The misunderstood footballer of Tottenham’s past

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Tottenham striker Roman Pavlyuchenko

Tottenham Hotspur sold Russian striker Roman Pavlyuchenko last year, after 4 years of service at White Hart Lane. Making his mark as something of a “super sub” for the Premier League club, he divided opinion amongst fans. At a time when the North London club is crying out for a new frontman, is it time to reassess the career of the loveable Russian?

The talent and ability of the former Spurs man is undeniable. Unfortunately this was only ever really shown in flashes, much to the frustration of fans and manager alike. He notched 42 goals from 113 appearances in all competitions, which is by no means a poor return. Often forced into short last minute cameo roles, his goals to game ratio is perhaps an unfair reflection of his true impact. Moreover, a fair few of his goals proved to be crucial in matches often against high calibre opposition. Whilst others gained acclaim by capitalising on weaker opposition, the affectionately known “Pav” was something of a big game player.

An £8m move back to Lokomotiv Moscow brought down the curtain on an eventful spell at the Lane. He was someone who polarized opinion, with many writing him off as a lazy liability and others seeing him more as a misunderstood talent.

It is easy to forget that the Champions League rollercoaster that Spurs enjoyed so readily may never have happened was it not for Pavlyuchenko.  Netting that stunner away to Young Boys of Bern gave the team the momentum to progress to the group stages. This was just one of a collection of important strikes by the Russian during his time at the Lane. Harry Redknapp owes a lot of his early success to the Russian who netted in an opening win against Bolton and more memorably stole all 3 points against Liverpool in the last minute.

Now I am not naïve enough to believe the Russian set the world alight in his time on our shores, far from it. A frustratingly lazy figure that at times displayed a level of interest not far removed from a university lecture hall. This behaviour would be easier to take if the Russian was totally devoid of talent. However, on his day, or perhaps moment, he was world-class and this is why I believe Spurs missed a trick with the talented striker. Signed after an impressive Euro’s with Russia, his proficiency on the international stage was a sure sign of the potential he possessed.

If a player can show his class over a 10-minute spell then the question must be asked why not 90 minutes? Harry Redknapp is often credited as being a fantastic man-manager, and I do not deny this is the case with many players. However, if Redknapp was so talented in this field why could he not get the best out of Pavlyuchenko? My problem with Redknapp is that he is often too keen to isolate players who he doesn’t consider to be a “favourite”. The infamous “arm around the shoulder” was conditional. It was offered to the likes of Crouch and Defoe, who have followed him club to club but not to someone like Pavlyuchenko. This exclusion of players extends even further. You only have to consider those that showered the manager in water amongst scenes of jubilant celebration at the Etihad. Where have the careers of Bentley, Jenas and Palacios gone now?

Even when the Russian was chanced under Redknapp’s stewardship, the degree of tactical nouse seemed woefully inadequate. After the Liverpool winner, reporters asked Redknapp what he asked of the Russian at halftime, replying: “just run about. That’s the truth.” Clearly the Russian was the sort of player who required more guidance than the likes of a Modric who could express himself naturally. Inflexible in his approach, Redknapp was unwilling to tailor his management to get the best out of the Russian.

Contrast this to the highly inclusive style of new man Andre Villas Boas, and you just wonder what the Russian may have achieved under a different regime. There were a number of points this year that Pavlyuchenko may well have got a serious run in the team, and under different management I feel he truly could have cemented his place. When a player is held in such low regard by management, you cannot help but feel laziness on the field is understandable. Most Spurs fans found this as a central problem with the Russian, but with good management this is a trait easily remedied.

He will be affectionately remembered amongst a sizable section of Spurs fans. Possessing an ability to hide undeniable genius behind a curtain of mediocrity frustrated and excited fans in equal measures. His career at the Lane may well always be overshadowed by a few what if questions? I cannot help but think Spurs failed to get the most out of the hugely talented Russian.

A few highlights from the Russians time at Spurs

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