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A glimpse of brilliance

The story of Andrey Arshavin and the world-beater who never materialised

He's arguably the greatest Russian outfield player of all time but the former Arsenal man never lived up to his potential

The year is 2009 and Liverpool’s title hopes have just been dealt a huge blow thanks to a 4-4 draw at Anfield.

It’s late April and Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Fernando Torres are wondering how they just conceded four goals in one game having only let in eight at home all season.

The answer is the current sixth-best player in the world according to the Ballon d’Or results.

The answer is Andrey Arshavin.

When a hat-trick at Anfield isn’t quite enough

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When a hat-trick at Anfield isn’t quite enough

Less than a year before his four-goal rout against Liverpool he had propelled Russia to the semi-finals of Euro 2008 and attracted the attention of Barcelona.

This was a player with the world at his deceptively quick feet.

Fast forward to 2016 and that same man holds aloft the shirt of FC Kairat having just signed for the Kazakhstan Premier League club after deciding against retirement.

And so we must ask ourselves the age-old question so often uttered about footballers who fell short of their potential – where did it all go wrong?

Talented player who fell short of expectation number 77,973

Getty Images
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Talented player who fell short of expectation number 77,973

Arshavin was born in Saint Petersburg and was involved in a serious car crash when he was very young.

He was fortunate to escape unhurt as the damage to the vehicle was so significant that had he been sitting somewhere else he may well have died.

This narrow escape would be a fitting prelude to a disjointed upbringing.

His parents divorced when he was just 12-year-old and he was expelled from school when his disruptive behaviour reached an uncontrollable peak.

During the toughest times, he slept on the floor of the cramped flat his mother could barely afford.

A talented draughts player he was encouraged to pursue football by his dad who spent his life on the brink of a professional contract.

Arshavin’s father died from heart failure at the age of 40 but he lived long enough to see his son blossom into tremendous young talent who the earned the admiration of fans across the country.

Arshavin was the best player in Russia during his first spell with Zenit

PA:Press Association
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Arshavin was the best player in Russia during his first spell with Zenit

Arshavin spent nine seasons with hometown club Zenit.

Between 2000 – 2008 he played 296 games and scored 71 goals as well as reaching double digits for assists in every one of his last five seasons in Russia.

In the space of three months in the summer of 2008, his reputation went from countrywide to worldwide.

A Man of the Match performance in the UEFA Cup final helped Zenit beat Rangers 2-0 at the Etihad (or City of Manchester Stadium as it was known at the time) was followed by spotlight-grabbing displays in Austria and Switzerland.

This bemused celebration has become strangely iconic

AP:Associated Press
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This bemused celebration has become strangely iconic

Russia were the surprise package of Euro 2008 as Guus Hiddink marshalled his troops to the semi-finals by way of a 3-1 win over Netherlands in the last eight.

The mighty Spain were the only team to beat them at the tournament, doing so convincingly in the group stages and the semis.

Arshavin’s electric performances instantly made him the most-wanted talent in Europe but it wasn’t until January 2009, a month after he finished sixth in the Ballon d’Or, that he signed for Arsenal.

The details of the transfer make it one of the most unique in British history.

The Gunners and Zenit spent days in negotiations and with a snowstorm forecast, the North London club gambled and flew Arshavin to Hertfordshire a day before a raging blizzard cancelled flights across the continent.

Unbeknown to Zenit, their star player had already agreed personal terms and passed a medical with Arsenal and so when the two clubs finally agreed on a £15million fee, Arshavin signed instantaneously.

However the snowstorm made the admin impossible and so the FA granted Arsenal an extra 24 hours meaning the transfer officially occurred the day after the window had closed.

ARShavin playing for ARSenal under ARSene Wenger

News Group Newspapers Ltd
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ARShavin playing for ARSenal under ARSene Wenger

Fans fell in love with their new signing.

His directness and keenness to shoot on sight made a refreshing change from the typical Arsenal walk-it-in approach but his eye for a killer pass in the final third was also Bergkamp-esque at times.

His four-goal rout against Liverpool secured his status as the Emirates’ new fan favourite and it seemed his stock would only continue to rise.

Sadly it did not.

Forced to play out wide or up front he failed to influence games as he did for Zenit in his favoured position behind the central striker.

For one reason or another his enthusiasm waned and it seemed earning a decent wage at a top club represented a pinnacle he dared not surpass.

As time went on there were more and more critics to shush

Times Newspapers Ltd
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As time went on there were more and more critics to shush

A reserved character, Arshavin is also well educated and he rejected the laddish culture found in Premier League changing rooms.

He’s published three books in his life, one of which is comprehensively titled ‘555 Questions and Answers on Women, Money, Politics and Football’.

Even more surprisingly, he has a degree in Fashion Design.

He was also a fan of Football Manager, revealing in 2009 that he spent hours glued to his computer screen taking an English team from lower league obscurity to European glory.

Sadly his real life ambition fell short of his digital gaffer equivalent.

Arshavin’s decline was momentarily halted when he scored the winner against Barcelona in Arsenal’s famous 2-1 win in the Champions League.

But you can only live off one sweeping finish for so long; and besides, the game actually belonged to Jack Wilshere.

Winners against Barcelona deserve to be celebrated properly

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Winners against Barcelona deserve to be celebrated properly

In 2012 it all came to depressing climax.

Arshavin was booed by his own fans as he came on for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against Man United at home.

Robin Van Persie also showed his disapproval of the tactical switch, partly because the Ox had played well but also because Arshavin had become a toothless threat.

Then at Euro 2012 he and Russia were eliminated in the group stages despite thrashing Czech Republic 4-1 in their opening game.

Arshavin then angered fans back home by blaming the team’s perceived failure on public expectation.

Overnight he morphed into the antithesis of the hopeful hero he had become exactly four years previous; he became public enemy number one.

Puibic opinion of Arshavin dropped after Euro 2012 despite him being the leading assist provider at the tournament

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Puibic opinion of Arshavin dropped after Euro 2012 despite him being the leading assist provider at the tournament

In 2013 he returned to Zenit after the club’s long-time sponsor Gazprom’s president demanded the club buy him back.

The club were successful, winning the league in 2014/15, but Arshavin was merely a bit-part player.

The goals had dried up and he failed to provide a single assist in 14 games during the title-winning campaign.

Compare that to his average of ten in his first-spell prime and his downward trajectory was difficult to ignore.

Arguably the greatest Russia player of all time but he should have gone further

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Arguably the greatest Russia player of all time but he should have gone further

He endured a frustrating and forgettable season with Kuban Krasnodar, registering no goals or assists in his nine appearances.

Statistics-wise his career in Kazakhstan has started well but his chosen retirement home is typical of his ultimately underwhelming career.

It’s fitting too that Arshavin’s peak years coincided with Arsenal’s barren seasons between their mid-noughties success and the three recent FA Cup victories.

He personified that spell – a frustrated talent who didn’t crave glory as much as his opposition.

No player should be happy sitting on the bench

Getty Images
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No player should be happy sitting on the bench

Arshavin should have been remembered as the greatest Russian player of all time who paved the way for others to follow his trophy-laden path.

Instead most of us will think of him as the man content with sitting on Arsenal’s bench; living off an international semi-final, one virtuoso performance at Anfield, and a round of 16 goal against Barcelona.