MOSCOW, Russia, May 18 – Russia’s captain and star striker Andrei Arshavin is hoping at Euro 2012 to show the blazing inspiration that set the last tournament alight after his insipid stint with English Premier League giants Arsenal.
Arshavin comes into the Euro tournament hosted by Poland and Ukraine again as a winner, after helping guide his boyhood team Zenit Saint Petersburg to a storming victory in the Russian Premier League.
The 30-year-old — who has only ever played for two clubs — rejoined Zenit in February on a loan deal from Arsenal and will stay at the Russian club until July.
He was instrumental in helping the Saint Petersburgers see off the final challenge from the Moscow giants, scoring in a key April clash with CSKA that all but earned Zenit the title.
“I feel joy and satisfaction from the work that has been done. We’ve seen this thing through,” Arshavin, known in Russia as “Shava”, said on his website after Zenit clinched the title.
His move back to Zenit seems to have brought back some of the old spark in Arshavin, whose much-heralded move to Arsenal in 2009 started promisingly but became marked by injuries and time on the bench.
Arshavin’s dashing runs and flashing strikes at goal were one of the highlights of Euro 2008 and a memorable goal by him against the Netherlands took Russia to the semi-finals where they lost to eventual winners Spain.
It was that performance, as well as Zenit’s stunning UEFA Cup win in 2008, that earned interest from big European clubs, including Arsenal but Arshavin never seemed at ease in the Arsene Wenger set-up in north London.
Born in Saint Petersburg while the city was still known as Leningrad in the former Soviet Union, Arshavin has always been loyal to his beloved home city team.
It was there that he launched his career, making his debut for the reserves in 1999 and then moving to the first team in 2000 before winning his first international cap for Russia in 2002.
For the last half decade, Arshavin — Russia’s biggest footballing name and a heart-on-sleeve patriot — helped Russia win the right to host the 2018 World Cup and travelled with the government delegation for the voting.
It was the need to ensure a first-team place for Euro 2012 that encouraged Arshavin to move back to Russia and he scored his first international goal in several encounters during a friendly with Denmark in February.
Clearly relieved after scoring, he ran towards Russian team coach and his former Zenit mentor Dick Advocaat who — in a much discussed moment — kissed Arshavin on the forehead.
But a cloud was cast ahead of the Euro when Advocaat — a presence in Arshavin’s career since he took charge of Zenit in 2006 — announced he would be leaving the national team after the championships.
“Speaking frankly I’m upset with his decision,” Arshavin said. “There was good chemistry in our team and we achieved good results. I expected to be playing the next qualifying campaign under Advocaat,” he told Sport Express newspaper.
But he added that Advocaat was a “professional” and he and the team would be working together to achieve a good result.