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How South Africans fared in Russia

Jacob Lekgetho

In the early 2000s, the Russian league was a hot destination for South African footballers, even if the freezing winter temperatures made for an often inhospitable environment.

Most adapted well and South Africans had a good reputation in the country but, like elsewhere, interest from Russian clubs in players from these shores waned as the fortunes of Bafana Bafana slipped.

MTN FC takes a trip down memory lane to assess the stay of the 10 South Africans that have played in the Russian league.


FC Lokomotiv Moscow (2001–2004)

Left-back Lekgetho (pictured) was a star performer for Lokomotiv and became a popular figure at the club during his stay. He won two league titles with the club, including their very first in 2002, having arrived the year earlier from Moroka Swallows. He was a regular all through his stay, bar the last campaign, and played in the UEFA Champions League against the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and AC Milan. He died in 2008 aged 34 after a short illness.


FC Rostov (2002-2004)

FC Krylia Sovetov Samara (2004–2008)

Centre-back Booth enjoyed a successful seven-year stay in Russia, during which time he was largely a regular and actually captained Krylia Sovetov. His stay in the country was either side of two spells at Mamelodi Sundowns and he is still warmly remembered there, and being the consummate professional he is, was an excellent ambassador for South Africa. It is likely off the back of him and Lekgetho that other players were given a chance to play in the league.


FC Lokomotiv Moscow (2002-2003)

FC Rostov (2003–2005)

Midfielder Mnguni was a teammate of Lekgetho at Lokomotiv having joined at the same time, but while he did not enjoy the same playing success, he did famously score against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. That was one of just nine starts for the club before he moved to join Booth at FC Rostov, where he saw more game-time and also proved a useful acquisition. After just one full season he was on the move again though, this time to Chinese side Tianjin TEDA.


FC Rubin Kazan (2003–2010)

Perhaps the most successful of all the South African exports to Russia, Sibiya spent eight seasons with Rubin Kazan, which included helping them to the most unlikely Russian league titles in 2008 and 2009. He was a key part of their midfield and a regular from the onset after arriving from Norwegian side Rosenborg, where he had struggled to settle. The winters in Kazan can be brutal, but Sibiya’s steely attitude to weather the storm made him a huge success.


FC Rostov (2003–2005)

Defender Coyle left BidVest Wits to join FC Rostov in 2003 and spent three seasons there, though he was hampered by injuries. He never quite got going and after 22 league starts in that time he returned to South Africa to play for SuperSport United and later Orlando Pirates, but barely featured for either as injuries cut short his career.


FC Rostov (2003–2005)

Midfielder Hendricks joined FC Rostov at the same time as Coyle and enjoyed a little more success on the pitch, but also left after three years, having perhaps not quite fulfilled his potential there. He returned to South Africa and joined SuperSport United, but his career fizzled out after that despite the fact he was in his mid-20s.


FC Rostov (2003–2005)

FC Rostov was like ‘Little South Africa’ at this stage as Zwane became the fifth player from Mzansi on their books. He made 28 league starts over three seasons, so like the others was in and out of the side, though of course all these players were at the time hampered to an extent by national team call-ups. In those days it was no easy thing to get into central Russia and the trips back and forth to South Africa were arduous and did not make the players popular with their clubs.


FC Moscow (2004–2005)

Fredericks had already had a spell overseas at Swiss side Grasshoppers when he joined FC Moscow from Kaizer Chiefs. He would spend two seasons in Russia before returning home to Orlando Pirates, though the team he joined had a short-lived history. They were formed out of Torpedo-Metallurg in 2004, with Fredericks one of their first players, but in 2010 were dissolved as they ran into financial difficulties and no longer exist. He only made four league starts for the side in what was an unhappy stay.


Dynamo Moscow (2004)

Sheppard moved to Moscow at the same time as Fredericks, though he went to the more established Dynamos, but would also have a brief stay. He made just four appearances in all (with two starts) before leaving and later signing for Panionios in Greece, where he also did not last long. The winger/fullback enjoyed a much more successful time in South Africa, though he was also hampered by injury.


FC Rostov (2012–2014)

The last South African to play in Russia was centre-back Xulu as FC Rostov rekindled their desire for players from the country. Unfortunately his stay coincided with financial woes for the team and there were battles with payment and it proved a bust. He made 24 league starts in three seasons and returned to join Kaizer Chiefs for the 2014/15 season; a move that also proved a poor choice.

By Nick Said (courtesy of MTNFC)


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