduard Spertsyan Rookie Sticker – #234
Spertsyan is currently the best player in the Russian Premier League and is the current Armenian player of the year. He is a goal/assist machine and is the major catalyst for Krasnodar successes. In the 2022/23 season he won the RPL midfielder of the year scoring 10 and assisting 13.
Spertsyan is a very technical and hard-working midfielder. He always has the knack for scoring goals and on top of that he scores spectacular goals from distance. Spertsyan is considered a free-kick specialist scoring many goals from the dead ball.
He is constantly linked with big team moves to Europe and it is only a matter of time before that happens. He would be abroad earlier if it wasn’t for complications with Russian sanctions.
I think it goes without saying, a super rookie sticker and highly recomended.
1 – Arsen Zakharyan Rookie Sticker – #172
Arsen Zakharyan is the best Rookie Sticker in the Panini Russian Premier League 2021/22 set.
Zakharyan is the best Russian prospect currently and has earned a move to Real Sociedad. Additionally, he was nominated for the European Golden Boy award.
Arsen Zakharyan is a highly technical ball carrying playmaker. In Russia, he consistently demonstrated the ability to run with the ball to create goals or score them himself. Zakharyan definitely needs to work on the physical aspect of his game (perhaps why he chose Spain from various offers) but his technical ability and football IQ are unquestionable.
He has has a slow start to life at Real Sociedad but I think with time, his quality will shine through. Another super rookie sticker and in my opinion the best in the set.
This was a very interesting set to review and my final thoughts are that it is quite a strong set. There were plenty of rookies that weren’t able to make the list and the rookies that were listed have a strong chance of making a career in Europe.
I hope this list has given you some insight into the latest players coming out of Russia. If you have any thoughts or questions, comment below or message me on instagram.
Images sourced from – https://www.laststicker.ru/cards/panini_rpl_2021-2022