The world of Russian lower league football can be an unglamorous and unforgiving environment, but if you dig a bit deeper you can find some absolute gems who will for the large part go unnoticed. I have followed FC Tyumen since I moved out to Siberia over six years ago, and the relationship between the club and the city has been intriguing as freezing temperatures, competition from other sports and financial problems have threatened to drive a sizeable wedge between the two. Mainstays have been few and far between, but one of them is having the the most Indian of Summers: meet Khasan Mamtov.
Voted the 93rd most outstanding young person in Tyumen two years ago after captaining Tyumen to promotion out of the third tier, the 32-year-old forward has remained the focal point for the attack since his arrival in 2013. He soon won the captaincy from Mikhail Pimenyov after winning over Konstantin Galkin, and has held his position under Alexander Ivchenko to produce some of his finest form as well as shooting to second place in the goalscoring charts in the FNL. “He has passion and fire,” Galkin told me two years ago. “He isn’t the quickest, but he has he respect of his teammates.” The note about his lack of pace is telling, given that Galkin had stripped Pimenyov of the captaincy and told him to find a new club based on his speed.
I took a closer look at his impact on the pitch as Shinnik Yaroslavl visited the Geolog Stadium a fortnight ago to find out more about why he not only deserves respect for his character, but also as a member of the starting XI. For the majority of his career in Tyumen he has been played as the main striker in front of an attacking three in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and it was in this role he lined up on Sunday.
There are many ways to measure the confidence of a player on the pitch, but the simplest is in his intent to score. Mamtov has been on an incredible run of scoring form since the beginning of November, scoring 11 in 14 matches, and it showed inside the first ten minutes. Back to goal, he received the ball in the penalty area near the byline with nothing on; far from sensibly laying it off to a midfielder, he turned instantly inside, still apparently heading away from goal, before continuing his tight arc towards his target with the inside of his right boot. The two marking defenders hadn’t expected such sharp movement as Mamtov ghosted between them before smashing the most emphatic of finishes into the roof of the net.
Ten minutes gone, and the senior statesman of Tyumen had already outwitted his opponents. His speed is all in in his mind, not over metres on the pitch – he will never be caught outpacing his marker in a straight sprint, but he rarely needs to. In his career before arriving in Tyumen, he had never scored in double figures in a league season, but now has 25 in the last two campaigns as he advances into his fourth decade. Strike partners have come and gone at the Geolog – Sergey Serdukov, Artem Delkin (who currently leads the goalscoring standings from Mamtov by one) and Evgeniy Savin to name but three – but it has become apparent that far from supporting Mamtov, he simply needed to be given the freedom to use his intelligence and movement.
Not that he is a selfish player. For large periods of his first season he was employed out on the wing by previous manager Konstantin Galkin had tried to integrate him alongside the majestic talents of Cleyton, Savin, Vladimir Gogberashvili and Andrey Pavlenko, and at times he was even denied a place in the starting XI. His work rate and attitude was clearly exemplary as he earned the captaincy without grumbling.
Two more snap shots blazed just over from the edge of the box, and the opening quarter of an hour were all about the captain. The early stages in the game are where he is at his most dangerous, when opposing teams often prefer to trade harmless jabs to assess the match before settling into proceedings. As the game develops, he could easily fade as his fitness begins to tell, but instead he adapts his role to continue being useful to his side, and it proved to be the same again against Shinnik.
After half an hour, Roman Loktionov hacked away a desperate ball between two lunging attackers in the six yard box. Most strikers not blessed with pace would stay further up the field, but Mamtov drifted back, aware that the ball was unlikely to reach halfway. Sure enough, the hurried clearance reached him awkwardly bouncing, but his instinct with his first headed touch to take it away from the centre back, and the second to shield it and win an inevitable free kick, were simple but symptomatic of a great footballing brain.
As the first half petered out with the visitors barely having a sniff, Denis Chudin won a header aimed towards the left. Mamtov was goalside of his marker, but knowing the bounce would mean he had enough time, he waited before rushing directly to the bounce and timed his challenge perfectly, again winning possession and alleviating pressure on his midfield. It is his sort of awareness and judgement that makes his all round contribution so valuable. On the ball, his direct effect had waned since the early burst of energy as it often does, but his efficiency in his work off the ball becomes so important in keeping the momentum in his team’s favour.
Either side of him were two very contrasting players. On the left, the right footed speedster Andrey Pavlenko, and on the right the more technical Nikita Telenkov. Pavelnko’s threat is obvious, and provides the width for Mamtov to compliment his movement, but is not used as a direct supply line; very few crosses are directed into the box from Pavlenko, as Mamtov doesn’t have the pace or outstanding leap to cause a major aerial threat. It is not an entirely symmetrical set up as Telenkov often drops back into his more natural conventional midfield position and doesn’t have the electric pace of his fellow winger, but is able to thread passes through to his captain’s feet.
It is a system that makes marking Mamtov very difficult, especially as his positioning becomes more flexible as the game wears on. Quick thinking from Danil Klenkin to take a free kick deep in Tyumen’s half set Mamtov racing forwards to challenge the cenre half, whose header looped back towards Alexey Pustozerov. The number 10, who had barely had an effect on the game and was substituted a few minutes later, did well to control a bouncing ball under pressure and release Mamtov out wide. Nothing seemed to be on, until the skipper instantly turned inside and fed a return ball into space for Pustozerov. The importance of momentum in Mamtov game cannot be understated.
Late in the game and legs were beginning to tire, but Mamtov remained alert. Spotting Klenkin winning possession, he began drifting between the centre back and full back. Without breaking his stride, he knew Klenkin would be looking and received the slide rule pass just wide of the six yard box moving away from danger. Instead of turning back to retain the ball and waiting for a more mobile teammate to arrive, he shaped his body to turn inside around the backpedalling defender and hits a vicious snap shot towards the near post. While his effort was tipped round the post, his sharp mind kept Shinnik working instead of allowing them to relax.
A sloppy lack of marking then allowed Nikita Malyarov a free header from a corner to level the scored with ten minutes remaining, but moments later a horrendously late challenge on Tyumen keeper saw the Shinnik goalscorer sent off. This time, it was left to the younger head of Telenkov to weave a spellbinding path through the Shinnik defence and finish calmly inside th near post in added time to dramatically claim the three points, but Mamtov could rest easy knowing his work had been done. Without question the match winner has the ability and deserves the credit for a stupendous moment of magic, but his confidence to even consider it undoubtedly came from the guiding nous of his leader.
Khasan Mamtov has now turned 32 and is almost certainly going to end his career at the Geolog, so his only chance of a much-deserved shot at the Russian top flight is likely to come in 18 months’ time, assuming Tyumen can mount a sustained push towards the playoffs next season. Whether or not he is granted the opportunity, he can rest safe in the knowledge that his talents are appreciated in Western Siberia.