A rather well known American singer once included the lyric "I believe that children are the future" in one of her remarkable songs. That lyric, it seems, acts as an astute metaphor for the current situation at Spartak Moscow where Valeri Karpin, through both choice and necessity, has placed trust in his fledglings and, in the melodic tones of Whitney, "let them lead the way."
A look at Spartak's squad tells you that it is teeming with youth and exuberance, if not the experience needed to mount a sustainable title challenge. From the feather-light Emin Makhmudov, moulded in the Catalan plaster cast of Xavi Hernandez, to the taller, rugged and effortlessly Russian Artem Dzyuba, Spartak have a range of talented young players in different positions. Young players that have been entrusted by Karpin to keep the red flag flying during the periods of critical injuries to the squad.
The depth of the batch of ill health that Spartak suffered was evident during the battling 0-0 draw with Rubin Kazan, when the krasno-belye (red-whites) were forced to field a makeshift back-line. The depleted squad was attacked further by the first-half injury to Aiden McGeady, meaning that the raw and inexperienced right-back Sergei Bryzgalov was thrown to the lions of battle. In fact he, along with another 18-year-old substitute Aleksandr Kozlov, fared quite well, keeping the 2009 champions Rubin at bay. Aside from the quantity of quality youth players Spartak are currently rearing the wide international range is also apparent.
The aforementioned Makhmudov hails from Saatly in Azerbaijan, whilst the most prominent of the current crop, in terms of Western eyes, Jano Ananidze sailed down from the Georgian sea resort of Kobuleti. This wide reach in terms of recruitment, as well as the depth of young talent at the club, indicates a notion from above to follow the lead of those such as Barcelona in seeking to harness the best young players available to them. Where Barcelona lead the world with their famous complex at La Masia, Spartak have sought to create their own player factory with the opening of a complex at Sokolniki in 2009. The complex features three state of the art training pitches, two equipped with under-soil heating for the tough Moscow winters, as well as all the mod cons that the pampered princes of professional academies are now subject to. The infrastructure, however, would be nothing without the coaching personel to nurture the talent. The club have tasked former striker and scorer of 119 Spartak goals, Sergey Rodionov with the role of President of the Academy, obviously with a view to getting those young strikers firing.
Whilst club president Leonid Fedun was full of praise at the opening of the complex, the range of youth talent that is currently permeating the Spartak first team did not progress through this mult-million complex but was recruited through scouting areas of the former Soviet Union and beyond. Ananidze was captured from the youth setup of Dynamo Kiev; Makhmudov was poached from the deceased Saturn Ramenskoye and wide player Makeyev was uprooted from Sheksna Cherepovets. The establishment of such a flamboyant youth academy should not detract from the talent that Spartak most evidently have in their scouting network. As truly home-grown players begin to progress through the Sokolniki academy they should complement the first team recruits from wider areas of the former Soviet Union and beyond, rather than replace them.
The current crop of children may well be the future for Spartak but the powers at be must recognise that many of these gifted youngsters were imported from other clubs rather than the youth academy that was in place before the development at Sokolniki, meaning that a combination of strategies is the key to the future success of the most supported club in Russia.