Andrei Arshavin ready for last hurrah
Andrei Arshavin is not a typical footballer. He has a dry, teasing wit and a quietly iconoclastic intelligence perhaps best shown by a series of question and answer books released in Russia – apparently done to help out a journalist friend fallen on hard times – in which he discusses a range of topics with what is probably a faux seriousness.
The possibility, admittedly, remains that he is dead serious-- in which case he’s not a deft ironist but just extremely weird.
A number of British tabloids jumped to that conclusion when they got their hands on the books after Arshavin had joined Arsenal in 2009. Do you ever dream, Arshavin was asked. “I'm a horse in a field,” he replied, “and there are guinea pigs around me - it's a nightmare.” “Loopy Andrey fears guinea pig attack,” jeered the media, missing the joke that Arshavin wrote the book while at Zenit, whose biggest rivals are CSKA, nicknamed “the Horses.”
He seems perpetually vaguely amused by life’s oddity, something he records in the occasional diary on his website. Take the following entry, for instance, from March 29 this year: “In order to avoid rumors and false information, I decided to clear things up regarding the car accident I got into. The accident occurred near the Ozerki metro station. I'm all right - no one was hurt. What struck me is that the driver of a passing streetcar gave me a grapefruit.”
That sense of detachment, though, perhaps contributes to the sense that Arshavin is not entirely committed to games. At Arsenal, he showed his best form only fitfully and never captured the heights of 2008, when he inspired Zenit to the UEFA Cup and then, having been suspended for the opening two matches, was sensational as Russia produced two magnificent displays to beat Sweden and the Netherlands, before eventually losing to Spain in the semi-final.
There were rumors that he was disruptive in the dressing-room and that he wasn’t a particularly hard trainer, while in Russia he was accused of being yet another star who moved west and got fat and lazy on success. That may not be entirely fair, but it is true that this is a rounder Arshavin than the hollow-cheeked dynamo who buzzed in from the left flank four years ago.
Arshavin himself is a child of St Petersburg, but his family comes from the surrounding countryside. “Before school I used to go to my grandma and grandpa’s village near Tver,” he says. “I was bitten by the dogs there. I helped to milk the cows and we went to gather mushrooms.”
At school, he was trouble. “I behaved badly,” he says. “When I was in the second form, I tore the registering journal of the class down from the wall. After that they expelled me from the school and moved me to another one, just opposite my Mama’s workplace [Tatyana Arshavina worked in a textile factory].
“I used to go to school by bike, and left it at Mama’s. I studied there till the fifth form, and then I was moved to the special sport class at school 473. By the time I finished it I had a good command in math, and I as good at chemistry, astonishingly.”
Girlfriends came later. “There were only six girls in our class – you can't make a lot out of that,” says Arshavin. “But I was a modest guy, and now I am the same. I never was a womanizer, though to be honest I secretly envied the guys who were popular with the girls.”
He met his wife, the willowy Yuliya, in a typically St Petersburg way, walking along Nevsky Prospekt on a hot summer’s day.
“I was walking with friends, and she was walking too, with a girl and a guy,” he says. “We exchanged some words, laughed and went for a swim in the lake together. After that we met almost every day and after a month she moved into my house.”
They now have two children, Artyom and Yana.
However engaging he may be, though, Arshavin’s disappointing form has begun to frustrate. A loan move back to Zenit has been a limited success, with a few more flickers of the old magic.
His old partnership with Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who will probably play at forward, showed signs of sparking back into life after six years apart at club level. If the two of them can foster an understanding with Alan Dzagoev, then with Aleksandr Anyukov and Yury Zhirkov getting forward from fullback and Roman Shirokov breaking from midfield, Russia could be hugely fluid and entertaining.
The potential is there, but it has been seen only fragments – for an hour against Ireland in Dublin, in spells against Italy on Friday. For both Arshavin and Russia the key now is to turn potential into something more substantial, to entertain the world not merely off the pitch, but on it.