by Anluan Hennigan
Galloping through on goal, Andrei Arshavin receives the ball from Theo Walcott and calmly smashes the ball past the powerless Pepe Reina. He turns, flashing four digits at the Arsenal faithful, his face coloured by a goofy bewilderment. FOUR league goals at Anfield – the first player to achieve such a feat for 63 years – and, to top it all, he had deeply furrowed the title-chasing brows of Liverpool.
The scurrying winger had come to the surface only four times in the match and scored every time. That was Arshavin – aloof, singular, and brooding but always carrying the threat of genius. That eight-goal rollercoaster sealed my adoration for the Russian maestro.
Just as Arshavin was a latecomer to the upper echelons of football, it wasn’t until the European Championships in 2008 that he really caught my attention. He was the central figure in an electric Russian side – always scheming, always dynamic and always using his low centre of gravity to elegantly burst past all and sundry. It was no more evident than in the quarter-final against the Netherlands, who were renowned by many as tournament favourites. A glorious 3-1 victory in extra-time ensured that Oranje blood was left twisted.
Spain exploited Russia’s physical exertions in the semis but Arshavin had made his mark. He was deservedly named in the team of the tournament. Where had this 27 year-old been all our lives?
The inevitable transfer speculation came and I remember willing him to avoid Barcelona’s advances and come to the Premier League. There was something in Arshavin that reignited in me that giddy excitement you used to have when foreign exports were still a little foreign to English football. He would be in the bracket of Bergkamp and Zola. He possessed that unique ability to do something that left you gazing and open-mouthed.
I had made peace with the fact that there was no chance of him joining Mike Ashley’s pint-guzzling, wheezing revolution at my team, football@NewcastleUnited.com. Arsenal and their artistic brushstrokes would be the next best thing.
He finally arrived in London just before the end of 2009’s January transfer window and became the centrepiece of the fax machine combusting deadline day hissy fit. Inclement weather almost had him on the plane back to St Petersburg. Thankfully the transfer was squeezed through. This special player would have the stage his compelling take on football demanded.
Arshavin’s singularity also stretches beyond the confines of the football pitch. The sterilised world of the professional footballer and the ‘then I went home and had a bottle of water’ school of platitudes is not for him. He will criticise his team if he thinks it is necessary.
He has even written three books, including “555 Questions and Answers on Women, Money, Politics and Football”. The Q & A sessions on his official website are equally unmissable. He gamely tackles questions on God, Rasputin, riding horses bareback and “Jehan from India’s” request for a personal rendezvous in London. He explains his love of whisky, bears and the effect of water’s chemical composition on his hair style.
The fondness for whisky is fitting because Arshavin is in the image of the classic 1960’s chauvinist. When his wife publicly complained about life in London last year, he explained without a hint of irony that “I’ve prohibited her from complaining about life in England”. Who else could make that sound hilarious? He also has a penchant for talking in the third person so it’s only fair to leave the final word to him: “Andrei Arshavin is one of a kind”.