Archive for April 21st, 2010

Still Ourshavin

8 comments April 21st, 2010

The below is a piece I originally wrote for 2Halves, adapted somewhat. It seems timely. Enjoy.

Andrey Arshavin in action for Arsenal

It is August 31st, 2008.  Spurs fans sit, eyes glued to Sky Sports News, waiting for the flash of a yellow ‘BREAKING NEWS’ ticker.  Any minute now, they think.  Any minute now roaming reporter Bryan Swanson will spot him at an airport, or getting out of a car at White Hart Lane.  In the studio, Andy “Four-Phones” Burton will receive a whispered call or a tweeted message from Darren Bent and the news will be confirmed: Zenit St. Petersburg have crumbled.  A deal has been agreed.  Andrey Arshavin is a Tottenham player.

Of course, as it turned out, he’s not.  Nor was he and nor will he ever be.  Spurs fans with Sky on their telly, laptops on their knees, mobile phones in their pockets and a fleet of carrier pigeons out seeking transfer tidings ought to have spared a moment to remember just how momentously catastrophic their clubs attempt to lure Europe’s most fêted players have proved in the past.

Over the last ten years, Spurs have “almost signed” more players than Harry Redknapp has jowls.  Indeed, the likes of Rivaldo, David Beckham and the original (and fatter) Ronaldo have all almost joined Tottenham, only for the squad numbers set aside for them to be filled by the likes of Ricardo Rocha, Kevin Prince Boateng and, intermittently, Pascal Chimbonda.  Spurs have aimed for the stars and, for the most part, barely struck the weathervane emblematised on their crest.

Following his spell-binding displays at Euro 2008, Arshavin was undoubtedly a star.  After missing the first two games of the tournament through suspension, Arshavin catapulted himself into international renown with an electrifying performance against Sweden.  A career spent entirely in the Russian Premier League had done more than his pint-sized figure to disguise his talent, but on the grand stage of the European Championships, the spotlight was reserved for Arshavin.  That one match demonstrated the number ten’s quick feet, quicker brain and limitless guile.  Football purists purred; football managers pined.  Though Russia would eventually falter to future Champions Spain, Arshavin’s fate was sealed: the big leagues waited.

Most sizeable clubs in Europe found themselves being linked with the diminutive playmaker.  Arshavin’s insidious agent, Dennis Lachter (a man who enhances his pseudo-supervillain credentials by insisting on referring to himself in the third person), would drop the press the name of a major European club, and the journalists had the simple job of post-rationalising the rumour.  Barcelona?  Arshavin’s boyhood club.  Chelsea?  Abramovich seeking to sign Putin’s professed favourite player.   Tottenham?  Now that was trickier.

Why would Arshavin, whose stock was higher than ever, move to a club who offered neither Champions League football nor a realistic chance of competing for the top domestic honours?  Spurs, in spite of past travails when courting football’s elite, were undaunted.

With Berbatov and Keane set to switch to United and Liverpool as part of some kind of evil exchange programme, Tottenham needed a signing to pacify their fans and galvanize the team.  Sporting Director Damien Comolli identified Arshavin as the man, and negotiations were opened.  As Arsenal would find out several months later, negotiating with Zenit and Lachter is no easy task, and so it was no surprise when, at the last minute, Spurs’ pursuit of Arshavin collapsed.

When January 2009 came around, Arsenal needed an injection of quality and Arshavin duly obliged.  Whilst he verbally indicated his interest in joining Tottenham, he didn’t offer to cut his pay by half, as he did when Arsenal came calling.  He didn’t commandeer a private jet to fly himself from a Middle Eastern training camp to Hertfordshire to force through a deal, as he did when Arsenal came calling.  Arshavin might have once consented to join Tottenham, but he was now patently determined to be a Gunner.

Arshavin’s first six months produced a catalogue of stunning, match-winning moments. A sidestep and lofted finish from a preposterous angle against Blackburn, more nutmegs than a rum punch, and a four goal haul at Anfield. His arrival proved to be the catalyst to the run which saved our season and secured our Champions League spot. Arsenal fans were drooling in anticipation of he might produce in this, his first full season in England.

Concerns about a slow start to the campaign where eased by a scorching strike at Old Trafford. Many expected that fiery effort to ignite the Russian’s season, but still we waited for his form of 08/09 to return. Playing in a 4-3-3 system that ought to have been more suited to his wilful self-expression, Arshavin’s exertion suggested he was either jaded or plain lazy. The critics were out in force to condemn a player whose heart, they felt, was no longer in it. Arsene Wenger was forced to defend Arshavin in a press conference, pointing to statistics that demonstrated the player’s efficiency in the scoring and creation of goals.

It has become clear that Arshavin is not a natural team player. He is an idiosyncratic individual, both on and off the pitch. He plays for himself. That’s not to say he’ll shoot every time he gets the ball – he enjoys a perfectly-weighted assist for the same reason he loves finding the top corner from range. He is a student of fashion – an aesthete – who has managed to find beauty in a game which originated as something closer to a maul. It is that vision that makes he and Wenger footballistic soul-mates.

In the nineties we used to talk about something called “second season syndrome” – a condition which afflicted both Johnny Foreigner and Bob Youngster. They would arrive with an explosion which, in their second year, would settle in to a bathetic fizzle. Defenders would be wise to them, and the adrenal boost of novelty would disappear. It is then that the hard work begins.

Andrey Arshavin is, as Arsene has maintained many times, a tough boy. He will not allow himself to fail here. He’s said several times that his form this season has been below-par, but even then he’s contributed some exhilarating glimpses of talent. Failing to qualify for this summer’s World Cup hit him hard, but will prove beneficial: a couple of months of rest and recuperation ought to re-charge his batteries for another title tilt. “Second season syndrome” is a plausible excuse. “Third season syndrome” is a fiction.

August 31st, 2008 remains a dark day for Tottenham Hotspur.  I doubt there’s much that can top the disappointment of missing out on signing a player of Arshavin’s quality, but Spurs managed it: they sold their best player, Dimitar Berbatov, and got Frazier Campbell instead.  For Arsenal, it was a day that gave us an opportunity to swoop for one of the world’s most mercurial but undoubtedly brightest talents.  As ever, we succeeded where Tottenham failed, and the Emirates is now graced by the Russian magician on a regular basis.  Since arriving in England, Arshavin has shown an aptitude for big occasions, scoring spectacular goals against the likes of Liverpool, United and Celtic. This weekend he has a chance of returning to face Man City. In one of fate’s more perverse twists, contributing to a victory then would help Spurs in their quest for a Champions League place. If he can produce the moment that beats Adebayor & Co, he’ll finally provide some consolation for the club who “almost” signed him.

ps. The winner of Nike’s iPod touch competition is Steve Evans from Essex.  Congratulations Steve Evans from Essex. I’ll be in touch soon to deliver your prize – the answer, of course, was ‘Luis Boa Morte’.

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