Zelimkhan Bakaev was born on 1 July 1996 in the town of Nazran in Ingushetia, in the south of Russia. His father was a football at local side Angusht.
Bakaev told us: “My father was obsessed with football and my relatives used to say to me that if I play half as well as my dad, then I’ll be a good player. My dad would train for hours, but he was young and had no one to mentor him and as he grew up he gave up on football.
Zelimkhan grew up in Ingushetia with a younger brother, Soltmurad, who is also a pro football and at Rubin Kazan. “Our dad was our real coach and I liked watching Cristiano Ronaldo, I think it’s because of him that I fell in love with football. We watched every Manchester United game and tried to copy him. He really was my idol, I remember watching him play against Barcelona and being so excited!” excitement.
The future Russian international midfielder moved to Moscow aged 11 and had his first trial at Lokomotiv, which was ultimately unsuccessful. However he was then picked up by Spartak Moscow and spent seven years at the Moscow club’s academy, from 2007 to 2013.
Bakaev made his debut in the youth championship in the 2013/14 season, made the leap to Spartak-2 for the 2015/16 season. Playing on the left wing Zelimkhan managed only 14 goals in his five seasons in Spartak’s second side.
Dmitry Alenichev was the first to call Bakaev up to the first team and he came on twice as a substitute in the Russian Cup under Alenichev, but his RPL debut came under Massimo Carrera at the start of the 2017/18 season. Zelimkhan then moved on loan to Arsenal Tula for the 2018/19 season. It was in Tula under Oleg Kononov that he made the switch to the right flank and it’s thanks to this change in position that Bakaev’s fortunes changed. He discovered the possibility to cut inside and use his left foot to great effect and bagged 8 goals while on loan at Arsenal.
Arsneal Tula and Bakaev finsihed in sixth place that season and took the club into UEFA competition for the first time. “I was happy for the team and for me, and I am grateful to my teammates, the coaches and club staff at Arsenal. I am glad we made history as a team and got into Europe.”
Bakaev was joined by Oleg Kononov for the 2019/20 season at Spartak and there he played on both wings and managed two goals and three assists in the first 11 games that season. However Kononov was replaced by Domenico Tedesco who switched the team to three central defenders and moved Bakaev to the centre of midfield. The new manager stated: “We wanted him to get the ball often as he knows how to play in tight spaces and we wanted to use this to our advantage. I liked Bakaev in midfield and I’m sure he will soon get used to his new role.”
Under Tedesco Zelimkhan earned six more assists, giving him nine in total that season and putting him in second place in the assist charts, with only Artem Dzyuba ahead of him on 12.
Bakaev made his international debut in the 2019/20 season and has now won 12 caps for Russia and scored one international goal.
Under both Rui Vitoria and Paolo Vanoli he was perhaps Spartak’s best player for during the side’s 2021/22 and his away goal against Legia Warsaw was perhaps the club’s season highlight as it allowed them to progress in the UEFA Europa League ahead of Napoli and Leicester City.
Bakaev ended the 2021/22 RPL season with six assists, the same as Zenit’s Malcolm and Daler Kuzyaev, and only behind Zinkovsky from Krylia Sovetov and Sebastian Szymański from Dynamo Moscow. Bakaev did not start this season’s Russian Cup final, but still claimed a medal to win the first silverware of his career.
Zelimkhan joined Zenit in the summer of 2022.