The parable of the prodigal son from the Gospel of Luke is one of the most widely known Christian teachings. The story underlines a father’s pleasure towards a returning son, over another, despite the wrongdoings he has undertaken during his life. It’s a tale of loss and consequently redemption, and one that looks to impose the importance of divine love and generosity upon those who choose to read it. It is the simplicity of the message that has been the key element behind the longevity of the parable, a point that sees it continue to hold relevance in today’s society – it can even be applied to one of Russian football’s most precocious talents.
Andrei Arshavin’s career thus far will most fondly be remembered by fans of Zenit St Petersburg, the player’s hometown club and the team where he remains idolised as a saint. His canonisation into Zenit’s folklore stemmed from the fact that during his time in and around the club’s first team, with his breakthrough season coming in 2000, Arshavin found himself at the centre of a handful of the team’s finest achievements. The Premier League, UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup and Russian Cup were all ticked off Arshavin’s bucket list – as his rise to prominence reflected the successes his club were simultaneously experiencing.
Arshavin’s fantastic performances inevitable alerted a number of Europe’s finest clubs to his prowess and as such a move to Arsenal transpired in the winter of 2009. However, as time has passed the relationship between Arshavin and Arsenal’s fans has deteriorated to such an extent that he is more likely to hear himself booed for his performances than he is to witness his name chanted with heartfelt affection from the stands. As his introduction, as a substitute, in the recent Premier League match against Manchester United attests to, lacking the support of your fans can be one of the most debilitating experiences a footballer can possibly experience.
The problems that currently face Arshavin could well be a tipping point, spelling the end of his career in English football. Recent reports have persistently linked the Russian with a move back to his homeland – however it has not been Zenit who have been linked with offering a lucrative option out of England but, the new kid on the block, Anji Makhachkala. Linking the club from the North Caucasus with a high profile Russian talent is an easy assumption to make – as Yuri Zhirkov has shown that the club are now a realistic proposition for the most prominent Russian footballers. While the financial terms that the club can propose would far outweigh any other offer – from home or abroad.
It is perhaps a little too much like wishful thinking to assume that Arshavin’s heart would rule out a move for financial reasons solely to push through a return to St Petersburg. As Diniyar Bilyaletdinov’s transfer to Spartak Moscow and Roman Pavlyuchenko’s move to Lokomotiv Moscow shows that loyalties can often become skewed when desperation sets in. However recent developments could well pave the way for a sensational return for a player who remains an iconic figure within Russian football.
The recent injury to Zenit’s creative maestro, Danny – which will see him miss the remainder of the season, and possibly the start of the following season, thanks to cruciate ligament damage – will see the club without its most important attacking cog. The importance of the Portuguese international – as well as prolific forward Aleksandr Kerzhakov – was evident towards the latter part of last year, where Zenit’s attacking prowess dramatically dipped to the point where they suffered consecutive low scoring draws against Anji and Kuban Krasnodar.
The need for a ‘plan b’ in the absence of Danny means that a space may well be developing within Luciano Spalletti’s squad – and one would imagine that Arshavin is a player firmly on the club’s radar. While Zenit are perhaps not exactly light on midfielders at present, it is a certain brand of talent that is missing – without Danny there’s a need for a talismanic figure who can create a piece of technical brilliance helping to unlock the most stubborn of defences. Arshavin’s form over the past 18 months may well leave some sceptical as to whether he remains capable of such feats however within the uninterested diminutive frame sits a player still capable of moments of sheer spontaneity and brilliance.
The recent migration of Russian talent back to their homeland from western Europe – including the likes of Zhirkov, Pavlyuchenko and Bilyaletdinov – shows that the bubble created in the wake of Russia’s performances during Euro 2008 has burst into thin air. Therefore it seems logical that yet another high profile talent will again plump to move back to the security of home – a move that could well serve to reignite a severely faltering career.
The sticking point remains that with the European transfer window now firmly shut it remains to be seen whether Arsenal will agree to sell a first team squad member without the option to immediately replace them. However with the Russian transfer window set to close on February 24th, there remains time for negotiations to take place between the London club and interested parties. Should a return to St Petersburg be on the cards for Arshavin then the city’s prodigal son will be provided a heroes welcome that will leave few in doubt as to the importance of the player to Zenit’s folklore.