Imagine the following: You’ve a two-hour prime time show to prep for and at the same time cover a local derby. Moving through Moscow you’re contacting guests, preparing tweets and listening to the game all the while.
You remember you’ve to do something on Russia’s UEFA Nations League showdown with Turkey, so you check in quickly for a COVID/injury update with a Press Officer. “Has the video been verified? Any fall out?” She says – “Stani’s dropped him, it was him.” You’ve now to rip up the script, or make a skit of it, or be a journalist or decent human being.
When you meet Artem Dzyuba you’re struck by how childish he is. He’s tall, wide and befitting of the name “Big Daddy”, unlike some wannabe boxer who gives himself the title. He’s wasted his career in Russia playing for second rate clubs like Spartak Moscow, Tom Tomsk, FC Rostov and Arsenal Tula. He’s had most of his club success with current club Zenit. He could have been a contender, a somebody.
It was Artem who showed leadership when it was in short supply at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. He took over the dressing room and demanded better from one of the weakest groups of players ever fielded by Russia. Not to say Stanislav Cherchesov is a poor coach, he’s just not very good. He’s won praise for dragging a motley crew of favourites and also rans to the brink of legend, but it was Dzyuba who drove them on and led by example. A mini dressing room coup put him in charge and it paid off.
Yet Artem has to ask himself, why bother with flat track bullies Zenit? Why didn’t I move abroad when offers were there? Why humiliate myself in Spartak with fans as undeserving as Zenit’s? Why didn’t I go to one of his three German Bundesliga suitors? Or the two English Premier clubs who made offers? Or maybe to that Serie A club or the top-five club in Spain? Was it lack of confidence? Was it a fear of not being a big man amongst moral midgets? Opinion is varied and divided. One thing that gets a unified answer – he’s a leader and Captain Fantastic.
It is a bad sign in a goalkeeper if they pull out of a challenge to preserve their own safety. Or they let in a decently struck/headed goal and instantly scream at defenders to avoid responsibility. When a coach hasn’t the backbone to support a player, especially the leader, it shows the lack of qualities of the coach than player. Few are willing to state that Artem’s expulsion from the National Team is very convenient for the Cherchesov. He’s been itching to get revenge on the player since 2018. The striker has been tired, but not lost the ability to lead and score goals.
Cherchesov quickly banishing him from the side once the video emerged of Artem pleasuring himself topless on a bed. Zenit fans jeered their hero, yet he played well and even had the courage to step up and take a penalty against Champions League new boys FC Krasnodar. Most football fans laughed, shrugged and offered, “Sure he did nothing lots of us haven’t done, he’s just famous.” Jokes, memes and even chat shows exploded. However, Russian media was lining up to kick their captain at a time when he, his wife and children, deserved better.
A woman, Maria Orzul, he nearly lost his marriage because of in 2015 was quick to be pulled happily into it. The TV presenter has traded on famous or connected boyfriends much in the way her boss (Tina Kandelaki) at Match TV has. They were given national platforms to bemoan how backward Russians are regarding sex and that this was no big deal. So why appear, other than for clicks, likes and virtue signalling? Russian “stars” of music, screen and stage took to Instagram, ramping up the interest in themselves, first, and in Dzyuba, second. All claiming to support him, yet gladly feeding the frenzy.
The arsehole and opinion analogy was in my mind as I sat in the studio 90 minutes before the off. And Russia was sure filled with arseholes on Sunday evening.
End of an era
We opened with Russian football and we had to mention that the Russian captain was thrown off the team. Something felt wrong and as if a mini-Golden Age was ending for Russian football. The media were putting it as topic #1 in their running order, it was ahead of the car crash US Election. Now the fate of Artem was all important.
On the show we discussed mental health for athletes, planned over a week in advance. We were re-visiting a topic we’d covered before though our focus was on 15-24 year olds. Timely after Jeremy Wisten’s suicide two weeks before. It was stark reminder as Russia and gradually the world began sniggering at a young man’s expense. Even Russia Today’s awful sports output dropped below the Daily Mail or Sun level of scumbaggery.
Dzyuba apologised and will probably never play for Russia again. Ungrateful Zenit and other fans will torture him. While we know that nobody needs to pass an IQ test to enter a stadium or be a keyboard warrior, not even the vacuous, over promoted and talentless goons like Andrei Malakhov, Kandelaki, Orzul and co., it’s not difficult to show a bit of decency by not baiting for clicks and likes. If they truly cared about him, as they falsely claim, they’d shut up and get back to posting their normal paid adverts for skin cream or financial products.
Back in 2012 Unai Emery told me that “Artem Dzyuba has the potential to be great, but he’s a little lazy and a little soft (not tough).” Valeri Karpin told me the same in 2013, that the man can be a future Russian captain, but he needs to grow up. After his brush with losing everything due to a dalliance with the anti-metoo Orzul, he sobered up and began improving. He has been a leader with the Footballers Union, during lockdown donating time and money to help financially challenged football veterans and their families. He gives time to mentor young players and help out at charity events. He’s 32 until next August and if a club with ambition in the English Premier League, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Serie A or Primera want a leading front man who can score goals, he would cost very little. The question is if he will be brave enough to go for two or three years of real success.
In any case, revenge was served cold this past weekend and our Capital Sports team agreed it was tasteless to ridicule someone who might not be able to take the sneers and jeers that so many were letting him hear. If ever a case brought home the fact that a cheap gag at someone’s expense could have devastating consequences, it was during the broadcast as more and more “celebs” joined in the chorus to further their own fame. Artem Dzyuba was the messiah for Russia in 2018, he was a naughty boy when he made the video last December, but we do not need to crucify anyone for being an eejit. There but for the grace of social media go we.