Mongolia and Russia share a border that is 3495km long. With such an extensive border and Russia's vibrant football culture, one would expect to find many Russian's playing in the Mongolian leagues. However, they remain a scarce commodity for some reason. Mongolian Football Central recently sat down with one Russian that did make the leap to Mongolia, Alim Zumakulov, to get his perspective on the topic.
Alim was born on 5 February 1992 in Nalchik in southern Russia. He worked his way through the academy of Spartak Nalchik until he began playing for the Nalchik University team from 2009 to 2012. Following his time at university, he played one season for Lokomotiv Kropotkin before signing for another team in Nalchik, KENZHE. He then returned to Lokomotiv Kropotkin for 2015 and 2016.
It was around this time that the defender began thinking again of possibilities outside of Russia and craved a new experience.
Previously in 2014, Zumakulov made contact with an agent who he instructed to find him a team in Tajikstan or Mongolia. Perhaps Mongolia was on his mind because of a Mongolian friend that he met during his time at university. However, after the the player discovered that the agent was not legitimate, the idea fell through.
Two years later in 2016, Zumakulov stumbled across another article about the Mongolian Premier League online and decided to find a team on his own. He reached out to Selenge Press FC and made contact with a team official that spoke Russian. After talking with the staff, sending highlight videos, and coming to trial, he was signed by the team for the 2017 season.
Zumakulov appeared in 8 of Selenge Press's first 9 matches of the season. Because of the team's poor performance, morale was low and many players left the team. Zumakulov was one of those players and he returned to Lokomotiv Kropotkin at the mid-season break after he experienced issues with his visa and his old team made him a good offer.
So how did the player enjoy his time living and playing in Mongolia? Overall, his experience was extremely positive.
He notes that Mongolia football is growing every year with the players, staffs, and infrastructure continuously improving. He did, however, note that Mongolia is of course not yet near the standard of football in Russia. Player salaries are much higher in Russia but the draw of playing football abroad is a huge draw for many players.
On living in Mongolia, Zumakulov fondly remembers the beautiful scenery, delicious food, wonderful people, and excitement of Ulaanbaatar.
Would Zumakulov like to return to Mongolia? His answer was a resounding, "Absolutely". While he has already received multiple offers from teams in Mongolia, he is waiting to return to Selenge Press FC ideally. The club has his loyalty for giving him a chance before anyone else would.
So, as Zumakulov said, they may be a lot of Russian tourists in Mongolia but not many Russian footballers. However, that may all change when Mongolia's neighbors start to see the enormous opportunity for football in the country.