Why Alan Dzagoev Is Under Most Pressure for Russia at the World Cup

Dan SheridanContributor IJune 15, 2014

Russia's Alan Dzagoev controls the ball during a European U21 Soccer Championship Group A match against Netherlands in Jerusalem, Sunday, June 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

Alan Dzagoev was big news after Euro 2012, and after ending the tournament as joint-top scorer alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Mario Balotelli, his stock was higher than ever.

Despite Russia’s failings at the group stage, a brace against the Czech Republic and another versus Poland capped a memorable few weeks for the attacking midfielder.

The world, it seemed, was at his feet, and goals aside, the nature of his performances in Poland and Ukraine alerted some of the biggest names in European football.

A big move, however, failed to materialise for the CSKA Moscow man, and two years later the pressure is on the 23-year-old to reach similar heights at the World Cup in Brazil.

His reputation as an artistic playmaker is not unjustified, and long before the last European Championships, Dzagoev was earning rave reviews in his home country.

Having made his professional debut aged just 15 for second division outfit Akademiya Tolyatti, the youngster moved to CSKA three years later and blossomed under coach Valery Gazzaev.

Such was his rise to prominence, Russia boss Guus Hiddink made Dzagoev the youngest outfield player to represent the national side in 2008, while his first full season in the capital earned him the division’s Young Player of the Year award.

The plaudits poured in, with his academy coach Igor Rodkin saying:

Dzagoev plays football not for fame and money, but because football is his life. It is rare today that a victory is more important for a player than the prize money for it, but with Alan, that is exactly the case.

High praise, however, brought its own pressure, and a dip in form in 2010 raised questions about his temperament and attitude that flew in the face of Rodkin’s adoring tribute.

Fast-forward to today, and the weight of expectation on Dzagoev’s shoulders couldn’t be greater as Russia look to amend their woeful World Cup record.

Discovering his Euro 2012 form once more would reignite the buzz at international level and no doubt trigger another bout of interest from La Liga and the Premier League.

Denis Tyrin/Associated Press

A quiet competition, however, could see current boss Fabio Capello lose patience with the Beslan-born player—an outcome that would damage his revered status at home as well as on the continent.

Few doubt Dzagoev’s ability, and his apparent comfort in possession and eye for a decisive pass make him a significant weapon on the biggest stage of all.

Instrumental as a goalscorer as well as a creator in CSKA’s run to the Russian Premier League title last term, his form heading into Brazil is encouraging and a welcome fillip for Capello.

But in order to take his game and stature to the next level, a productive summer in South America is an absolute must—starting with their Group H opener with South Korea on Tuesday.