Words by Tom Danicek
Name: Sardor Rashidov
Club: FC Bunyodkor
Position: Right wing
In the run up of the 2015 Asian Cup, every time Uzbekistan and their up and coming young guns have been brought up, all discussion seemed to be focused on the Pakhtakor seedbed. I include myself in that group. After all, Jamshid Iskanderov is projected to be the main Uzbek creative force in the post Djeparov era and Igor Sergeev could easily be their next first choice striker since both Geynrikh & Shatskikh are very much gone.
Ultimately, though, it was another Tashkent club who have raised the most exciting Uzbek at the tournament. Or in other words, it’s Bunyodkor who are responsible for my occasional wondering about how on earth Sardor Rashidov does it. How does he manage to be either at the start or at the end of what looks to be every good opportunity Uzbekistan had at the Asian Cup?
Yet somehow, it really felt like it; and it still feels like it in hindsight, too. How is that possible? Well, Sardor Rashidov is simply among the most agile wingers on the continent, while he’s also mature enough to not engage in too many pointless runs at defenders, or in fact, meaningless actions in general.
Sardor Rashidov seriously isn’t one of those 23 year old speedy wingers who somewhat automatically fall into that “promising, yet raw talent“ category. More so, he isn’t one of those youngsters who are much better as impact subs rather than starters. And he delivers in big games, too; his two goals in the crucial last group game versus Saudi Arabia being a clear testament to that.
This guy isn’t a generic product of a football academy. Sardor Rashidov is different, and there are many aspects which make him a smart attacking player well worth keeping an eye on.
Firstly, his understanding of the game is quite obviously on a very high level. The Bunyodkor mainstay knows how to time his runs behind the defensive line and/or pounce on loose balls. He proved that twice in the November derby against Pakhtakor, for example, where he calmly finished off two quick rushes. And Rashidov moves intelligently even deeper down the pitch, also. In the Asian Cup quarter final, for instance, he had soon figured out the Korean left-back Kim Jin-su would be a tough nut to crack, and so he turned into a trequartista of sorts as the game wore on, to continue to be his usual influential self, albeit this time more like an inventive attacking midfielder.
Secondly, Sardor Rashidov is a purposeful dribbler without any urgent need to show off and make unnecessary stepovers. He’s predominantly a left footed shooter and he really knows how to efficiently use this not so secret weapon of his; how to get himself into some promising positions with a single move or two.
Finally, and on a related note, Sardor Rashidov is one competent sniper. Granted, he tries his luck pretty often (sometimes even with better options on table); in Australia every 37 minutes on average, to be precise. But on the other hand, his shooting technique could hardly be any better. He managed to get four out of seven of his Asian Cup attempts on target and that doesn’t make for a bad ratio at all. Especially when you consider that possibly half of those shots were long distance ones, which is by the way Rashidov’s great specialty, even in the form of bullet free kicks.
The Tashkent born star could be now easily seen as a late bloomer. He burst onto the biggest scene quite late, in 2013, but ever since then his development has gone according to plan. Last season, Sardor Rashidov was already the most prolific Bunyodkor player with 10 league goals to his name, while remaining absolutely key in their run to the third domestic cup final in a row, too (four strikes in five appearances).
Therefore, if The Swallows are to push Al-Jazira aside on February 17 in order to get into the Asian Champions League group stages, they will surely need some more help from their star man, who’s reportedly being monitored by Inter Milan at the moment.
And the same goes for Uzbekistan, of course. Sardor Rashidov now seems to be a lock on the right wing, as Sanzhar Tursunov isn’t the youngest and most consistent player. Plus the White Wolves could surely use more of his goals in the near future in World Cup qualifiers, too. Especially if Mirjalol Qosimov keeps struggling to find a clear cut starter for that lone striker position in his 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation.