Bauyrzhan Islamkhan
FC Kairat
Kazakh football is pretty young. Professional football league was founded in 1992 after USSR and its connected institutions' entire breakdown. And if we begin to recall other CIS countries and name their iconic players (Russia – Arshavin, Ukraine – Shevchenko, Armenia – Mkhitaryan, Latvia – Pahars, etc.), it will be difficult with Kazakhstan. But time passes, and the level of football in the country rises. Among those young and perspective players we can point out Yan Vorogovskiy (Kairat, 96'), Baktiyor Zaynutdinov (Taraz, 98') and Didar Zhalmukan (Astana, 96'). They might be future stars who will make you speak much better about Kazakh football without cynicism or sarcasm.

But Bauyrzhan Islamkhan, FC Kairat and national team's captain, became first honored and recognizable football player from Kazakhstan. First, let's take a look onto the rules of Kazakhstan Football Federation, so we can understand how rare young footballers are there.

There has been a limit of foreign players in Kazakhstan Premier League. You can register up to eight non-Kazakhstan players for a season and up to 6 for a specific match.

And in the First League (Tier-2 league) you have to register three non-Kazakh players for a season and for a match as well.

And in 2006 they added one more regulation, so you have to put two U-21 players in first-11, one of them must have Kazakh ID (this rule was canceled in 2016). This regulation became a stumbling-stone for GMs and head coaches. There were few young and experienced enough players and they became very valuable, and they began to earn much more. Before that particular rule a young football player earned 1000$ per month and after that rule inclusion, initial contract had 7000-10000$ salary demands, and few clubs could afford it. No coach in Kazakhstan before had a task to raise a generation of decent players, everyone had certain goals and coaches began to look for a place to put those young players on the pitch, so "…they didn't damage tactics and interrupt football". No coach trusted a goalkeeper role to a young player, and no coach wanted to trust those "regulation" players central axis (central defender – central midfielder – central forward), so they were to play on the flanks (left/right backs, wingers).

Limit's age was changing only every 2 years, young players were becoming slowly out of age, and the demands on them were falling. Their salaries were falling too. Some of them were still in their teams, but the coaches gave their roles and positions to new young footballers. These regulations proved to be bad and for players and for coaches, and even now Kazakh football are reaping problems made by those rules.

Kazakh Federation leaders and bosses kept on saying that this rule will help improving the level of national team, because constant minutes on the pitch were what players needed. But 10 years later, no bright progress has been achieved.

A lot of players were lost due to these limits. First U-21 limit was introduced in 2006 for 2 years straight (2006-2007). So "young players" were those born in 1985. And a new limit was introduced in 2008, and the "young year" was moved to 1987. There was a lot of questions about players born in 1986. And they were lost in this awful system. When 1985's age were playing, 86'es were too inexperienced, and two years later they became too old to be on the pitch.

In 2016 some amendments and corrections were made to the rules of Federation, and now it says that you have to register 2 U-21 players for a match, but you are not obliged to put them in the first-11.

Limit defenders say that, thanks to these regulations Tanat Nuserbayev, Ulan Konysbayev, Yuri Logvinenko, Islambek Kuat and Bauyrzhan Islamkhan had a chane to shine. But some say that they are talented enough to play disregarding those rules.

According to many specialists in Kazakhstan, Bauyrzhan Islamkhan is "the only Kazakh player worth paying money for". Is he really that good enough?
Birth date
Current club
Kit's number
Price according Transfermarkt
FC Kairat
Central midfielder, Attacking midfielder
174 cm
64 kilos
1,8 Mln. €
This season Islamkhan took part in 23 matches, was able to get 10 assists and score 7 goals. A great piece of statistics, if we don't take into account that he plays for the strongest club in Kazakhstan, on a par with FC Astana. But how important is Islamkhan for his team? What are his chances to play in other championships and leagues? Why is he always criticized by local football experts and fans? What should he improve to become even more productive on the pitch? What is his skill ceiling? Does he have some sort of "added value"? Should we take Kazakhstan football seriously?

Let's begin with the latter question, and confirm a statement that Kazakhstan Premier League is worth watching. Kazakhstan joined UEFA in 2002, leaving AFC. Since then Kazakh clubs and national teams are forced to play with stronger opponents rather than in AFC, but those local clubs have achieved progress. FC Astana entered Champions' League group stage in 2015/16, got 4 points against such teams as Atletico Madrid, Galatasaray and Benfica. That year FC Kairat lost in Europe League qualification playoffs to Bordeaux. Last season Astana once again played in group stage of Europe League, and this year will compete against Celtic in order to get to the Champions' league group stage once again. You should consider these achievements before naming Kazakh football "a weak one". Also, there are plenty of high caliber football players there: as Andrei Arshavin, Ivo Ilichevic, Srdjan Grahovac, Gerard Gohou. And Bauyrzhan Islamkhan is one of the most expensive players in Kazakstan league, despite all those foreign talents.

Let's get back to Islamkhan playing attributes. As we talked earlier, coaches in Kazakhstan were not interested in raising their own football players, didn't trust them "central axis", but Bauyrzhan plays as central forward, central midfielder, defending midfielder and left inside forward. On one hand, we can consider that coaches don't know where to place him on the pitch, but on the other hand, we understand that Islamkhan is a stronger link in FC Kairat and in the national team, removing which, will make you notably worse. Most of the actions of the team, despite having great players (Arshavin, Gohou, Isael, Zhukov, Ilichevic), are performed by Islamkan. His first decisive, distinctive feature is his skill to manage attack from open plays; he can pass the ball well, accurately and in time. In a match against FC Tobol, Bauyrzhan Islamkhan passed the ball 113 times, from which 102 were accurate. Whole team managed to acquire 639 passes, os Islamkhan's usage percentage was 17, 5 %. It's critically big number. On average, he has 71,6 passes this season with 84% accuracy. Comparing to Russian Football Premier League only a new FC Zenit signing, Leandro Paredes, has 74 passes per game with 89% accuracy. Certainly, we understand that these figures will begin to fall in a championship stronger, classier, but the skill of Islamkhan is undisputed. Also, we should note his skill to give a key pass (a pass that ends with a shot on goal). He gives 3 key passes per game. And Islamkhan does it all the time in his own manner: he receives the ball, moves forward, passes the ball, opens himself immediately to continue an open play and transfers the ball on a striker in one touch, lobbing defenders. On 31 March against FC Kaisar his assist was demonstrative. His was first on the rebound, accelerating and getting the ball before an aerial duel happened, transferred the ball in one touch to Gohou, who scored one –on – one situation.

Sometimes, FC Kairat's captain over holds the ball, plays with it alone. And he watches the ball much more than he needs, instead of looking at the pitch. It's, without doubt, a mistake, but this mistake is compelled one, because Islamkhan is a man to carry the ball forward on his own. His dribbling skills are the second distinctive feature. On average, he tries to dribble the ball past his opponent 6,5 times per game, and 70% of them are successful. So we have 4,5 successful dribbles per game. Againg, comparing to RFPL, there are only Wanderson (FC Krasnodar) shows 3,5 dribbles, 2,7 and 2,3 Golovin and Vitinho respectively (both – CSKA Moscow). On closer look, there is nothing extraordinary in his dribbling moves, he likes to knock the ball past his opponent, he is skilled enough to stop on time, and he creates space by these movements, which is an advantage. His most preferred move is a counter-move.

His easy and effective dribble is due to the fact that he picked football as main sports later. First sports he chose was taekwondo. As Islamkhan says, he began playing football accidently, after an injury during a practice fight. That's an example of sports diversification during sports talents' development instead of early specialization, which is the core of development in Russia, Kazakhstan and Russia entirely, without exception. His ease of movement and ability to control his own body differ him from the most of Kazakhstan Premier league players.

But his main feature is his magnificent skill to shoot the ball. During his last 17 matches he shot the ball 50 times. 13 shots were on goal. Among those 13 shots seven became goals. His accuracy rating is about 26%, a decent figure for central midfielder whose main weapon is a long shot. Islamkhan is no striker, despite the fact that the coach sometimes puts him on this position. Bauyrzhan is no egoist, and when he sees a player in a better position to shoot than he is, he will transfer him a ball by all means. But when opposing defenders doesn't shield or cover him, when they allow him to have space and vision on goals, he will shoot. And it ends with goals. Although, he is right-legged player, he can shoot with left one as well.

Islamkhan is a penalty-taker and a free kick-taker also. He crosses the corners. And he is a captain. 3 out of 8 assists were corner assists. His shooting skills make him one of the most dangerous players in Kazakhstan. According to our calculation, in order to create a goal by scoring or assisting he needs 111 minutes. There are only 2 players better than him according to this index: Isael (108 minutes to create a goal), his teammate, and Junior Kabananga (99 minutes), who plays for FC Astana.

By no means, Islamkhan has his own weaknesses. Despite the fact that coaches in national team place him often as a defensive midfielder, he can't tackle the ball. His successfulness when he tackles reaches only 53% which is rather low for an elite anchorman. But he keeps on fighting for the ball even losing, he tries to find an opportunity to intercept the pass. But, still, he isn't physically strong and high enough to win power plays.

Recently, Islamkhan has been having hard time living in Kazakhstan. He became a starter player rather quickly, he got a captain's band, and he has a lot of responsibilities and wages a lot of expectations. Many experts think that he underperforms, try to point out his laziness or catch him doing wrong life decisions. For example, he was criticized a lot because of his wedding soon after the end of the season. They told that he was too busy to settle his wedding, instead of playing football. Though, he played most of the time during his last 3 games of that season, and scored an assist. Islamkhan always draws attention, his every step is discussed in public, but Islamkhan endures it stoically. On World Cup qualification's match he got a red card, leading to criticism again, including an open fans' poll questioning about taking the captain's band from Islamkhan and giving it to other player. Islamkhan himself asked supporters to continue believing in the national team, and was apologizing to them and his teammates.

But, despite being criticized, he is the most popular sportsman in Kazakhstan. His Instagram account has more than 70 thousand followers, and his club FC Kairat only 60 thousand. He is loved, he is believed in and he is demanded from a lot.

One of the Arsene Wenger's football philosophies says that you should empower weak positions on the pitch at the expense of other better players on the same pitch. Same things does Kurban Berdyev, who makes every weak team, which he is coaching, better, every player, whom he is teaching, stronger. Here, in FC Kairat, we see the opposite; we can't name Islamkhan a superstar, because other players make him look worse than he is.

Sure enough, it's difficult to make any conclusions about Islamkhan. On one hand, he is a great player, who improves team's attacking actions a lot, who is armed with a big number of different useful skills, raised in country where nobody pays attention to young players, where nobody wants or gives them a chance to shine. Arshavin, who played for Arsenal London, compares him to Mkhitaryan (Manchester United), Tskhadadze, FC Kairat head coach, tells about FC Zenit's interest in Islamkhan. On the other hand, Kazakh football is still weak, and it's hard to imagine bringing him to a better championship.

But, still, he can give a pass of any difficulty; he is responsible player, who continues on working without a ball, opens himself serving as a main attacking option. He can dribble past any player in Kazakhstan, he shoots the ball from any distance and any position with quality with any leg. He always passes to a man who is in a better scoring position than he is, he can work hard in defense and fight for the ball. He will take corner shots and free kicks. He will cross the ball on a taller striker, and will try to get low ball to others who can't brawl in aerial duels. He has rather high football IQ which can make him an elite offense player. He wasn't involved in any conflicts or scandals; he is an exemplarily husband and father. He spends his free time with his family watching football. And he's got to the potential ceiling in Kazakhstan, there is no way to progress further here. Having in mind his love with playing football and an arsenal of his skills he has to leave local league immediately. He will look better in a better league, he can be trained to do something that he does even better, and he can refine his skills. And, moreover, together with him, thousands of his personal fans will support that very special team where he will get. After all, he has become an idol, some sort of a demigod for those boys and girls who have just started learning football. His additional value is the amount of people who love, who are thirsty for a better game of football. I'm sure, most of Islamkhan's problems of self motivation are fictitious and eventually will disappear when he will transfer to a better championship.

And he is worth being put on a short-list for a further observation.
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