Big ask for Bilyaletdinov

The signs are promising that the Russian is finding his feet and adapting to the rigours of English football. By Dom Howson.

The shadow of Andrei Kanchelskis hovers ominously over Diniyar Bilyaletdinov at Goodison Park. Silky-skilled Kanchelskis is a cult hero on Merseyside following an outstanding spell at the club during the mid-1990s. The Russian’s blistering turn of speed and array of tricks on the wing ensures Bilyaletdinov has big boots to fill.

Everton boss David Moyes has splashed a sizeable chunk of the cash generated from the sale of Joleon Lescott — around GBP10 million — on the services of Bilyaletdinov.

The pressure is on the former Lokomotiv Moscow winger to succeed in England, but Kanchelskis has tipped Bilyaletdinov to be a “good signing” for the club. Kanchelskis said: “He was a leader for Lokomotiv and he’s played many times in the national team. He’s a good player and a clever player, with good skill and a good left foot. He was very popular with Lokomotiv fans. He plays a little more inside like a midfielder. He is more like that than I was, but we’ll see in time what happens. Hopefully he’ll be a good player for Everton.”

As a youngster, Bilyaletdinov was taken to a specialist football school before being enrolled at Moscow State Industrial University. It was in 2004 Moscow-born Bilyaletdinov broke into Lokomotiv’s first team. In a memorable debut season, Bilyaletdinov helped Lokomotiv scoop the league title and he was also awarded the Russian Premier League’s Young Player of the Year accolade.

Bilyaletdinov’s father, Rinat, was also a professional player for Lokomotiv. Rinat, who is now Lokomotiv’s reserve-team coach, helped his son come through the ranks. Bilyaletdinov was rewarded for his stellar performances for Lokomotiv with the captain’s armband in 2007. His meteoric rise up the footballing ladder reached a crescendo when he made his debut for Russia at the age of 20. He featured in every game as Guus Hiddink’s side reached the semifinals of the Euro 2008 before bowing out to eventual winners Spain.

Prior to the tournament, Bilyaletdinov had played in 10 of Russia’s 12 qualifying matches, including two games against England. Now aged 24, he has established himself as a regular in the Russia national team and has been capped 29 times by his country, scoring twice.

At club level, Everton had tried to recruit Bilyaletdinov in the January transfer window, but Moyes was thwarted in his bid to lure him to England on loan. However, Moyes waited until August to sign the talented midfielder for an undisclosed fee. Bilyaletdinov, who penned a four-year deal at Everton, said: “There were some other clubs — both English and from continental Europe — who were interested in signing me last winter but there were a number of obstacles that prevented serious negotiations taking place. But that is not a problem now. I understand how lucky I am to be at a club like Everton, a club with such a great history and stature. I have been told from a young age that if you work hard that you will always achieve your ambitions and it was always my ambition to play in England at some point.”

The signs are promising that Bilyaletdinov is finding his feet and adapting to the rigours of English football. He starred on his full Everton debut in the 4-0 rout over AEK Athens in the Europa League, while he also impressed in the Carling Cup triumph over Hull last month. In recent years, Kevin Kilbane, James McFadden and Andy van der Meyde have tried manfully to provide width for Moyes’ side, but perhaps Bilyaletdinov has the necessary qualities to succeed. Only time will tell if he goes down in folklore like Kanchelskis.

For the past three years, it has been reported that Bilyaletdinov has been dating Masha Pozdnyakova. Whatever Bilyaletdinov’s car of choice, he will have his work cut out to impress his team-mates at Everton’s training ground as Tim Cahill and Phil Neville both drive top-of-the-range Range Rover Sport 4.4 V8 HSE, while a Porsche 911 Turbo is among Louis Saha’s fleet of rides.

FACTFILE Name: Diniyar Bilyaletdinov Position: Winger Club: Everton D.O.B.: 27/02/1985 Russia Caps: 29 Russia Goals: 2 Russia debut: 2005 v Latvia Moments to remember

Bilyaletdinov had a stunning home debut for Everton against AEK Athens in September. He created the first three goals for Joseph Yobo, Sylvain Distin and Steven Pienaar and was given a standing ovation by the Goodison Park faithful when he was substituted in the 52nd minute.

Moments to forget

Bilyaletdinov’s leadership skills and performances were severely criticised by the Russian press last season after Lokomotiv finished mid-table.

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