Meet Matvey Safonov: Who is Krasnodar’s young goalkeeper general?

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Krasnodar’s seemingly endless conveyor belt of talent has produced some supremely gifted players since its inception just over a decade ago - over 20 former products currently play at a professional level for other clubs, while nine members of the current first-team squad came through the academy. None have been more consistent as goalkeeper Matvey Safonov, who has made a mockery of his mere 21 years of age with the confidence and assuredness of a seasoned veteran.

The story so far

Matvey Safonov is about the perfect example of the vision espoused by FC Krasnodar when they were founded back in 2008. The 21-year-old goalkeeper has been with the club for a number of years, steadily progressing through the age groups in domestic and continental competitions, and even at his age is already a seasoned regular in the first team. On matchday 11 of this Russian Premier Liga season, he was named captain for the first time despite counting three teammates aged 30 or over in the starting lineup against Rubin Kazan.

He was born in 1999 and was swept up into the club’s extensive youth development program early on, although initially he wasn’t remotely interested in the sport. At school he was far more passionate about swimming; in fact, it was during a visit to his school’s swimming lesson by Krasnodar academy coaches that his potential ability was spotted. They were impressed by his height - he now stands at 1.92m tall at the age of 21, but has always been tall for his age - and speed in the water, and his extraordinary agility and dexterity caught their eye. 

Although he hadn’t dedicated his whole childhood and adolescence to the sport, he transferred skills he’d naturally found to adapt to the new demands. His inquisitive mind always looked for solutions; it was said that he was very adept at solving puzzles like a Rubix cube, while on the training pitch he would always stay in conversation with the coaches. He even insisted on practising outfield to improve his technical ability with the ball at his feet. With these physical and mental attributes, he fit perfectly into the detailed program.

Krasnodar employ former champion acrobats to train the younger age levels to use more flexibility and strengthen core muscles, using trampolining exercises to encourage a more complete physical development. Safonov made a deep impression with the coaches in this regard, setting the academy record for one particular exercise that involves performing a 180-degree jump from a sitting position. Aleksandra Gorbacheva, who designed many such training exercises, explains that after the tenth jump lactic acid starts to build up for most people - Safonov completed 83.

He first represented the club at under-15 level - but not before being called up to the Russian youth team, making his debut at the same age group in 2014. Safonov progressed through the international age groups slightly ahead of schedule, making his under-21 bow four years later at 19, but he had to remain patient when it came to senior minutes for his club. He was first named on the bench for Krasnodar’s full side back in 2016 before making his first Russian Premier Liga start the following spring. Although he was a regular in the first-team matchday squads, his second RPL appearance only came 18 months later.

In between he had a real taste for the grandest stages as part of the under-19 team that were drawn against Real Madrid in the UEFA Youth League knockout stages. The 32,510 crowd that piled into Krasnodar Stadium to watch a penalty shootout defeat for the locals broke not only the venue attendance record, but smashed the tournament attendance record too. Safonov was one of seven players in Krasnodar’s starting lineup who went on to make their senior debuts for the club - by contrast, Real Madrid’s side amassed just one first-team appearance between them.

Later that year he made his continental debut in the Europa League group stages as well as starting three of the four knockout games too. After making two league appearances in November, he then only missed one fixture after the winter break, and hasn’t looked back since. He has been featured in the first team ever since, and was recently named captain for the matchday 11 win over Rubin Kazan. After the withdrawal of Guilherme from the senior Russia squad for the recent UEFA Nations League fixtures at home to Hungary and Turkey, it was Safonov who Stanislav Cherchesov called up to replace him, although he is yet to pull on his full international gloves for the first time.

Similar playing style

David De Gea. Both started life in senior football with tall, wispy frames that began to fill out, but the speed of reactions they possess is frightening. In recent years De Gea has suffered with consistency issues, but there has never been any doubting his shot-stopping, even with a slightly unorthodox stance for keeping out low shots. Safonov has abnormal flexibility from his swimming and acrobatic training days that the Spain number ones has in spades too.

Did you know...

His father Evgeny was a basketball coach for Lokomotiv-Kuban’s youth team. Matvey enjoyed playing basketball as a child, but Evgeny told his son he was too short to make it in the sport. 

What they say about Matvey Safonov

“The coolest qualities of Matvey that you don't see? He never shakes, he is very confident. Another cool quality is his fantastic reactions.” - Murad Musaev, head coach at FC Krasnodar

“Now [FC Krasnodar] are in the Champions League, he is proving himself there and came to us naturally. We must let the fruit grow and, most importantly, we must pluck it in time.” - Russian national team head coach Stanislav Cherchesov on Safonov’s opportunities

“While in flight, the movement of his body is as if it still directs itself to the ball and hangs in the air. But his very timely push-off is probably more to do with his ability to read the trajectory of the ball.” - Alexandra Gorbacheva, Safonov’s former physical training coach in the FC Krasnodar academy.

Photo: Andrey Shramko/FC Krasnodar


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