The transition from the Argentine league to Zenit St Petersburg may seem hard, but Roberto Mancini is making it work for his new Russian club
There is little doubt what Zenit St Petersburg’s scouts have been watching over the past year and on Saturday, it reaped immediate rewards as Sebastian Driussi sealed three points alongside compatriot Leandro Paredes. The Argentine duo have made a positive start under Roberto Mancini but could soon be made to feel all the more welcome by further additions potentially on their way to Club Atletico Zenit San Petersburgo.
After watching Moscow clubs, CSKA and Spartak lift the Russian league title over the past two seasons and twice failing to qualify for the Champions League, Zenit St. Petersburg appear to mean business this year and after appointing Roberto Mancini as manager have reopened the cheque book to deliver the Italian a team capable of wrestling back the trophy.
Leandro Paredes was the first big-money signing through the door when Zenit threw $31 million in the direction of Roma. The classy, deep-lying playmaker had earned his stripes in Serie A and just as the 23-year-old had broken into Jorge Sampaoli’s Argentina squad, Russia came calling.
Plying his trade in Rome will have meant Mancini being acutely aware of his talent and while many were surprised by Paredes making the switch from Italy to the less glamorous world of Russian football, it was a transfer that made a real statement of intent.
The midfielder has started both matches as Zenit have made a winning start to their season but it was Sebastian Driussi, who stole the headlines at the weekend.
The 21-year-old’s seventeen goals for River Plate last season made him one of the most sought after youngsters in South America but Zenit stumped up the $17 million release clause to bring the forward to the Krestovsky Stadium and against Rubin Kazan, Driussi’s first start produced two goals.
Trailing at the break, Driussi scored twice in the second half including a sensational injury time winner to not only snatch all three points but give supporters an early indication of his exciting, goal scoring potential. However, if reports are to be believed reinforcements could follow with Zenit tying up business for a couple more of the Primera’s top talents.
The Blue-White-Sky Blues are freeing up space for additional foreign players and Independiente’s pacy winger Emiliano Rigoni looks next through the door. Noises out of the club and the player’s agent are that a $10 million has been agreed and all that is missing is the ink on the paper, representing another shrewd bit of business.
Rigoni was one of the standout performers and with eleven goals to his name has shown steady signs of improvement at Independiente. At 24, the Cordoba-born forward is a little older than many who make the move across to Europe but has racked up valuable experience, developed greatly and as a versatile, two-footed speed merchant has plenty to offer for a relatively cheap price.
If Driussi and Rigoni are to be tasked with a job at one end the potential signing of German Conti could shore things up at the other and the indications are that Zenit have already agreed a $4.6 million fee for the lanky centre back.
One need only look at Colón’s defensive record and know which player has been the most valuable part of that unit to recognise Conti’s ability. Despite his tall, ungainly frame the 23-year-old has been consistently sound in either a back three of back four, showing great leadership and organisational qualities. No player made more clearances in the Primera last season and after fending off interest from Argentina’s grandes over the past year or so, Mancini might just add him to the ranks.
And another to have come to light in the past week is playmaker Emanuel Reynoso, who also had a terrific 2016/17 season as Talleres made light work of their first season back in the top flight.
The creative 21-year-old certainly looked destined for greater things on a regular basis for La T and while a few months ago, Russia wouldn’t have been high on the list of potential destinations, Zenit have changed all that.
Whether it be Mancini’s scouting contacts, Zenit’s determination to topple their rivals or a plan that has been in place for a long time, the club have certainly spied Argentina as a market of huge potential.
With clubs scraping by financially day-to-day in a nation that produces some of world football’s best players, there are bargains to be had. With the comparatively low fees, Zenit strengthen their own squad in the short-term but by picking up these younger players could yet pocket a tidy profit in the long run.
$17 million for the relatively untested Driussi may have appeared something of a gamble but the 21-year-old is immediately repaying that faith and if the goals continue to flow, just how much could he be worth?