Being one of the best Russian football players of all time and a hero for your hometown club for the best part of your career still isn’t good enough to earn you a warm and welcoming homecoming, as 32 year old Andrey Arshavin found out just a few weeks ago.
After a season spent not doing very much with English side Arsenal, the Saint Petersburg icon has made his homecoming to Zenit Saint Petersburg, with this already being his third stint with the three time Russian champions. If he was expecting a big welcome though, he was to be mistaken. Arshavin’s return brought about more groans than cheers, and not too many are pleased to see him back home again.
With ex captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk also returning to Saint Petersburg, Zenit’s side is starting to strongly resemble the team which won the UEFA Cup and Super Cup in 2008. But that was 5 years ago, and so many questions are being raised about just how ambitious Zenit actually are at the moment.
After finishing the 2012/2013 season without a trophy, and being torn apart by CSKA 3-0 in the Russian Super Cup just a few weeks ago, the pressure is really starting to pile upon Luciano Spalletti’s shoulders. Despite last summer’s eye catching purchases of Axel Witsel and Hulk, Zenit have struggled to get their game together on a regular basis, and acquiring the services of two players who are already in the twilight zone of their careers, even if they are both club legends, isn’t really what the doctor ordered.
While 34 year old Tymoshchuk arrives back from Bayern Munich a Champions League winner, Arshavin has spent almost a whole year sitting around waiting for a chance that never came his way with Arsenal. And after his Euro 2012 debacle, he isn’t exactly the most popular figure in Russian football right now.
While the future Russian star Alan Dzagoev caught the headlines for all the right reasons in last year’s doomed European Championships, outgoing icon Arshavin attracted attention for all the wrong ones.
Despite the distinct lack of commitment that he showed on the pitch throughout the tournament, it was all eclipsed by the comments that he made following Russia’s group stage exit. Caught on camera by journalists he outrageously stated, that if Russian fans had any expectations for the tournament, then it’s their problem to deal with that the campaign was a failed one and not one for the actual players themselves. The comments went down a storm, and Russians aren’t ones who easily forgive.
It came as no surprise that in the home friendly match against Ivory Coast a couple of months following Euro 2012, fan protests against him were loud and clear, and almost with that, his career as Russian national team captain was finished. Fabio Capello has frozen the 32 year old out of the national team fold for just about the whole of his reign as national team manager so far, and it doesn’t seem any time soon before Arshavin emerges into his plans.
Arsenal also lost faith in him and finally decided to release him, and still for British fans, Arshavin remains a bit of a mystery. His start with the Gunners was spectacular, his stunning 4 goal performance against Liverpool at Anfield really announced him onto the English scene, but since then things have got progressively worse and worse. At one point he even found himself in Arsenal’s reserve team, and just why Arshavin tried to flog a dead horse in his Arsenal career for so long, may be one of his biggest mistakes.
But at 32, he at least has 2 more years ahead of him of being able to play at the top level. And with Zenit fans, he has at least gained some respect – just for the fact he decided to return to his home town club, rather than jetting off to the UAE for example, where there are some real bucks to be made.
Just what he can give Zenit now though, is under some doubt. His best years are surely past him, and Zenit are a club which should be really looking to invest into the future rather than dipping back into the past. In my opinion however, just what Arshavin can give Zenit doesn’t depend on his age, but just solely on his desire to play and work hard for the team.
While Arshavin perfectly known himself just what talent he has at his disposal, his reluctance to track back and help out the defence and his overall lazy playing style, makes him a very frustrating player to watch from the sidelines. But if he can get his head in gear, he can start to rekindle his very best days. He possesses the ability to beat his man with such ease, an ability that very few players in the world – let alone Russia hold – and if he really wants to show just what he can do all over again, he’s got the raw ability to do so.
Just the fact that he rejoined Zenit instead of going for a better wage packet shows you he still has the desire to compete at the highest level – and with Zenit competing in the Champions League for yet another season, he’s got a perfect opportunity on which to show that you shouldn’t write him off quite yet.
He’s already managed to get on the scoresheet, in a recent 1-1 draw against Kuban Krasnodar at the Petrovsky stadium, and he seems to be developing a decent relationship with Hulk in Zenit’s free flowing attack.
While he will have to get used to the fact that he isn’t the centre of attention any more like he was not so long ago, he still possess the ability to have a real influence over any game – but that all depends on just one thing: just how much he actually wants to prove to all his many doubters, that they have written him off just slightly too early.
Written by Shaun Nicolaides
Follow Shaun on Twitter @zenitfan93
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