After Yuri Zhirkov put pen-to-paper on an £18million move to Chelsea, I found myself in a discussion with a number of Chelsea fans who felt it was an over-inflated transfer, for a player who’ll be playing in a back-up role to Ashley Cole and Florent Malouda next year. Admittedly, both had a very fine season under Scolari and Guus Hiddink. I argued that the Russian, originally recommended to the club by his national boss Hiddink, would be more then a bit-part player at Stamford Bridge and that it’ll be roles reversed with Malouda, who will instead find himself second string in Ancelotti’s plans. Yuri is far from the golden talent the Chelsea fans have come to expect, but after being tucked away in the Russian League for so long, perceptions can easily be altered.
Zhirkov’s goal-scoring debut for Chelsea, against AC Milan on their tour of the US, has already raised eyebrows amongst writers and fans alike. As he was welcomed on to the field to a mis-pronunciation of his name, Zhirkov showcased the exact talent the club had invested in. He may not be well known in western Europe, at least in England, but he’s just another undercover talent stepping into the limelight that is top class European football.
Zhirkov acquitted himself well along the left hand side, displaying a deft touch and running ability, plus a flurry of pinpoint crosses. The winger has had his fair share of football at left back, and was more than willing to retreat and help out Ashley Cole in defense. After the hour-mark, the ball deflected towards the debutant just outside the box, who nicely fizzed it through an array of bodies into the back of the net, cuing a stampede of teammates rushing to tap his back.
Yuri first came onto our screens at Euro 2008 in an impressive emerging side that included Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko, who have since forged careers in the Premier League. After proving efficiency at left back during the qualifiers, Zhirkov was placed in that position for the Euros. He rose to the challenge superbly, and was one of Russia’s best players, always offering an attacking option while never looking defensively suspect. England fans should remember Shawn Wright-Phillips’ nightmare, who was pocketed the whole game by Zhirkov (you could argue it’s actually possible).
But it’s in his position on the wing where the Russian has excelled, so Cole should feel relieved for now unless Malouda ups his game astronomically. Nicknamed the “Russian Ronaldinho”, Zhirkov helped his previous club CSKA Moscow to two consecutive Russian League triumphs, and UEFA Cup success in 2005. He scored one of three goals, as his side came from a goal down to take the trophy home. As a matter of fact, UEFA named his goal against Hamburg, in the 06/07 season, the goal of the Champions League tournament that year, with a classic solo finish Ryan Giggs would be proud of.
Yuri has an unbelievable amount of talent that Chelsea fans should credit him for. Matched with extreme atleticism, and a work-rate that would match Dirk Kuyt, Zhirkov is very productive with the ball and has an immense technical ability. Quick, and with an array of tricks at his disposal. He’s a fantastic attacking talent, a classic winger-type player, who is not afraid to knuckle down in defense thanks to his versatility. He’s a true professional, totally commited to the cause. So commited, he got married in Turkey at Russia’s training camp.
Chelsea have bought a player who I think will be regarded as one of the best, if not the best, left midfielder in Europe next summer.