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Just when Ulaanbaatar City fans thought their club's roster was set, today the team announced the blockbuster signing of 25-year-old Russian forward Pavel Zakharov.
Zakharov (born 9 March 1994 in Chita, Russia near the Mongolia border) played for the surprise team of the season Khangarid FC in 2019. Khangarid finished third in the table in the end, scoring an impressive 62 goals over the 22-match season.
A major source of that offensive firepower was Zakharov who scored 28 of those goals himself, or over 45% of Khangarid's total. The player seemed destined to be crowned Mongolian Premier League scoring champion. However, he was thwarted by a ridiculous 10-goal performance by SP Falcons' Ivorian striker David Conan Saviola that put the player's tally at 34.
It was unknown whether Zakharov would return to Mongolia after his first season in the league. He spent time with his former club FC Chita in Russia following the 2019 season.
The player has a long history with the Russian club, coming up through its youth teams before cracking in to the first team in 2013. He made his fully-professional debut for the club in the Russian Professional Football League, the third tier of football in the country.
The signing incited controversy and strong opinions among fules. Because of the backlash, the Mongolian Premier League issued a statement that said that because Ulaanbaatar City made a contract offer to the player before his contract with Khangarid FC expired on 27 October 2019, he was eligible to play for the champions this season under the Bosman free transfer ruling.
Zhakharov joins several Mongolian national team regulars such as Monkh-Erdene Enkhtaivan, Altansukh Temuujin, Baljinnyam Batbold and Ts. Munkh-Erdene (all signed on loan) and three Serbian players ahead of Ulaanbaatar City's first-ever AFC Cup match on 5 February 2020.
Signings like Zakharov signal that Ulaanbaatar City seem determined to win the club's second-ever league championship the season following its first.