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Just what has happened to the good old days of Russian football? You know, when CSKA Moscow and Zenit Saint Petersburg took the UEFA Cup, when Andrey Arshavin wowed Europe, when the national team stormed to the UEFA EURO 2008 semi-finals. Those days seem far back in time now as the Russian Premier League struggles to make its expected progress, however if you look deep into the league there is cause to believe that the potential could be realised. One of those reasons is 26 year old imposing forward Artyom Dzyuba, who is very soon going to make a move to Saint Petersburg.
Indeed it is a transfer that created many a headline in Russia. Although he’s already 26, Dzyuba has long been touted as the next big thing to come out of Russian football, and this impending change of scenery to Zenit could be just what he needs. After making his breakthrough with Spartak Moscow well back in 2006 he has had rather a rocky road making his presence felt, and after a bust up with then Spartak head coach Valery Karpin he was sent out on loan to perennial struggles Rostov.
That’s where he really began to make people sit up and take notice, and in Russian league and cup games combined he hit the net on 18 occasions while also winning the cup. Following that success, and with Karpin out of the picture, Artyom returned to his hometown club in mid-2014 and immediately impressed. In 14 games he notched seven goals, and he made an impression with the national team scoring a couple of markers (admittedly against Lichtenstein and Moldova).
And then it all went sour again. Rather sharply he fell out of favour with much maligned Spartak manager Murat Yakin, and for the second time Dzyuba was booking his ticket to Rostov for another loan spell. That’s where it started to get interesting though, and newly crowned Russian champions Zenit made a surprising move to take in the forward on a free transfer when his contract runs out in summer this year (meaning he continues to play for Rostov until this current season ends).
Any transfer between huge rivals Spartak and Zenit never goes unnoticed, and even Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko personally pleaded for Artyom to give Spartak another go. Dzyuba wasn’t having any of it however, and admitting he’s taking a huge risk he penned a deal with the Saint Petersburg outfit. Have Zenit been too hasty though? Is he really worth the fuss?
To be honest, I really don’t know. On one hand Dzyuba has shown glimpses of huge potential, but on the other he doesn’t score enough goals and isn’t the type of player Zenit really need. Dzyuba is a tall, powerful header of the ball, but Zenit already have strong Venezuelan Jose Salomon Rondon who arguably possesses a lot more class. It’s hard to see the two playing together especially given how Zenit play, and head coach Andre Villas Boas may have a few headaches coming his way.
Another factor is that Artyom has little experience of playing in big pressure games. Performing for Rostov at a decent level is one thing, but producing the goods for a top club in the UEFA Champions League is another ball game altogether.
Maybe the most interesting issue of all however is the fans. Supporters of Spartak and Zenit absolutely loath each other, and any player who makes a move between the two clubs is hounded upon by everyone involved. Former Zenit winger Vladimir Bystrov will be the first to tell you that, as when returning to Zenit from a spell in Moscow the Saint Petersburg faithful bullied him relentlessly for years. There is huge doubt over if Dzyuba will be accepted at all by Zenit’s hardcore supporters, and he can expect a tough time of it.
Going back to matters on the pitch, Dzyuba’s career has the potential to finally kick off. Being almost 27 he’s moving into the peak of his career, and if he’s going to take that step on to the next level it has to be now. However as already mentioned his main strength is in the air, and at times his lack of raw technical ability has held him back.
Zenit, a team that generally love to keep the ball on the ground and let leaders Hulk and Danny work their magic, may struggle to adapt to Dzyuba’ s rigid style of the game. Are there good chances of Dzyuba making it work in Saint Petersburg? Probably not. There’s a higher probability of Artyom being left on the bench for the majority of the time, but he does have an opportunity to prove me and his critics wrong.
It’s the chance of his life to make something special of himself, and with the right attitude he could make it happen.
Written by Shaun Nicolaides
Follow Shaun on Twitter @zenitfan93
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