"Miranchuk reminded me of Messi. I swear!” How Aleksey turned from youth to leader of Lokomotiv

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Aleksey Miranchuk's path from 17-year-old debutant to RPL champion and team top scorer.

Miranchuk twins come to Lokomotiv after being forced to leave Spartak

Lokomotiv appeared in the lives of Aleksey and Anton Miranchuk, according to their player profiles on the club's official website, in 2012. The brothers started playing football in their native Slavyansk-on-Kuban. In 2007, Spartak became interested in them. The twins went on trial with the Red-Whites, and the club also hired their mother. Later, the brothers were kicked out.

"At first everything was fine, we played in many tournaments, went to different countries," Aleksey recalled during his time at Spartak in an interview with Sovetsky Sport in May 2013. “But my mother was asked from time to time when we would get stronger and grow up, because the club needs powerful players. And we were small at the time. 

“I don't know why physical strength was required. You look at Barcelona, where all the players are of average height, and how well they play! We were kicked out, but no one personally informed us about this decision!”

The family was in no hurry to leave Moscow, and the brothers were invited to Lokomotiv’s youth academy, which was then headed by the coach who had attracted the twins to Spartak - Boris Streltsov. Their mother started working at the club’s boarding school. The twins achieved their first success in their new position with Sergey Polstyanov when they became Russian Champions among teams born in 1995 and won the RFU Cup, where Aleksey was also recognised as the best player. A month later, he made his debut for the Lokomotiv youth team under the same Polstyanov, and in the winter, the main team became interested in him.

Bilic brings Aleksey to the training ground and hands him RPL debut

In early February 2013, Lokomotiv head coach Slaven Bilic called upon 17-year-old Aleksey with four youth players from the national team. In April, the young midfielder made his debut in senior football, in his native land of Krasnodar Krai no less. Moreover, Miranchuk was getting ready to play in the starting 11 for three days.

"Of course, I hoped that this was not just a flash in the pan. Bilic said that if you are afraid of something, say it, don't be shy, we will pick someone else. But I assured him that there was no fear at all, and that I have confidence in myself, " the player said after the match.

On 20 April, Aleksey was named in the starting line-up against Kuban and played 86 minutes. The match ended in a goalless draw, but Bilic was happy with the newcomer. "Miranchuk played very well today. We noticed it in training over the winter. He went through the winter training camp with us, but then he had to leave because he had to attend school. Miranchuk is a cold-blooded, brave guy who knows how to play a good pass. He also takes the ball well in the middle of the field.

“His young age was the only factor I had any doubts about. But we managed to calm the guy down before the game, and he showed his strong qualities. Miranchuk is undoubtedly the future of Lokomotiv, " the Croatian coach told reporters about the player after the match in Krasnodar.

On 5 May, Aleksey had already scored his first senior goal. Lokomotiv were losing to Amkar, and Miranchuk equalised in first-half added time. Later, he assisted Renat Yanbaev, and the Railwaymen won 4-2 in Perm. At 17 years, six months and 18 days, Aleksey became one of the youngest scorers in RPL history: only Jano Ananidze, Aleksandr Salugin and Aleksandr Kokorin had been younger when they scored. In June 2020, he was also overtaken by Roman Romanov from FC Rostov.

Miranchuk wins first trophy and scores in the final

In the summer of 2013, Leonid Kuchuk became the head coach of Lokomotiv. In the autumn of 2014, he was replaced by Miodrag Bozovic. Under Kuchuk, the Railwaymen finished third in the championship, but were eliminated from the Europa League, while Bozovic guided them to a mid-table finish, but also to th Russian Cup final. Igor Cherevchenko took the team to the match in Astrakhan and took 18-year-old Aleksey with him.

Against Kuban, then coached by well-known Kuchuk, Miranchuk came on in the 71st minute. A couple of minutes later Lokomotiv equalised, and the game went into extra time. The Muscovites pressed Kuban: at the end of the first extra-time period Mbark Boussoufa scored, and in the 111th minute Aleksey himself sealed the 3-1 result.

"Miranchuk’s performance reminded me of Messi," gushed Boussoufa after the final. "I swear! Lyosha has a fantastic left leg. And he uses it as well as Lionel. Actually, I told Miranchuk about It. Lesha scored a really fantastic goal, and all because he is a fantastic player."

This Russian Cup was the club’s first trophy since 2007, and the first in Aleksey's adult career. "I don't know how to describe my emotions," Miranchuk said modestly on Rossiya 2 TV channel. "Yes, this victory is the biggest at the moment, but not the most important; the most important is yet to come. We still need to win the championship."

Aleksey renews contract and becomes a champion with his brother

A few months before winning the Cup, Miranchuk was asked in an interview with Sovetsky Sport if he saw himself as a key player for the Russian national team at the home World Cup in 2018. "Maybe, because in 2018 I should reach the peak of my career, like James Rodriguez at the 2014 World Cup. But there is still a lot of time before the tournament, we need to constantly work at the highest level. Then we'll see."

For both Miranchuk brothers, 2018 was a success. They picked up RPL winners’ medals, and took part in the World Cup, even though Aleksey only came on against Uruguay in the last round of the group stage. However, the path to success was difficult. Aleksey became Lokomotiv’s main player under Cherevchenko, with his position strengthened after the arrival of Yury Semin, but struggled to score. In the 2015/16 season he managed just two goals in the RPL, and in the next only three, but he scored again in the 2017 Russian Cup final in which Lokomotiv beat Ural Ekaterinburg.

In 2016, Aleksey was also worried about the absence of his brother. Anton went to Estonia on loan at Levadia Tallinn for a year. His contract situation also hindered matters: the agreement with Lokomotiv expired in November 2017, and other RPL clubs were interested in the player. As a result, before the Confederations Cup - his first major tournament with the senior national team - Miranchuk extended his contract by four years.

"It was a difficult period," Elena Miranchuk, the players' mother, told Championat before the 2018 World Cup. “But first of all, he didn't think it was necessary to leave. Secondly, we talked a lot with both his agent and Yury Semin. Yury Palych was able to convey that there would be different options in the future, but at that particular moment it was necessary to stay and benefit Lokomotiv. And the guys believed him, made a decision, and calmed down. It also helped that Anton started appearing on the pitch more often, and the guys started playing together. It helped them liberate themselves."

"If he is progressing here, why fix what isn’t broken? When things are going so well, they can only get worse," Semin explained to the TASS news agency before resigning. “We talk about football all the time – how to train, how to prepare yourself psychologically. You always have to start from football, then you will get results."

The following season, the twins became the backbone of the championship team. Aleksey played in all 30 matches and became the team’s second top scorer along with Manuel Fernandes (seven goals), while Anton appeared in 29 matches and scored four times. Lokomotiv won the championship ahead of schedule on the penultimate matchday to claim their first league title since 2004.

"This player is gifted with everything that is in football," Jefferson Farfan, who played in Europe during the championship season, said of Aleksey. "He has a gift from above. He is a very technical player who can go very far. I feel like a fish in water when he's around, when he's helping me. We understand each other very well. The boy has a great future, he is still very young."

Miranchuk scores twice against Juventus and shines in the RPL

The season after the 2018 World Cup, Aleksey played without a break, but with a drop in performance. He didn’t manage a single goal in six Champions League games, and scored just  three in 30 RPL matches. In the summer of 2019, Miranchuk repeated this tally over eight games, but missed the start of the Champions League due to injury.

In October he returned with a goal against Arsenal Tula, and announced himself in the Champions League by scoring against Juventus home and away, and impressing the Italians’ manager Maurizio Sarri. "I liked number 59. Miranchuk, right? His left foot is excellent," the former Chelsea manager said after the game in Turin.

In the spring, Lokomotiv updated the coaching staff. Semin left the club after the end of his contract, and was replaced by Marko Nikolic. Under him, Aleksey turned last season into his best in terms of performance, scoring seven goals in eight games after the RPL restart and bringing his season total to 12. He also helped the team make it directly to the Champions League group stage for the third year in a row.

Miranchuk's top performance continued into this new season. He scored the winning goals on the opening two matchdays, but was injured in the derby against Spartak. Now this game remains his last for Lokomotiv. After the match against Zenit, Miranchuk said goodbye to his fans, and the club announced an agreement for his move to Italian outfit Atalanta.

Previously, Aleksey had dreamed of moving to LaLiga. He likes Barcelona, and especially the performances of Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi. Before the Champions League match against Bayer Leverkusen, he even went with Semin to Dortmund, where Borussia hosted the Catalans. "I like the Spanish championship," Miranchuk told weekly magazine ‘Football’ after winning best young player award in 2015. “I have a dream to play abroad, and I would like to see this happen in my career."

Photo: Alexander Pogrebnyak/Lokomotiv

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