Arshavin: Cherchesov is the ideal choice
When Andrei Arshavin signed a contract for Kazakhstan's FC Kairat in March
this year, many thought he was going there to see out the end of his playing
days, especially since he turned 35 in May. As it turned out, that couldn't
be further from the truth; the former Zenit St. Petersburg, Arsenal and
Russia star still has that magic touch.
Due to a variety of problems at his previous club, FC Kuban Krasnodar,
Arshavin essentially spent six months away from the pitch. In switching
to Kairat, he has got exactly what he needed – playing time. The Kazakhstan
championship runs from spring to autumn, so in just shy of five months
Arshavin has played 25 games, 21 in the league and four in the UEFA Europa
League qualification rounds, scoring eight goals.
The Russian star succinctly summed up the reasoning behind his move to
Kazakhstan in an interview with FIFA.com: "They made an offer and
Geographically Kazakhstan is right on the edge of European football and
does not garner much attention from an international fanbase, although
recently both the Kazakhstan national team and local clubs are proving
a tough task for opponents to deal with, especially on home soil. Just
ask Poland's players, who dropped points in Astana in their opening game
of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualification campaign. We asked Arshavin
to compare the set-up in Kazakhstan with those he came across in Russia
"Of course, it's hard to compare with England and that doesn't just
apply to Kazakhstan but other countries as well,” he answered. "Only
Germany can probably compete with them. In principle, you can draw similarities
with Russia however. The infrastructure in Russia is a little better,
plus they're building new stadiums ahead of the World Cup. In general,
the stadiums here are pretty much the same, left over from the post-Soviet
era. Sometimes the pitches are better, sometimes they're not. The set-up
is decent at Kairat actually."
'Kazakhstan at the World Cup? Why not?'
"As for the national team," Andrei continued, "I've been
telling the local players that Kazakhstan haven't got the hardest qualifying
group for the 2018 World Cup (ed's note - Romania, Denmark, Poland, Montenegro
and Armenia). There's no one who you'd pick out as clear favourites and
Kazakhstan can compete with anyone at home. If things go their way on
home soil, they can target a decent result. Who knows, maybe we'll see
Kazakhstan at Russia 2018? At club-level, Astana and Kairat are roughly
at the standard of the play-off round for the UEFA Champions League and
Helped by Arshavin, Kairat made it as far as the second qualifying round
for the Europa League this season. Easing past Albanian outfit KF Teuta
Durres, the Almaty-based side then lost out in a close-run encounter to
Maccabi Tel-Aviv, who have featured in the group stages of the Champions
League before. It took Arshavin hardly any time at all to adapt to his
new surroundings before he was orchestrating his team's play and contributing
massively to the team's surge up the table after a shaky start, narrowing
the gap to league leaders and main rivals FC Astana.
Arshavin's feats have been taking place on the fringes of European football,
so only his most loyal fans, of which there are many, have taken note.
That he was not in the Russia squad for UEFA EURO 2016 came as no surprise:
the last time Andrei played for the national team was four years ago.
Nevertheless, one goal at the end of July changed everything. Once again
Arshavin was the topic of conversation in Russia, England and everywhere
they showed his phenomenal strike against FC Taraz in Matchday 22 of the
Kazakhstan Premier League. Even taking into account the standard of the
competition, this goal will easily go down as one of the best of the summer
from anywhere in the world.ha
Arshavin, anticipating a crossfield pass in front of the penalty box from
another former Zenit player, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, used his back leg to
deftly steer the ball beyond his marker in a single elegant motion. Leaving
the defender for dead, he then cut back onto his right foot to eke out
a yard of space. With more opposition players about to crowd him out,
the little magician deftly chipped the ball over the defenders and goalkeeper
into the net.
"It all happened naturally," he explained. "First I beat
one defender and then another. Next I saw a big crowd of players in front
of me and there was no other way I could hit the target easily."
The ideal choice
His employers will not mind keeping Arshavin in Almaty for another season
after such a display (he agreed a deal on a rolling-contract basis). Back
home, the voices calling for his return to the national team, which lacks
creative players, are getting louder after Russia's poor showing at the
EURO. Nevertheless, Andrei is careful when talking about the future.
"There aren't any plans just yet, time will tell. It's hard to say
about the national team, I haven't played for my country for a long time
after all. If the call-up comes, then we'll talk about it. If I'm being
honest, at my age I need to think about every moment I spend on the football
pitch, so it's hard to make any big plans for the future."
Recently the Russian national team, which Arshavin inspired to the EURO
2008 semi-finals, has changed head coach. Stanislav Cherchesov has been
tasked with guiding the team at two hugely important tournaments on home
soil, the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 and the 2018 World Cup. Andrei,
for one, welcomes the decision by the Russian Football Union: "I
think he's the ideal choice given the current situation."
Indeed, in less than a year's time, Arshavin's native city of Saint Petersburg
will become the main destination of the Confederations Cup, hosting the
opening match, final and two other games.
"It will be a huge event for Saint Petersburg," he concluded
Who knows, perhaps a swansong performance in front of his home fans could
be yet to come from one of Russia's best-ever footballers.
FIFA.com, 07 Sep 2016