Andy Potts

The departure of club captain Dinijar Bilyaletdinov has again thrown the spotlight on what exactly is going on at Lokomotiv Moscow.

After a string of trophies in the early years of this century – and regular European appearances including the Champions League second group stage in 2003 – recent seasons have seen the Railwaymen struggle.

And the departure of Bilyaletdinov is seen by many as the end of an era at the club.

The 24-year-old, who burst into the side as a teenager and helped inspire their 2004 title triumph, has been synonymous with the team. His father, Rinat, is youth team coach and after establishing himself on the left of midfield, junior was soon cemented as club captain.

Back in January 2008, club president Nikolai Naukov told the Lokomotiv website, Bilyash turned down a move to Everton. “But at that time Loko was in a difficult situation and like a patriot and a true club captain, Dinijar turned down the move,” said Naukov.

Fast forward 18 months, and with Lokomotiv desperately scrapping with Zenit and Moscow rivals Dynamo for a spot in the Europa League, this “true club captain” opts to follow his dream to England, changing trains with just 11 games left in the Russian Premier League season.

Not surprisingly, the Green-and-Red fans are not happy. Traditionally one of the richest sides in Russia, Lokomotiv are not usually a selling club.

More worryingly, despite the recent arrival of Brazilian Wagner from Cruzeiro, there’s no immediate replacement available, and a Nigerian loan signing isn’t appeasing the masses.

Some crumbs of comfort may come from the emergence of 18-year-old Alan Gatagov, but with the sharp end of the season fast approaching his young shoulders now bear a heavier burden.

After luring the then highly-rated Rashid Rakhimov from provincial upstarts Amkar Perm and seeing him fail to adapt to the big time, Lokomotiv returned to their messiah Yuri Semin early this season.

Semin, who has coached both Lokomotiv and Dynamo Kyiv to championships, holds a reputation similar to Newcastle United favourite Kevin Keegan’s on Tyneside – and his second coming looks similarly fragile at the moment.

With money tight in Russian football – 11 lower league clubs have folded in the economic crisis, including first division FK MVD – and aspirations raised by international and European success, Semin now faces a difficult task balancing the high hopes of his flock with the harsh realities of post-crisis Russia.

And for Bilyash – whose place in Guus Hiddink’s pecking order has fallen since Euro 2008 – it seems that it’s the right time to move on and seek out a new challenge.

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