Chertanovo: Moscow’s unremitting talent factory

Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I had been writing extensively about the Russian women’s top flight, the Superliga. Despite this content making up a decent chunk of the writing on this blog at the time, I never got around to taking an in-depth look at the talent factory that is Chertanovo Moscow, which is something I always wanted to do. I’m now going to rectify this.

What makes the Devils so special is that they are the football team of an education centre, thus they are almost completely focused on youth development. Though perhaps not quite as pronounced and uncompromising as on the men’s side where only players exclusively developed by the club play (by contrast, several players on the women’s roster are not homegrowns), they are nonetheless one of the country’s chief talent producers.

The Chertanovo sports school was established in 1991 through a merger of several educational establishments including a Soviet Olympic reserve school whose football department was first founded in 1976. The entire Chertanovo complex boasts several schools, lodgings, medical facilities and its own small stadium. Reminiscent of the elite sports academies prevalent in the former Eastern Bloc that were meant to churn out Olympic athletes, the Chertanovo organisation has all the prerequisites to give talented children the necessary physical and general education needed to become high-level professionals in adulthood.

From 2008 until 2021, the centre was headed by Nikolai Yarin, grandson of Old Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin. Yarin once took a chance on Nadezhda Karpova, who has since gone on to play professionally in Spain’s top flight, most recently making headlines by being an outspoken anti-Putin dissident. Chertanovo also produced Alsu Abdullina, who will be a familiar name to fans of the English WSL as she transferred to Chelsea from Lokomotiv Moscow in 2021 after several years of being the most exciting talent in Russia.

As can be gleaned from this, most of Chertanovo’s success has come in the context of player development; tangible triumphs at the team level have eluded the Devils, particularly in recent years. Although they were playing in the Champions League as recently as 2019, they would perhaps not be in the Superliga anymore if relegation hadn’t been abolished in the mid-2010s seeing as though they finished bottom of the league in 2020.

In 2013, Chertanovo won the second division (confusingly called the First Division) and earned promotion to the Superliga, then still simply referred to as the Russian Women’s Football Championship. A lack of funding meant that their first season ended after just three games, but with no more relegation, they remained in the league despite finishing bottom. Their second season proved equally unsuccessful.

They already had some exciting talent on their roster, however, in the form of 17-year-old Alena Andreeva, who had made her top-division debut at 16 for now-defunct Izmailovo, 19-year-old youth product Margarita Chernomyrdina and the aforementioned Karpova, then aged 20. This talent showed some of its potential in 2016, when Chernomyrdina and Karpova finished the season as the league’s joint top scorers (with eight) and Chertanovo moved up to fourth (out of six teams).

It was in 2017 when things really began heating up and Chertanovo entered their short-lived golden era. This time around, it wasn’t Karpova who stepped up – by September, she was playing at Valencia – but winger and academy graduate Marina Kiskonen, who became the team’s joint top scorer (with Chernomyrdina) having scored five goals. Three more exciting names entered the fray that season as well: 16-year-old youth products Alsu Abdullina and Kristina Komissarova and veteran striker Nelli Korovkina, who returned to the club having already played for them in 2008; she hit the net four times in 2017.

Nadezhda Karpova and Marina Kiskonen at Chertanovo (РИА Новости/Ilia Pitalyev)

The Devils finished third and reached the final of the cup, narrowly losing out to newly-formed CSKA Moscow. The following year, a combined 17 goals from Kiskonen, Korovkina and Chernomyrdina (over a 14-game season) fired Chertanovo to a runners-up finish and Champions League qualification – they had reached their apotheosis. Abdullina and Komissarova had become mainstays in the team, as had 15-year-old Daria Solonovich.

That was the end of Chertanovo’s team success, though. Kiskonen (Kuopion PS), Korovkina (Lokomotiv) and Chernomyrdina (CSKA) all departed ahead of the 2019 season and the latest batch of academy prospects couldn’t match the form of the outgoing star players. Their Champions League run ended at the first hurdle, losing 5-1 on aggregate to Glasgow City; Komissarova is to date the only player to have scored a goal in international competition for the Devils. In the Superliga, they slipped down to 6th (out of eight teams) and they had been languishing near the bottom of the table until 2022 when they finished 5th in what had become a 10-team league.

But what of their youth development? That has continued apace even if none of their players have yet hit the same heights of previous generations – although this could soon change. Attacking midfielder Chernomyrdina, now a two-time Superliga champion, is still at CSKA, and she is one of the league’s standout performers. In 2021, she was reunited with Kiskonen, who was signed by CSKA after stints with two clubs in Spain; she’s now at FK Minsk of Belarus. Korovkina won the Superliga with Lokomotiv in 2021, and she must be one of the league’s all-time top scorers by now, though I have been unable to find any official statistics.

Abdullina joined Korovkina at Loko in 2020 before signing for Chelsea the following year. Such was Abdullina’s talent and importance to Chertanovo that the left-back was played everywhere from centre-back to winger and even occasionally at centre-forward during her time there. Central midfielder Komissarova transferred to newly-established Dynamo Moscow last year, where she is joined by 10(!) Chertanovo academy graduates and another former player (though not a youth product) in Jose-Diana Pamen Chato. In total, when ex-Devils boss Sergei Lavrentiev took the reins at Dynamo, he brought 12 of his former players with him, which is almost a carbon copy of what happened on the men’s side a few years ago. Their departing coach took eight first-teamers with him to Krylya Sovetov, including former Football Manager wonderkid Sergei Pinyayev.

Alena Andreeva is still with Chertanovo nowadays, and she has developed into one of the league’s outstanding players. In late 2021, I tipped her to eventually transfer to a bigger side (CSKA, Loko or Zenit), but the skilful midfield dynamo has remained loyal to the Devils. Polina Organova, another member of the 2018 second-placed squad (though she barely featured) and another player I highlighted two years ago, is now a set-piece expert and one of the better players on a poor, albeit very young, FK Krasnodar team.

Organova is one of many former Chertanovo alumni strewn all throughout the Superliga: Viktoria Dubova and Anastasia Olegina at Ryazan, Anastasia Shvedova at Zvezda-2005 Perm and Natalia Trofimova at Zenit to name just a few. But of course, the conveyor belt is still relentlessly churning out talent and another golden age is perhaps yet to come. For a match against Lokomotiv in August 2020 – a game in which Dubova scored an Olimpico – then-coach Lavrentiev named a starting eleven with an average age of just 18.5 years. 19-year-old Komissarova captained a side that featured four 17-year-olds and two 16-year-olds that day.

“Abdullina wasn’t the only one reunited with Chertanovo. Head coach Elena Fomina spent some of her formative years with the Moscow club, so too did current Loko players Kristina Mashkova, Yana Sheina, Kristina Cherkasova [now at Rubin Kazan], and Nelli Korovkina even had two stints with Chertanovo. Although the defeat to their crosstown rivals leaves the Devils second from bottom, their youth work is invaluable to Russian football and results are fairly immaterial in the grand scheme of things.”

Excerpt from my recap of Chertanovo v Lokomotiv (1-3), August 6, 2020

One of the 16-year-olds that played against Loko in 2020 was Elizaveta Semenova, who is now tearing defenders to shreds at Zenit. In terms of performances, the now-18-year-old is certainly the biggest talent Chertanovo have produced since Abdullina, though there are already other players waiting in the wings to challenge that assumption. Olesya Berezanskaya is another player I mentioned as one to keep an eye on in 2021 when she was 16. Still at Chertanovo, she has not developed as expected but she is only 18 now, which ultimately brings us to the point I’m trying to make: Chertanovo is absolutely stacked with young talent.

In fact, of the 27 players the official Superliga website lists as part of the Devils’ first team for the 2023 season, 17 (63%) are below the age of 20. The only players above 25 at head coach Vasily Marunyak’s disposal are captain Julia Bessolova (30) and new signings Daria Eremenkova (26) and Ekaterina Miklashevich (31). In their most recent game, a 2-1 loss to league leaders CSKA, their starting eleven had an average age of 21.4 years.

Two 15-year-olds, Juliana Kamorina and Sofia Prokhorova, are members of the first-team squad, though they have not featured in any of Chertanovo’s seven games thus far this season. The same can’t be said for the 16-year-olds, however. Striker Kira Petukhova has been a regular substitute, while Tatiana Danilochkina has impressed so much as the starting option in defensive midfield that she recently became the youngest-ever player to feature for the senior Russian national team, beating the record set by her teammate Yana Svistunova last October.

Tatiana Danilochkina and Yana Svistunova (Source)

Unlike the pivot Danilochkina, who mostly goes about her business in a very low-key and nonchalant manner, 17-year-old Svistunova is a tricky winger in the mould of the aforementioned Semenova, a show-stopper who will catch your eye. Though Semenova is more of a physical presence and prefers to hug the touchline more than the diminutive Svistunova, it is interesting that Chertanovo have produced two very good players with a similar skillset in relatively short succession. When I used to write regularly about the Superliga, I noted that the league needs more attackers who can unlock defences in 1v1 situations, so hopefully these two are the first of many.

Even though Chertanovo can’t keep up with the league’s top sides anymore, they remain one of the most exciting teams in the league, if only because they are constantly churning out new talented youngsters. At the time of writing, the Devils sit seventh in what is now a 12-team Superliga following the additions of Dynamo Moscow and Krylya Sovetov, themselves very young sides (the former for the reasons stated above) with several exciting prospects. Krylya, for example, are captained by an 18-year-old, Cruyff-turning centre-back machine named Maria Durnova.

It’s going to be very intriguing to see how the likes of Danilochkina, Svistunova, Petukhova and company continue to develop this season and beyond. Seeing as though Chertanovo (unsurprisingly) won the Youth League last year, one thing is clear: more exciting talents will break into the first team before long.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting my work with a small donation. Thank you!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s