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De-Mystifying Arsenal Transfer Target: Who is Taras Burlak?

A look at Arsenal transfer target, Russian centre back Taras Burlak, who plays for Lokomotiv and has been linked with a move to the Emirates.

Russian football has many talented young players, as has already been documented in previous articles, but there’s one I so far had forgotten about. 21 year old Lokomotiv centre back Taras Burlak, who has broken through into the Lokomotiv first team, and even made a shock debut for the Russian national team in a friendly against Cameroon. But who is he, and why has he been making headlines in 2011?

Born in the far eastern port city of Vladivostok, Burlak was a striker until the age of 13, until in a youth tournament he was persuaded to play as a central defender. And this was to become an inspired and career making choice. Burlak quickly caught the eye of scouts who at this youth tournament, and soon after was invited to join the Lokomotiv boarding school academy in his home town of Vladivostok. After eventually persuading his parents to let him go, things started to move quickly as it soon became apparent that Burlak was heading for the big time.

In 2007, Burlak was invited to the join the Lokomotiv youth team (or reserve team as it’s known in Europe), and signed his first professional contract at the age of 17. 22 appearances prevailed in his first season for the youth team, and to cap his rapid progression rate off, he was soon even training with the Lokomotiv first team.

Burlak was handed his first team debut in a Russian Cup match against Vityaz in 2008, and this was yet another major step forward to the youngster, who in such a short space of time had rapidly gone through the ranks all the way to the first team. However, Burlak was unable to gain any sort of foothold in the first team, and in 2009 he was sent out on loan to Russian First Division side Volga Nizhniy Novgorod for some match practice, although that didn’t exactly work out either. Burlak was seen on the pitch in Volga colours just the once, and after six months in Nizhniy Novgorod he returned to Moscow, and almost surprisingly, this is where things really started to get back on track.

After returning to Moscow in 2010, Burlak was widely expected to just be sent out on loan to another Russian First Division club, as this is what so often happens with young Russian players who can’t get any sort of foothold in the main team. But Burlak was once again seen to be unlike the rest, deciding to carry on plying his trade with Lokomotiv while trying to gain the respect of then Lokomotiv head coach Yury Semin. And his hard work was not to be in vain. It didn’t take long for Semin to notice Burlak, and the young Russian had Semin’s respect. Soon enough Burlak was regularly starting matches for the Russian national team, and the solid, tall and physically strong centre back was soon to reach even greater heights in 2011.

Taras Burlak was impressing in the Russian league for Lokomotiv, but surely even Burlak himself could not have imagined that he would be making his Russian national team debut in 2011. But sure enough, for the friendly match against Cameroon on June 7th, the young centre back was included in the squad to face the Africans, much to the shock of most Russian football fans. But even if being in the squad wasn’t good enough, he was given his first cap, coming on to play the whole of the second half, and demonstrating a solid and strong game, helping to prevent the Cameroonians from scoring, and in the process announcing himself on the international stage as well as the Russian stage.

At the young age of 21, Burlak needs to carry on developing, and keep trying to keep his place in the Lokomotiv team, with him facing stiff competition from Jan Durica and Manuel Da Costa at the moment. But one thing is pretty sure, and it is that Burlak is the face of the next generation of Russian central defenders.

At the moment the Russian national team only has the CSKA players Sergey Ignashevich and the Berezutsky twins as options for the central defensive positions, and Burlak offers something refreshing and many Russian fans welcome this. It’s because the central defensive position is the weakest position on the pitch for Russian football with many of the top Russian teams, and many Russian Premier League teams in general, having foreigners as their center backs. But Taras Burlak is already sought after, with English giants Arsenal rumoured to be after him, the rising star of Taras Burlak is only set to rise even further.

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