Failures at Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham: Russia’s Euro 2008 golden generation

Given the nation’s place as the largest country on the planet and an estimated population of over 140 million, Russia has the potential to be a real force in the world game.

The eastern European nation has only qualified for the World Cup three times since the Soviet Union disbanded and continued a poor historic record in Brazil in the summer by failing to make it past the group stage.

Arguably Russia’s proudest moment in international football came in Euro 2008, with Guus Hiddink leading a golden generation of players to the semi-finals of the the competition in Switzerland and Austria.

Following an impressive showing at the tournament that saw the Russians beat the Netherlands and fall to eventual winners Spain, Premier League clubs were queuing up to snatch some of the nation’s star performers.

Despite a number of supremely talented Russian players following in the footsteps of compatriots Andrei Kanchelskis, Dmitri Kharine and Alexey Smertin, none proved a success in English football.

The most technically gifted Russian player of a generation and the highest-profile arrival on British shores was Andrey Arshavin, who became Arsenal’s club record signing in January 2009.

The versatile attacker delighted the Emirates Stadium faithful on occasion throughout his four-year tenure in North London but never captured the heights that most thought he was capable of.

Andrey ArshavinArshavin’s four goals in the 4-4 draw against Liverpool at Anfield will remain in the memory for years to come, but by and large the Russian’s performances were erratic – especially in the last 18 months of his time in England.

Despite delivering some standout performances and proving his ability sporadically before leaving in 2013, Arshavin’s stint in England can only be looked as underwhelming at best and a failure in reality.

Across the North London divide Tottenham had been the trendsetters by signing Roman Pavlyuchenko, who moved to White Hart Lane in the summer of 2008 after the national tournament.

A lethal predator with an eye for goal and clever movement, the striker promised much upon his £13.7 million move to Spurs.

Despite his promise and potential, Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp used the Russian centre forward sparingly, with the likes of Robbie Keane, Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe ahead of him in the pecking order.

After four frustrating years, Pavlyuchenko left England with the respectable tally of 21 goals in 78 Premier League games; a stat made more impressive by the fact that he only started 45 of these fixtures.

That said, not many Spurs fans shed a tear when Pavlyuchenko departed for Lokomotiv Moscow in 2012 and his time in England was a forgettable one for the player.

Chelsea followed suit by signing left-sided star Yuri Zhirkov in July 2009, with the Russian seen by some as a more complete option than Ashley Cole in the Blues ranks.

His £18 million move to Stamford Bridge made the attacking full-back the most expensive Russian player in history, but his stint in England was only to last two seasons before he was brought back to his homeland.

Zhirkov provided the versatility to play at either left-back or on the wing, but was largely inhibited by niggling injuries and found it difficult to settle in West London.

The flying winger played his part in the Blues winning the Premier League and FA Cup double in 2009-10, while also putting in a number of excellent performances in the Champions League.

Despite this, Zhirkov only made 16 Premier League starts over the space of two years, with his second season seeing him as a fringe figure and firmly on the outskirts of the first-team reckoning, before he left to join Anzhi Makhachkala in 2011.

Diniyar BilyaletdinovArguably the most disappointing of the Euro 2008 squad to move to England was Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, who was signed at great expense by a cash-strapped Everton side.

In an underwhelming period on Merseyside, the attacking midfielder struggled to adapt to the pace of English football, leaving to return to Russia in 2012 having made an average of 11 Premier League starts per season in his three years with the Toffees.

The only significant Russian player still plying his trade in England is Pavel Pogrebnyak, who started well with Fulham in 2012 and has since featured for Championship side Reading.

Fabio Capello’s most recent national squad contained only one player to play his club football outside of Russia, with Villarreal’s Denis Cheryshev the exception in the 25-man contingent.

The 24-year-old creative midfielder is on Real Madrid’s books but has been lighting up La Liga this term at El Madrigal with his ability on the ball and eye for a pass.

Cheryshev has contributed nine domestic assists this season for Marcelino’s men in an impressive campaign; only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have provided more.

Making the grade at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu will be a big ask, but it appears that Cheryshev is Russia’s brightest hope of providing a player that can be a consistent success overseas in the modern era.

As for English football, the likes of Aleksandr Kokorin or Alan Dzagoev arguably have what it takes to cut it in the Premier League, but for the time being Russia’s recent record on British shores remains poor.

By
I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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