On the whole, the Russian footballer is, much like this English equivalent, a specimen which does not travel well. Whilst Andrei Kanchelskis lit up the Premier League and the double act of Alexander Mostovoi and Valeri Karpin became local heroes with Celta Vigo, in recent years the number of successful exports has declined. Andrei Arshavin started well at Arsenal before becoming the club’s scapegoat, whilst across town at Tottenham, Roman Pavlyuchenko struggled to gain the confidence of his managers. Only Pavel Pogrebnyak managed anything like a run of games for Stiuttgart before being sent to England, whilst the likes of Dmitri Sychev and Yuri Zhirkov were unable to make their mark abroad before returning home.
Today, the fact is made clear in the selection of Fabio Capello’s national team. In the recent double-header against Portugal and Azerbaijan, two games producing two very different 1-0 wins, the Italian manager’s squad was made up entirely of players based in Russia, the squad coming together from just six different clubs. Since the failure of foreign-based Arshavin and Sporting winger Marat Izmailov to inspire the team to Euro 2012, the new boss has favoured an approach centred much closer to home. It remains a point of controversy today.
However, observers of Wednesday’s match will have noticed a slight change to the usual formula of men from the various Moscow sides accompanying the Zenit/CSKA core and the odd name from new contenders Anzhi. Named in the senior squad for the first time by Capello, and making his international debut after 80 minutes, was a certain Denis Cheryshev.
The young winger may not have had much to show off his talents in the dramatic 2-2 draw against the United States, but his inclusion in the squad at all is a sign to young Russian footballers that going overseas can aid their game. Cheryshev, unlike so many of his compatriots taking to the field in Krasnodar, cannot be claimed as a product of any of the Moscow youth squads, Zenit’s Smena academy or even the national academy based in Togliatti. The son of former Russian international and recent Volga manager Dmitri, Denis is a product of the second most famous academy in Spain.
Whilst Barcelona’s La Masia may take all the plaudits for producing the bulk of one of the most dominant club sides in recent memory, Real Madrid’s own cantera system can also lay claim to a number of players plying their trade in Europe’st op leagues. With Castilla, Real’s reserve side, competing in the upper reaches of the Spanish second tier, it is obvious that they too have a system designed to develop the finest young talent.
Cheryshev will be hoping to do just that. He found himself in Spain by the accident of birth, being born at a time when his father was playing up front for Sporting Gijon. It was there that Cheryshev began his footballing career, but it did not take long before the big guns came calling. In 2002, after a two year spell following his father to Burgos and at the age of just 12 years old, Real Madrid convinced the younger Cheryshev to switch his allegiance, promising world class facilities as well as boasting one of world football’s richest histories and most prestigious names. The negotiations were not difficult.
Perhaps surprisingly for one so young who had rarely set foot in the country of his parents, Cheryshev did not disappear off the radar of those monitoring the next batch of Russian talent. 16 appearances for the national under-16 side yielded nine goals from his preferred position on the left, and he rose up through the youth ranks in Madrid, so did he continue to contribute for his country – his international youth record stands at 39 appearances at 22 goals, a fine return for a player whose first job is to create chances rather than convert them.
Equally, the young winger has made the most of the world class facilities at the Santiago Bernabeu. Benefiting from being in the presence of the some of the world’s finest footballers, Cheryshev has honed his skills to the point of being a crucial part of the Castilla side currently doing battle in the Spanish second tier, starting ten of their 13 games so far and contributing four goals to the Real Madrid cause.
Such has been his progress that despite only appearing for Real in friendlies, Fabio Capello has thrust the 21-year old into the senior fold. Although ten minutes in a friendly cannot be taken as an indicator of future performance or development, to remain on the radar for so long and make the progression he has done can only be an encouraging sign for the winger and his country.
Indeed, it is not just Fabio Capello who has been impressed by Cheryshev’s recent displays. Whilst it remains to be seen whether he is bale to force himself permanently into star-studded Real Madrid line-up, there appear to be a number of clubs willing to give him a chance at first-team football at the highest level. Reading owner Anton Zingarevich expressed his admiration of the player in a recent Sky Sports interview, offering him a chance to prove himself in the Premier League relegation battle.
The other contenders to sign the winger are involved in a battle of their own, although at the other end of their respective table. Wanting to add to their extensive list of current Russian internationals and strengthen their attacking options, Russian champions Zenit have been linked with Cheryshev in recent weeks, with rumours of a January transfer picking up pace after father Dmitri spoke openly of Zenit’s interest. No offer is understood to be have been made, but the interest alone is indicative of how highly Cheryshev’s potential is viewed in his homeland.
What is certain is that his star is rising, and that by capturing his allegiance early on in his career – Cheryshev holds Spanish citizenship in addition to his Russian roots – the Russian team could end up being a huge beneficiary. As to his club future, it appears to become less clear by the day. Tracking his progress as a rare Russian youngster overseas could be over before too long, but alternatively, it could take a dramatic turn for the interesting.