Fedor Smolov is currently the hottest property in the Russian Premier League.
The Krasnodar striker has been top scorer in Russia for the past two seasons and this year has 12 goals in just 16 RFPL games. It is therefore no surprise that Smolov is linked with a move to western Europe.
During last summer’s 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup all the talk was about a potential move to Borussia Dortmund. The German club identified the 27-year-old as a potential replacement for Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Dortmund, however, decided against selling their star striker to China.
Furthermore, Smolov picked up an injury at the start of the season, which meant he missed the first six games of the RFPL season. He returned on August 20 in a league match against Rostov but by that point possible suitors – like Bayer Leverkusen and Spartak Moscow – had looked at other options to fill their holes up front.
For several strikers that would have been a frustrating situation, especially as Krasnodar were also eliminated in the qualification stages of the UEFA Europa League. But Smolov is not just a professional through and through, he is also used to setbacks in his career.
It took time for the 27-year-old Saratov native to make his way to the top of the Russian game. A product of the Dinamo Moscow youth academy, Smolov made an untypical move abroad to Feyenoord in 2010.
Although his stint in the Netherlands was unsuccessful – he returned after just half a season to Dinamo Moscow – he managed to learn English in Rotterdam and continues to be fluent in the language.
It is an asset that is not common among Russian players, who often struggle to become integrated off the pitch after moving abroad. But for Smolov languages were not the issue, his lack of playing time at Dinamo was. The club did not know what to do with the physically strong winger, who spent much of his time on the left-wing during the early stages of his career.
As a result, he was passed on from one club to another with Dinamo Moscow loaning him out twice to Anzhi Makhachkala for the 2012-13 and once again for the second half of the 2013-14 season – he scored just two goals in 26 games during his combined loan spells in Dagestan.
His career had stalled and there appeared little hope that the forward could achieve his dream of becoming a regular in the RFPL, let alone a starter for the Russian national team.
All of that changed during the 2014-15 season when he went on loan at Ural Yekaterinburg, a club based on the border with Asia.
He managed to score eight goals in 22 games and as a result earned himself a move to the Southern Russia based club Krasnodar, who were able to sign the forward on a free transfer after Dinamo Moscow were banned from the Europa League due to breaches of Financial Fair Play regulations.
Owned by the self-made oligarch Sergey Galitsky, FC Krasnodar are not your typical high spending Russian side. Instead the oligarch is building a club that is one day supposed to become completely self-sufficient.
As a result, Krasnodar are always on a hunt for players who could be nurtured and developed. The club has become a hotbed of talent that has failed elsewhere in Russia, their careers revived while playing for the country’s most innovative club.
At first Smolov struggled to discover his goalscoring touch. He scored just six goals in the first 18 matches of the RFPL season. Smolov also struggled in the Europa League, as he managed just one goal in eight appearances.
But during the long winter break, Krasnodar’s head coach Oleg Kononov found a tactic that could bring the best out of Smolov’s strengths. While used as a left-winger before the break, Kononov moved him to the centre.
The result was astonishing. Smolov struck 15 goals after the winter break and ended with 20 for the season, it meant he became the first Russian to win the goalscoring canon since 2007, when Roman Pavlyuchenko and Roman Adamov shared it with 14 goals apiece.
Smolov then repeated the feat last term, netting 18 goals in 22 games. And this season he is once again in the race to clinch the top scorer accolade.
A complete striker who benefits from having started his career on the wing, he combines pace, power and height to find goals in almost any attacking situation. Which is why Smolov has been heavily linked with a move to West Ham United.
The East London club signed Javier Hernandez from Bayer Leverkusen last summer, but the Mexican has struggled with the football played in the lower half of the Premier League table.
Smolov would be better suited as he would buy into the high work-rate demanded of David Moyes. But the big question is whether Smolov will risk a move to a club fighting against relegation before the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia?
There is without a doubt truth to the stories linking Smolov with the Hammers, but the London based club are not the only side interested in the Russian striker.
And with Aubameyang now at Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, who are unconvinced by Chelsea loanee Michy Batshuayi, could rekindle their interest in bringing in the striker to Germany. Which would leave West Ham scrambling to find a goalscorer once again.