With six representatives in the Russia squad, football academy Chertanovo EC has been producing talent for 40 years. Director Nikolay Larin tells UEFA.com about this unknown gem.
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Flicking through the official programme for the UEFA European Under-17 Championship, the list of clubs represented at the event reads like a who's who of the continent's biggest names.
Juventus, Tottenham Hotspur FC, Olympique Lyonnais and FC Bayern München are just a small number of top clubs who have players in Slovakia, but one name is far less recognisable.
Alongside team-mates from the country's most famous sides, six members of the Russia squad have Chertanovo EC next to their name, a title which had even the most seasoned of European football observers present scratching their head.
In fact, it is not a club at all, but an academy based in the suburbs south of Moscow, which has been quietly producing outstanding talents to the benefit of Russian football for the last 40 years. Director Nikolay Larin has been in attendance at the tournament since the beginning, watching his sextet of potential stars help their country to the semi-finals. He was more than happy to let UEFA.com in on Russia's little-known secret.
"It was created almost 40 years ago, and for a period we were quite famous, but then there have also been hard times," said the former teacher, who has turned the academy into a force again since becoming director. "We have managed to return to prominence in Russian football, and make our mark in international tournaments. Our team won the Russian championship, beating all the professional clubs. We think that we have all that is needed to allow great players to grow."
The academy, which also educates its players academically, is not linked to any of the professional clubs they beat on a consistent basis, but if a player is taken by a club when they graduate, the school receives compensation which is integral to its survival. However, Larin has big plans for the future. "We hope to create a club in the second division," he added. "This is a must, so that the boys can continue their education under our guidance. The thing is that we are not always happy with what is happening to our players when they move to a professional club. They do not get treated as well as in Chertanovo."
With former graduates in the shape of 2006 UEFA European U17 Championship-winning coach Igor Kolyvanov, former SL Benfica and FC Porto defender Vasili Kulkov, and Russian international Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, the school is continuing to produce top talent. However, they are being forced to adapt to the modern climate. "We are not agents of the players," said Larin. "They can choose agents themselves. All players want to have an agent nowadays, and we do not forbid that."
One of the current crop, Denis Yakuba, is testament to the methods at work at the academy. "When I came to Chertanovo I did not play that well," said the left-back. "The coaches taught me almost all that I can do now. I tried really hard, worked a lot and it paid dividends."
Feeling pride swell inside when watching his school's products run out on to the field in national colours, Larin has relished his time in Slovakia, and hopes his representatives will return to the academy with winners' medals around their necks. "I have followed right from the start when I realised that our school will be represented by so many players. To come here as Chertanovo director, but also as a football enthusiast, was very important as I can see how the coaches work and use it for my own development. I do not want to make predictions, but I can say that I believed in this team from the start and nothing has changed."