Oleg Shatov: Forgotten Talent?

Oleg Shatov: Forgotten Talent?

Oleg Shatov grew up quickly, going from a humble background to playing with superstars. For some time his progress was guaranteed by hard work and natural talent, but as time went by he faded from promise to enigma.

The Making Of A Big Footballer

Shatov was born into an ordinary family and grew up in Nizhny Tagil, neighboured by Yekaterinburg. During his childhood, he was introduced to both football and futsal.

It may seem a rarity for a European footballer to have been schooled in futsal but Shatov wasn’t spoiled with much choice early on.

In my childhood I didn’t know that I would become a professional footballer – Oleg Shatov

He’d had a very crude baptism into football at the age of six: first kicking a ball through snow and puddles on a makeshift hockey pitch, with a pair of bags tied around his school shoes. Shortly after he set about joining a local football club, and while Shatov could happily train outside during summer months, in the winter he would be crammed into a tiny hall. This perhaps along with his smaller stature pushed him to hone his technical qualities.

Young Oleg Shatov Ural Award

At that time football took over my soul, my heart – I was training three times a day, not just with my age-group, but also with older age-groups. After school I would come home at around two, quickly do my homework, then play football late into the evening – Oleg Shatov

Shatov’s unwavering hard-work and enthusiasm bode him well. Playing in a local tournament he caught the eye of Grigori Ivanov. The infamous president of FC Ural Yekaterinburg recalls Shatov as a small and technical kid, with “fire in his eyes”.

Ivanov didn’t forget Shatov, and later as Shatov’s local football school dissolved he invited him personally to travel to Yekaterinburg and join the MFK VIZ-Sinara Yekaterinburg academy (Ivanov also being the president of VIZ-Sinara, which was a futsal club).

I have only one father, but in a footballing sense – yes (he is like a father), he (Grigori Ivanov) did very much for me, I am grateful to him – Oleg Shatov

The thirteen year old Shatov traveled alone to spend three busy years alternating between his life’s three new training sessions: going to school, practicing football in the summer, and playing futsal in the winter.

By the time he was sixteen Shatov had done enough to have a say on his future. Ivanov believes Shatov could have become a world champion in futsal and Shatov himself admits that he was considered better in futsal, known as “mini-football” in Russia.

However, Shatov dreamt big and chose “big football”.

Ural’s Rising Talent

Shatov made his professional debut when he was seventeen (and scored). After four years of playing regularly in the FNL he was named Ural’s best player, and in the following year the Russia U21 starlet was ready for graduation to the Russian Premier League.

For me the number one club is Ural, it always was and will be. They raised me as a footballer and a person –  Oleg Shatov

He went on trial with CSKA Moscow, who in their previous season had made it to the quarter finals of the Champions League. At the same time there was interest from Anzhi Makhachkala who had recently signed world-renowned stars such as Samuel Eto’o and Roberto Carlos.

Even while in the youth-team, Kakhor (Kakhor Muminov, Shatov’s future agent) hinted: do you want to go to Anzhi? He actually gifted me the shirt of Roberto Carlos, which is at my father’s house – Oleg Shatov

Despite calling the trial at CSKA the best two weeks in his life and Ural allegedly wanting to sell him to CSKA, Shatov made his own choice in favour of Anzhi – going to play with his “childhood idols” and mysteriously claiming this decision was based on a “sixth-sense”.

Shatov Ural

If I’m honest – Spartak (Who did you support in your childhood?) – Oleg Shatov

The least cynical perspective on Shatov’s choice to reject CSKA is that the CSKA squad was filled with existing Russian internationals, and Shatov alludes to this himself in interviews. He has mentioned that there was Alan Dzagoev, Pavel Mamaev, (along with others such as Honda) who already played in his position. The entire CSKA squad was full of quality, and while the foreign contingent of Anzhi was impressive – the Russian group had been close to unspectacular.

Amidst chaotic goings on in Makhachkala, Shatov kept his wits and was arguably the team’s standout Russian player. At 22 years old he was able to make 41 appearances for Anzhi in all competitions throughout the 2012/2013 season – more than any other outfield Russian player at the club.

Eventually the Anzhi project imploded later in 2013 but it came at no real loss for Shatov. He was well positioned for the shop window.

Shatov’s Zenith

Shatov rejected interest from Rubin Kazan, to sign for Zenit St. Petersburg. Zenit had been in search of Russian players to refresh an ageing and mutinous band of Russians. Shatov was therefore brought in along with fellow Ural-born Igor Smolnikov to help Luciano Spalletti balance the club’s unsteady dynamic.

The fans took quickly to Shatov. Despite not being from St. Petersburg, his cheeky smile and fast futsal feet had long drawn favourable comparisons to local legend Andrey Arshavin. Shatov was also used to being around high-paid stars of the ilk of Hulk and Witsel, he’d cause no trouble on that account.

Shatov Zenit Happy

Shatov changed for the first time at Zenit from playing in central midfield to playing on the wing and played particularly well for Spalletti’s successor – Andre Villas-Boas. He produced a standout 2015/2016 season with 10 goals and 14 assists and was linked with a move to Borussia Dortmund

Shatov – is the best Russian player with whom I have worked (…) I would bring him with me to any club. I very much like him – Andre Villas-Boas

Overwhelmingly at the time, it seemed Shatov could only be heading in a positive direction. So it’s a shame that he never came any further.

Lost Years

The start of Shatov’s career in limbo began when Mircea Lucescu took over at Zenit and towards the halfway point of the season came rumours of Shatov’s discontent. Shatov then in passing scandalously leaked his feelings to the press:

The head coach has it good even without us – Oleg Shatov

Lucescu was not blameless for playing a role in Shatov’s dissatisfaction but far from all of Shatov’s woes since can be heaped on him.

READ MORE: Lucescu Failure Or Scapegoat?

Shatov was not favoured by Lucescu’s successor Roberto Mancini, and even with the easy-going Sergey Semak his current manager – Shatov doesn’t appear ready to fully pick up from where he left off two years ago.

So what happened?

Uncomfortable Change

At the start of Lucescu’s reign, with various leaders leaving and Danny being left out injured for several months – it seemed fate that Shatov was going to step up, replace his mentors and himself become Zenit’s leader. Given Shatov’s hard-working formative years and his steady progress it was expected that he could do so.

Zenit were changing how they played. Initially, Shatov spoke hopefully about these changes but his body language on the pitch betrayed perhaps his true feelings. Small peculiar hints of frustration were visible as early in the pre-season. The normally quiet and focused Shatov could be seen barking orders and gesticulating to teammates in an uncharacteristic manner.

Lucescu wants us to control the ball, be on top, create chances. For him the best form of defence – is attack. We are working on this. I’d like to hope and think that with the understanding, experience, and ideas of Lucescu we will win games – Oleg Shatov

Zenit went from counter-attacking to a greater focus on possession and combination passing. Without players like Hulk the whole team inevitably had to work harder collectively and not everything could be so comfortably hedged on individual talent.

The team has to be the leader. We aren’t looking for any other leaders. In Zenit there are many experienced players. There are different sorts of leaders – on the pitch and off the pitch. You could call Shatov a leader on his technical ability. All the leaders should unite together in a fist. The team has to be united – Mircea Lucescu

On paper Shatov’s start to the season was good; almost as strong as in his 2015/2016 season (three goals + seven assists compared with five goals + seven assists). However he was arguably lacking his usual sharpness, and then in late November he was sidelined for surgery.

He is avoiding risks! Understand? Oleg in the last game made three turns! He is in front of the defenders but he doesn’t risk it, he doesn’t take on his man. He makes the easy choice – Gennady Orlov

What had made that prior season so promising was Shatov’s consistency – for he’d replicated the same five goals and seven assists after the new year, whereas with Lucescu he managed only one goal and assist coming back from surgery.

Shatov Russia

According to his agent, Shatov was playing through pain, reportedly with a long-term ankle injury, but it is worth remembering at the same time that Shatov’s most successful season had come despite essentially having the same problem.

Lucescu was the type of coach who he didn’t care about the player who has naa me – for example, Shatov is a superstar in Russia and if you play good or bad – if you play bad he put you on the bench (sic)  – Axel Witsel

Following his emotional outbursts to the press and his surgery, Shatov would not play particularly well and often found himself on the bench after Danny’s own return from injury. It was not unreasonable for Lucescu to suggest that Danny was simply playing better.

It is true that the whole team experienced a downturn after January and therein lay some of Lucescu’s blame, but Shatov didn’t demonstrate the capacity for change when he needed it.

Oleg is from Ural – he’s a stubborn guy, He probably believes that everything he is doing is correct. But here he needs to manoeuvre his pride a little more towards being effective – Gennady Orlov

The opinion of former Zenit player Alexander Kanischev was that Shatov was still far from being a leader at Zenit and that his theatrical displeasure was a reflection of an overinflated value of his footballing worth. Shatov may indeed have benefited from the players and personnel around him initially at Zenit and Anzhi.

Both those teams had featured first-rate attacking players who’d win most games without worrying too much about things like tracking-back. There weren’t collectives but rather attacking groups and defensive groups. Although Villas-Boas sings Shatov’s praises, he does concede for example that Shatov “sometimes lacks concentration”.

Shatov’s strengths were in making key passes and his good control over the ball. He benefited from counter-attacking styles, which facilitated these strengths. It may not be a coincidence that his best season at Zenit had also been Hulk’s best season, who was involved in around 60% of Shatov’s goals and assists in 2015/2016.

Shatov’s technical quality was an attractive complement in those teams with a limit on foreigners, and his talent meant that he’d been an outright star at Ural. But limits to his ability hadn’t appeared overnight. It is telling that he had never had the same amount of impact when he was playing for Russia for example – though he’d still been favoured by the managers. To this day Shatov hasn’t scored a single goal in a competitive international fixture.

I liked Shatov in all positions. This is a versatile, positionally aware player, with a good eye for goal – Fabio Capello

During the season with Lucescu, it became clear that Shatov was a player with a specific set of needs, not only on- but also off the pitch. He demonstrably showed that he was not happy outside his comfort zone.

Shatov’s Tears

Shatov would once again complain to the press about his situation with Lucescu’s successor: Roberto Mancini. However, the issue then was more black and white – Shatov was playing much worse than before and not at all the way that Mancini wanted. There was even a notable episode where Nhà Cái Trực Tuyến Hàng Đầu Châu Á́́Shatov was subbed on and had to be taken back off again by Mancini. Mancini didn’t make a fuss about placing Shatov in the Zenit reserves. 

The number and quality of goal-scoring chances created by Shatov has almost halved. Why is that? It’s possible that it comes along with a loss of functional qualities. Oleg has started risking less, making less incisive passes – seemingly his passing accuracy should have increased, but actually his mistakes only increased. The accuracy of his passing fell by 6% compared to the previous year. That is a crazy indicator. At the time when the average passing accuracy in the team has stayed at the same level – approximately 82.5%. This also, of course, applies to other indicators – Vyacheslav Malafeev

In the year before, the rumour was that Shatov had been offered to FC Krasnodar. This was disputed by Shatov’s agent who said that both Zenit and Shatov had been categorically against the move. It is interesting therefore that a loan move did take place a year later with both parties appearing to change their minds.

Honestly speaking, I had some sort of a sixth sense, something told me: I need to go to Krasnodar specifically – Oleg Shatov

Lucescu may have taken the good brunt of Shatov’s ire but it seems that Shatov went down in the club’s estimations and that he at least in part recognised his situation. Whether or not Lucescu would even have been allowed to put Shatov in the reserves is an interesting question.

Shatov Crying

They (Shatov and Dzyuba) aren’t fitting into Roberto Mancini’s system, and as it seems to me that they only have themselves to blame – Anatoliy Byshovets

Shatov paid with some of his own money for the loan, and also to play against Zenit for Krasnodar. He scored against Zenit but had to come off injured. Shatov’s tears flowed from the bench and many suspected that they were down to his injury and the possibility that he’d miss another major international tournament (the World Cup, following the Confederations Cup). But according to Shatov these were tears of redemption.

These were emotions, because it’s always the case that when you met with some sort of injustice (…) and come through that situation with your head held high, you are filled up with real emotions. I wasn’t crying because of the win but that I found strength in myself and proved to myself that I can still play football. In life you can only count on yourself – Oleg Shatov

In this way what Luciano Spalletti once said about Russian footballers at least does not seem to apply to Shatov: “at some point it seems to them that they have earned enough – and that now they can relax”. Shatov was already earning more at Zenit by 2014 than say Dzagoev at CSKA but his problems weren’t centred around money. That is not Shatov’s character as Gennady Orlov attests to, and judging by Shatov’s behaviour before and after the incident with Lucescu – on balance it seems he is correct in that assessment.

I believe that if a club is counting on a footballer, they will support him through any situation. My heart and soul was always with Zenit, I gave all my strength. But as it happened at the time when I was going through trouble, they – so to speak got rid of me. It was unpleasant. I believe that was an injustice towards me – a person, who battled five years with heart and soul for the club, for the city. So appeared the tears – Oleg Shatov

Shatov’s intentions have always seemed to be footballing but he has let emotions get in the way. His desire for further redemption at Zenit may not be wise or even realisable. Playing six games for Krasnodar saw an emotional climax but did not much redeem Shatov’s situation at Zenit, whom he chose to return to.

Moving Forwards

Shatov isn’t the first and won’t be the last player to ever struggle through injuries or stumble upon a difficult point in his career. The experience was uncomfortable for him as he got caught in the maelstrom of changes at Zenit. “Uncomfortable” is probably the right word, not “unjust”.

Worryingly, Shatov can’t seem to reconcile for himself his promising past with the now long uncertain present. It is a naive risk for him to assume that an improved personal relationship with his manager, stubborn perseverance, and faith in his “sixth-sense” are assurances of success. It isn’t enough for Shatov to compete with his former-self, at least not at Zenit.

Players like Shatov mean one thing to the club and another thing to the fans. The talented young Shatov once took Zenit’s fancy but such tastes  change.

Many players more talented or beloved by the Zenit faithful have been sold unceremoniously, the more streetwise players sought their own move away when they felt things weren’t going to go to their benefit. Does Shatov merit more sympathy than the likes of Giuliano, simply because Shatov stubbornly insists on “redemption”?

RPL form of Shatov compared to Zenit's leaders

The fact of the matter is that Shatov’s self-estimation probably was over-inflated, because he is Russian and because of the protection offered by the foreigner limit, but also how his career had been going – the favour shown towards his talent and the power of choice and associates he enjoyed.

Of course, it wasn’t easy, but I am happy, that I got out of this situation with my head held high. I didn’t trick anybody and have made my conclusions. I agree that I did not show the level of football expected from Zenit players. But I never gave up and believed in my own strengths. Sooner or later stubborn effort is always rewarded – Oleg Shatov

Zenit started changing not only how they play but also their long-term strategy, begrudgingly they are also moving towards using more young Russian players. The romanticism of fans towards longer-serving players (especially Russian ones) at Zenit persists, but Shatov’s best qualities are no longer key to how Zenit play – they were based around players who have since left the club. The players who have since arrived do not strengthen his position, in many cases they weaken it.   Shatov like others didn’t adapt or show the propensity for it. It’s not entirely his fault for it happening but it’s been his decision not to accept it and spend time complaining to the press.  

RPL form of Shatov and other Russian Zenit players of AVB era

  Dzyuba is the rare exception, someone who also struggled stubbornly to prove his qualities remain relevant to the moment – for better or for worse Zenit currently base a large part of their game around him. There is however also no-one who can emulate his leading qualities (sorry Zabolotny), and Dzyuba was able to conquer his emotions at the world cup to become “Zenit’s heart”. Together with the appointment of fan-beloved Semak they fill a void previously entertained to some degree by Shatov’s tragedy and help to distract from the previous seasons of failure. Daler Kuzyaev has also quite nonchalantly replaced Oleg Shatov as the “quiet fan favourite”.

As for Shatov being “Zenit’s brain” – Shatov’s passing output and effectiveness remain lower than in his best periods. Zenit have since had a brain transplant in Leandro Paredes, with others such as Claudio Marchisio and Christian Noboa ahead of Shatov on the waiting list.

The distinction between foreign players and Russians is important to make because although Shatov remains at his best a top Russian player – he is not a leader for Zenit in the common sense of the word or in his best qualities, nor is he currently playing at his best there.

Consequently the distinction that also follows is between Shatov the Russian footballer and Shatov the Zenit player. Shatov the Russian footballer had a promising start to his career, culminating in his excellent 2015/2016 season but Shatov the Zenit player has had a mixed bag.

This season, Shatov has so far played sporadically and not against the trend: meaning the few games where he has played well, such as the game against Lokomotiv, were ones where the whole team and in particular Zenit’s leaders also played well – to create lots of chances from open-play. Shatov during his best games has found himself in positions closer to Dzyuba and taken part in attacks later – in the finishing stage. Semak however doesn’t afford Shatov that luxury often, as in most games Shatov has to drop deeper along with the rest of the team – where he remains less effective.

According to InStat: Semak’s Zenit score only 59% of their goals from open play – this is lower than the league average and significantly lower than leading teams such as CSKA and Krasnodar. A below average number of counter-attacks end in shots, with only Anzhi, Akhmat, Enisey doing worse.

Zenit’s play has gotten poorer in terms of incisiveness, combinations – explosive and exciting interplay isn’t to be seen – Rinyat Bilyaletdinov

One of Shatov’s relative strengths this season has been his goal-scoring but ironically two of Shatov’s three goals so far have been crosses that turned into goals.

I wasn’t taking a shot, I will be honest. I was making a cross – Oleg Shatov

Shatov remains more effective than Robert Mak and more or less comparable to Sebastian Driussi, however these are slightly different cases and for Shatov not his competitors but rather the “new would-be Hulks”.

Currently Semak is juggling all sorts of players bought to play different types of football – for many of them Zenit would surely still like to recoup their value (reminder: Hernani cost €8 million). As has been the case, it is unlikely that there will be any big purchases allowed for Semak during the season, or that much will soon therefore change in a global sense.

Finally, the injury problems aren’t getting much better for Shatov either: Nhà Cái Trực Tuyến Hàng Đầu Châu Á́́Shatov says he is having to deal with micro-traumas these past two years. Injuries of course have been problematic, but as discussed it’s nothing new and should be viewed objectively as part of Shatov’s identity. Thankfully for Shatov he still has some way to go to reach Viktor Fayzulin’s former levels.

While any Zenit fan might be excused for sympathising with Shatov or not wishing to abandon a remnant of the club’s happier past, the reality may be that for his own good Shatov the Russian footballer needs to change his uncertain surroundings, and sooner rather than later. Ironically Shatov the Zenit player who’s said that he can only count on himself, may not be able to resurrect his career without heavily relying on others.

Aside from more radical options, which if he’d wanted to he would have chosen earlier, two possible destinations are Ural and Krasnodar. At Ural, Shatov would be the star again and could effectively do as he pleases, at Krasnodar his leading qualities would be cherished and would suit how Krasnodar play. Shatov may view this as an “easy” way out, but arguably it’s just the smart choice that gives him a greater measure of control.

Krasnodar really wanted me to stay, and made an offer (…) I was comfortable there (…) but after it became clear that the current manager of Zenit would leave his post (Mancini), I made a final decision to return to St. Petersburg – Oleg Shatov

Shatov’s contract runs out in 2020 and although since 2016 his market value has been steadily falling, it remains at a respectable € 8,00 Million – he is still one of the club’s most valuable players on paper. Zenit wouldn’t consider selling him to Ural before 2020, primarily because it makes little financial sense, but also there is the risk that he could move on from there to a Moscow club and harm Zenit’s image. A move to Krasnodar may make more immediate financial and political sense with Mamaev’s Krasnodar contract expected to be terminated and Zenit reportedly interested in Krasnodar talent Komilchenko.

Shatov can still find a way out of becoming a forgotten talent, but it may not be possible in the way he envisages it. His career shouldn’t have to suffer any more for the avoidable reasons it has previously. Putting any sympathies aside: it’s time for Shatov to look at the bigger picture and try to move forwards without stubborn pride.


Author: Neil Salata

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