A maverick

Growing up on the streets of St. Petersburg, few would have guessed that the timid-looking Andrey Arshavin would be one of the brightest footballing talents to have ever come out of Russia. By Ashfaq Gorsi.

Andrey Arshavin is somewhere between the weird and wonderful, but his footballing talent cannot be denied. Donning the famous red shirt of Arsenal, the Russian playmaker has shown flashes of pure genius and scored goals that leave opponents in awe.

His hope for global peace, love of bears and desire that his daughter will never play football have all been expressed in recent times, as has his hope to play elsewhere in the future. The man is hardly your archetypal footballer but, then again, the little playmaker's route into football can hardly be described as orthodox.

Growing up on the streets of St. Petersburg, few would have guessed that the timid-looking Arshavin would be one of the brightest footballing talents to have ever come out of Russia. He faced his fair share of hardship during childhood and was fortunate to survive being struck by a car as a child.

Arshavin slept on the floor of a cramped flat because his mother, Tatinia, could not afford to support him after her divorce from his father, Sergey. Despite the divorce Sergey still played an important part in his son's life.

Sergey, himself a talented amateur footballer encouraged his son to play football and took him to the prestigious Smena football academy of Zenit, his hometown club. Arshavin made his debut for Zenit a decade ago, going on to rise from a meek teenager to become an international superstar during his nine years with the Sine-Belo-Golubye.

Despite his 236 club appearances and 52 goals, it was Euro 2008 that saw him come to the fore on a continental level, lighting up Austria and Switzerland with his technical ability. The then 27-year-old's displays throughout the tournament saw him catapulted into the big league and become one of the most-sought after players in the world. Despite interests from his favourite childhood club, Barcelona, Arshavin was eventually signed up by Arsene Wenger for GBP16.9 million in January 2009.

By his own admission adapting to life in England wasn't easy and it took a while before he gave Arsenal fans something to cheer about. However, the settling-in period was actually a mere three months as Arshavin stamped his mark on the EPL with an astonishing four goals during the Gunners' incredible 4-4 draw with Liverpool at Anfield. “I love Arshavin because he has things that are unique to him,” gushed Wenger, a man who knows a thing or two about spotting talent. “He is an intelligent player and he looks like a shrewd street player because he creates something always in unexpected situations. I believe he has a big challenge in front of him because he made St. Petersburg win, and if he manages to make Arsenal win he will become an all-time great.

“That is the real challenge he faces and I am convinced he has all the potential to do it. He is a leader and a character, believe me. I consider him a great player, but if you want the consideration of everybody else, you need trophies.”

So far Arshavin's trophy cabinet remains bare from his English jaunt, although the Gunners will be keen to rectify that situation after five trophy-less seasons. Arsenal has looked sharp this season and with Arshavin as a potential catalyst this could be the season for silverwares return to the Emirates Stadium.

Having captained Russia during the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, it was a massive blow when the side missed out on the finals after narrowly losing to Slovenia on away goals in the paly-offs.

Arshavin has a long-term relationship with radio presenter Yulia, with whom he has two children. He drives a Mercedes GL Class, describing it as “big and comfortable”.

FACTFILE Name: Andrey Arshavin

Position: Attacking midfielder, second striker, winger

Club: Arsenal D.O.B: 29/05/1981 Russia Caps: 54 Russia Goals: 16 Russia Debut: v Belarus, May 2002

Moment to remember: His stunning four-goal performance that dented Liverpool's EPL title hopes in 2009.

Moment to forget: In a mouth-watering clash with Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal, Arshavin suffered a calf strain and was subsequently ruled out for three weeks.

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