From Vyacheslav Malafeev to Alexander Kerzhakov, Zenit Saint Petersburg have somewhat of a golden generation on their hands. And midfield lynchpin Igor Denisov is no different. The 28 year old one club man has been showing Russia and Europe just what he is made of for a number of years now, but without ever landing that big money move to one of Europe’s so called giants.
But he doesn’t need it. With Zenit Denisov has been ridiculously successful, winning the Russian Premier League 3 times, and winning not only the 2008 UEFA Cup, but the UEFA Super Cup to go along with it, in the glorious summer of 2010 for Russian football.
Controversy has never been away from being at Denisov’s side however. As recent as September this year he decided to remove himself from the Zenit team, a situation that hasn’t been long resolved, and training ground punch ups and previous refusals to play for the national team haven’t helped his ever growing ‘bad boy’ image. To counteract that however, he has become a Zenit icon, and has been at the forefront for everything that his beloved hometown club have done right.
Already 28 years old, it may come as a bit of a surprise, that only in the last few years, Denisov’s name has been bouncing about Europe’s headlines. That’s not until you see what results Zenit had previously achieved in Europe however. Until shocking Europe by claiming the 2008 UEFA Cup, Zenit were somewhat of an unknown quantity. Having only ever qualified for the knockout stages of Europe’s secondary competition, and until the autumn of 2008 never qualified for the Champions League, football fans outside of Russia rarely got the opportunity to feast their eyes on Zenit high tempo eye catching way playing style, and players such as Andrey Arshavin, who has subsequently turned into the most famous footballer from Eastern Europe, never got their chance to show their mettle.
Zenit’s big break was just waiting around the corner however. In the 2007/2008 UEFA Cup, Zenit, as per usual, managed to qualify for the knockout stages, and that didn’t raise too many eyebrows. But those eyebrows were about to be raised to their limits, as Zenit went on to win their first ever European trophy, completely destroying German giants Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich along the way. And one man was catching the attention even more than the others. Denisov, whose position sees him providing that vital link between defence and attack, found himself managing to get in the right place at the right time more often than not.
That goal against Glasgow Rangers in the final, 18 minutes from time, sent Denisov into Zenit folklore until the end of time, no matter what happens in the remaining of his playing days. His winning goal sent Zenit to their Zenith, but this wasn’t the first time he had caught the headlines. Away to Bayer Leverkusen, he slotted in Zenit’s fourth goal in a quite wonderful 4-1 victory, the first time the Russian side really announced themselves as an emerging European force.
It wasn’t just his goals that were proving to be vital though. The Russians’ thrilling counterattacking football was exhilarating for all to watch, but it was all too easy to admire only talents such as Arshavin and Pavel Pogrebynak upfront. Denisov himself was the vital cog in Zenit’s well oiled machine, breaking down the opponent’s attack, and within a split second managing to start a lightning quick counterattack, which often ended in the ball finding its way up into the back of the opponent’s net.
Controversy was soon to arrive for the Zenit hardman, however. After mysteriously being left out of Russia’s original squad for Euro 2008 by then coach Guus Hiddink, he was then called up as an emergency backup, following an injury crisis in the squad. For many, this would be an opportunity that would be jumped upon, but not for Denisov. He curtly declined the invitation, seen by many, as getting his revenge on Hiddink for the not originally selecting him in the first place. Russia still went on to become the success story of the tournament, reaching the semi finals and impressing everyone with their fluid pacy football, but since then, Denisov has eventually decided to commit himself to his national team.
Making his debut in World Cup qualifying against Germany in late 2008, he has gone on to become an integral part of the national team set up, and this year, new coach Fabio Capello took it upon himself to award the captain’s armband to the Zenit midfield dynamo, but after recent events, for many he is not worthy of such a role.
Zenit may well be his beloved hometown club, but this hasn’t exactly prevented him from causing more than just a spot of trouble. Only two years ago, fisticuffs between himself and one of Zenit’s coaching staff Vladislav Radimov was on the verge of breaking out, after the midfielder didn’t like what he heard at training.
But worse was yet to come. In just the September of this year, following on from Zenit’s mind boggling transfer coups of Hulk and Axel Witsel, Denisov decided to take a stand. Taking a dislike to the amount of money that Zenit’s new stars would get paid, he refused to play for the club after asking to have his own contract, which was already handsome enough, improved even more. Zenit politely turned down his proposal and the Russian champions found themselves without their midfield lynchpin for a full 2 months, and in the process, Zenit made a disastrous start to their Champions League campaign, a start that was to prove unfix-able It maybe slightly unfair to shift all of the blame upon Denisov’s shoulders, but it’s not rocket science, that the situation hardly helped the Russians plight.
Having been made to give a public apology, Zenit got their man back, and ever since then, results have picked up, and it’s come as no surprise. Without him, Zenit lacked grind and bite in their midfield, and too many counterattacks broke down. But now the Saint Petersburg outfit have found their groove again, and it is all mainly down to one man.
And yet still Europe’s giants have been reluctant to come chasing. Liverpool had been rumoured to be sniffing around as have fellow English outfit Arsenal, but with Denisov already being 28, it seems more than likely that he will find himself joining the sparsely populated club of players who have dedicated their footballing careers to just the one club – providing he can keep himself out of any more trouble that is.
Written by Shaun Nicolaides
Follow him on Twitter @zenitfan93
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