Samuel Eto'o is the biggest star in the FC Anji Makhachkala squad, but midfielder Oleg Shatov is slowly emerging from his shadow, becoming one of the first names on Guus Hiddink's team sheet.
Like Dmitri Torbinski, Shatov started out playing futsal, which might explain his control and composure on the ball. Dogged in defence, the Nizhny Tagil-born Shatov is not afraid to get forward either, having scored three times in the Russian Premier-Liga this season, including the last-gasp winner at FC Amkar Perm on 26 November which kept second-placed Anji firmly in the title chase.
The midfielder joined Anji at the start of 2012 after four campaigns with FC Ural Ekaterinburg, though he was very close to signing for PFC CSKA Moskva. "I am sure I made the right choice. I am almost always in the starting XI here – there is nothing to think about," Shatov said. "When I left Ural, I said to myself the most important thing was to start games. I am getting that at Anji."
It has been a big change for the 22-year-old, who has gone from sparsely attended first division games to playing alongside the likes of Eto'o and Lassana Diarra, as well as learning from one of the best coaches in the world. "Hiddink has taught us to enjoy ourselves on the pitch and get pleasure from every pass, tackle and shot," he said. "Hiddink has also made sure that despite having many nationalities at the club, we all get along very well. When we are in the changing room, we are like a family and it's thanks to Hiddink we trust each other so much."
Kind, warm and open, Shatov is become a popular member of the group. He is particularly close to another up-and-coming Russian talent, defender Arseni Logashov, with the duo expected to be key figures at next year's UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Israel, as Russia feature in the finals for the first time in over a decade.
Shatov remains uncapped at senior level, though he has already won praise from Hiddink, who believes he will become a mainstay of the national team. For now, his attention is fixed on helping his ambitious club win a first Russian championship. Anji have also booked their passage to the UEFA Europa League round of 32, and Shatov is enjoying the journey. "Elsewhere, I might have been sitting on the bench and would have stopped improving," he said. "I am really happy where I am."
©UEFA.com 1998-2016. All rights reserved.