In recent years, Spartak Moscow’s academy has been overshadowed by its local rivals. Lokomotiv’s academy produced Aleksey and Anton Miranchuk, as well as Daniil Khudyakov — widely regarded as the heir to Igor Akinfeev’s throne on the national team. Former Fiorentina striker Aleksandr Kokorin, current Spartak midfielder Roman Zobnin, Russian national team striker (well, until he publicly opposed the war) Fedor Smolov, and up-and-coming talent Arsen Zakharyan all came from Dynamo’s academy.
Big rivals CSKA have seen the likes of Akinfeev, Aleksandr Golovin, and Fedor Chalov graduate from their academy, while even minnows Torpedo Moscow have produced Andrey Lunev. For a club like Spartak, one of the biggest clubs in Russia (and possibly Europe), it’s an embarrassment. However, for the first time in years, Spartak have an academy player they can truly get excited about — 18-year-old Pavel Meleshin.
ST Pavel Meleshin, 18, Spartak Moscow
Meleshin was born in Moscow, and joined Lokomotiv at a young age. His father, Aleksei Meleshin, was an academy graduate and played with the club for several seasons. Aleksei won the Russian Premier Liga, Russia’s top tier, four times with the club. Despite this, he rarely played for the club, making just 90 appearances and scoring eight times.
Pavel’s time at the club will surely be more fruitful. In 2020/21, he featured in the Russian U16 league, where he scored a whopping 21 goals in 18 games. Additionally, he registered 7 assists and scored hat tricks against three Moscow rivals — Dynamo, Lokomotiv, and CSKA. Towards the end of the season, he featured twice for the U17 team, where he scored and got an assist.
Last season was Meleshin’s first full season with the U17s. Instead of regressing against tougher opposition, he scored even more prolifically. Meleshin bagged 28(!) goals with four assists in 25 games. This included five goals in the season finale, a dominant 9-0 win over Rostov.
That result is somewhat sketchy — it was just 3-0 at the half, with Spartak trailing Krasnodar’s U17s by one point in the standings with a close goal differential. Rostov were also fifth in the league with the third-fewest goals allowed at the time. Krasnodar still won the league, despite this result.
Regardless of that game’s events, Meleshin still would have finished as the league’s highest scorer by some margin. No one else in the league would score even twenty goals as Meleshin led the runner-up by nine strikes. There’s a bit of a theme here.
This season, Meleshin is with the U19s and — you guessed it — has not stopped scoring. He’s the league’s top scorer right now with eight goals and two assists in nine games so far, including a hat trick against CSKA Moscow’s U19s. Additionally, Meleshin made his senior debut — and, surprise, scored.
It took Meleshin just 46 minutes to find the net on his debut, scoring the winner in his side’s Russian Cup match. A few days later, he made his Premier Liga debut, and, four days later, again scored the winner in a Russian Cup match. His record so far with the senior team is four matches, two starts, two goals.
Meleshin is an old school forward. His height (6’2″) and physicality help him win the ball in the box, regularly scoring headers. Additionally, his shooting is excellent, as he displayed on his debut when he tucked the ball into the bottom corner of the net. His control is also quite good, important for playing in Russia’s sometimes less-than-ideal fields.
Meleshin has all the characteristics to be one of the best Russian players in the world. However, because of the terrible situation in Ukraine, it’s becoming increasingly rare to see Russian players move abroad. The squad for Russia’s recent friendlies reflects this — every single player was based domestically.
Obviously, there are problems caused by the war in Ukraine that are much bigger than soccer, but it’s important to stress how many players are losing life-changing opportunities because of it. Hopefully, the war will end soon.
Image Courtesy of Антон Зайцев, CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons.
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