Why are they going at Andrei Arshavin? He has done nothing wrong. Well, even if he has, not that much wrong. The most famous Russian player rolls around the pitch like a Pillsbury Doughboy playing for Arsenal, but what’s the use? With no goals, no passes, no dribbling, no tackles, he might as well not be playing at all. He’s no trouble to the opposing team, and his own teammates don’t notice him. But spectators, analysts and reporters do notice. The crowds boo every movement of the Russian national team’s captain, analysts advise selling him as quickly as possible and reporters dismiss him.
All sorts of things have happened to Soviet and Russian professional players, but none have been on the receiving end of so much baiting. Only Arsenal’s head coach Arsene Wenger isn’t yet shouting “off with his head,” though his patience seems to be running out. Joining the pack would mean admitting his own mistake, something Wenger, with his reputation for talent spotting, is loath to do.
Not that it makes things any easier for Arshavin. He understands everything, but he does not see a way out. No one has been so unwelcome in the English Premier League, not even Andrei Shevchenko imposed on Chelsea by its owner, Roman Abramovich, nor Fernando Torres, whom Chelsea bought for a staggering sum. But Andrei Arshavin is getting more hate than the money spent on him – not such a frightful amount -- would seem to warrant. Everything has been forgotten: the four goals hammered into Liverpool’s net, the initial admiration––only undisguised hatred remains. Everyone in Britain ridicules him and can’t wait for the bad boy to ask to be let go. How the short-tempered Andrei has the tenacity to withstand such a barrage is a mystery.
But we see the result: the leader of the Russian team is playing worse and worse. If things go on like this even Dick Advocaat, whose trust in his one-time charge at Zenit never wavered, may send Arshavin to the bench.
Where can Arshavin go? Who will buy him for 15 million euros (Arsenal will not ask for less)? No one, I am afraid. Zenit’s head coach Luciano Spalletti broadly hinted that his team is not particularly eager to welcome back its one-time prodigy.
Returning to Russia seems to be the most likely option, but Andrei and those who still believe in him have to act quickly. Diniyar Bilyaletdinov had prepared everything carefully although, of course, the Everton halfback who spent the whole time on the bench never caused such a stir. He was never admitted to the fold and parted in peace. Now Moscow’s Spartak will try to fit him into its configuration (if it has one).
A bit earlier, the same path was followed by Yuri Zhirkov, a hardy, versatile, skillful and cerebral player, and the most consistent Russian football player of recent years. It seemed that he could have fit in at any top club in the world, but his love affair with Chelsea wilted. He is lucky to be getting enough practice playing for Anzhi, which is full of stars but has not yet attained the status of a top Russian club.
Another hero of Euro-2008, Roman Pavlyuchenko, is soldiering on for the Tottenham Hotspurs, but only Harry Redknapp knows how much longer he will hang on. The club has extended the contract with the “sleeping giant,” but it may have done so only to be able to sell him at least for the same sum for which it bought him from Spartak.
What team will Russia field at the Euro-2012, co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine, if the only viable forward today is Alexander Kerzhakov? Pavel Pogrebnyak with Stuttgart is faring just like all our “Englishmen.” The club cannot wait to sell their forward, who clearly does not make the grade, before his contract expires.
Sad though it is, one has to admit that the most talented Russian players of the 2000s (Alexander Kerzhakov also returned to Zenit after a spell with Sevilla) have failed to withstand the competition. Of course, each one had his own reasons, but one thing they all have in common is that none of them is used to having rivals breathing down their necks, they all expected to be treated like prima donnas, and when confronted with a more demanding environment, they lost. During the last three years, Vagner Love was sitting on his suitcases and his game was such that one wanted to speed him on his way to his native Brazil. But he did not get anywhere near as much flack as Arshavin. Perhaps that’s because the Russian crowds are friendlier and less demanding than the Brits. But perhaps the lackluster Vagner at CSKA was a cut above the lackluster Arshavin at Arsenal.
That is why Vagner got a hero’s send-off from Russia. Certainly, Andrei Arshavin will not get such a send-off when he leaves Britain. That’s a shame.
Andrei KANCHELSKIS, former player for Manchester United, Everton and the Glasgow Rangers
If Zhirkov is joining Anzhi, nothing in this world can surprise me. I don’t know whom to congratulate on Bilyaletdinov’s transfer, but I am sure that he himself will not gain from it. After all, the English Premier League is the English Premier League, and its standard is much higher than that of the Russian championship.
It’s hard for me to say why the guys who have gone to England have failed to shine. The nature of the work there is quite different––it’s a different kind of football and you have to give your best in every match. Perhaps one of the reasons is that our players cannot keep up the same standard all the time, and come out and fight to the last in every match. Perhaps the players themselves are the reason: they felt that they had made it to the top league and that they had arrived.
There were times in the English championship when they bought French players. Our boys made a good showing at the European Cup and many switched to Russian players. Yes, that was a good period, but now players from other countries are in vogue. A new European championship beckons, and everything is in the players’ hands. If they are all such fine speakers and writers, go ahead, prove it––I would only be glad.
Interviewed by Darya KOBYLKINA