Founded in 2009, FC Lokomotiv Astana grabbed the attention by signing one-time FC Spartak Moskva duo Andrei Tikhonov and Egor Titov for their maiden Kazakh league campaign.
However, they have yet to match their ambition with a Kazakh Premier League title. So, while they took the Kazakh Cup for the first time last season – and added the Super Cup to their haul on Wednesday – the big-budget side led by German coach Holger Fach are determined to battle for top spot this time around.
Since finishing fourth in the 12-team table in 2010, Lokomotiv have signed Nurbol Zhumaskaliyev, captain of champions FC Tobol Kostanay, experienced FC Aktobe midfielder Andrei Karpovich, and two promising talents: FC Taraz's Ulan Konysbayev and FC Irtysh Pavlodar's Dmitri Shomko. Some now regard them as the spine of the national team.
Even so, mindful perhaps that having the best players does not always equate to having the best side, 48-year-old former Germany midfielder Fach is playing down Lokomotiv's title credentials. "I am happy we got these players," he said. "However, it's clear we need time to start playing the way we want to play."
While Lokomotiv have been concentrating on local talent, their main rivals – Tobol and Aktobe – have looked further afield. Aktobe's worldwide trawl for quality reinforcements has resulted in the arrivals of 29-year-old Juan José Bezares, once a midfielder at Sevilla FC, and Robert Primus, 20, a Trinidad and Tobago defender.
"We signed them because of their qualities as players and people, not because they are exotic," said coach Vladimir Mukhanov. "
We are interested in good players, but they need to fit into our group; they have to be good people too. We play attacking football but we have worked on our defensive shortcomings too. Let's see how we get on."
Tobol landed their first championship last term, yet that success came at a cost with several key players leaving – forcing coach Ravil Sabitov to make extensive winter repairs. "We haven't signed all the players we wanted," he said. "We still have big ambitions and want to achieve our targets, regardless of any changes that have been made."
FC Shakhter Karagandy, FC Kairat Almaty, last season's third-place finishers Irtysh and promoted FC Vostok will hope for medal positions in 2011, yet the challenge for the remaining sides may be to avoid missing out on the top six when the table splits into title and relegation groups after 22 rounds.
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