Former Russia centre-forward Dmitri Bulykin has made as many headlines for a perceived playboy lifestyle as for his footballing prowess, but since moving to ADO Den Haag on loan he has been back-page news only.
The 31-year-old looked to be in decline when RSC Anderlecht loaned him out for a second successive season, after an unconvincing 2009/10 with Fortuna Düsseldorf in the 2. Bundesliga, to Den Haag of the Dutch Eredivisie. Yet Bulykin has responded with his best career statistics: his 17 goals and six assists in 24 league games have fired Den Haag to fifth place and made him the Netherlands' second-highest scorer.
"It has been a surprise, for me as well as for the team," Bulykin, who had joined Anderlecht from Bayer 04 Leverkusen in August 2008, told UEFA.com. "The best thing is, I have done this while not playing for a top club. Den Haag used to be fighting against relegation all the time, and many said we would do so this season, but we are fifth and have a chance of qualifying for the UEFA Europa League. Nor are we going to be happy with just that."
Following the likes of Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten, Romário, Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelrooy as the Eredivisie's golden boot is also a distinct possibility for Bulykin, who trails NEC Nijmegen's Björn Vleminckx by one goal. "I believe I can do it," he said. "But if I had to chose, I would opt for Den Haag being successful – they are much more important than an individual award."
Such selflessness may not chime with many Russian fans' view of Bulykin, whose years at FC Lokomotiv Moskva and FC Dinamo Moskva were coloured by tales of his off-field pursuits: the music videos, television shows, university studies and occasional nights out were considered a distraction from his work. Indeed, they prompted his transfer from Dinamo to Leverkusen following a spell in the reserves in 2007.
"I took all the negative stuff in the press with a smile," said Bulykin, who barely played in his last three seasons in Russia and saw little more action at Leverkusen and then Anderlecht. "
It was important that I had faith in myself and never gave up. Dinamo was the hardest time of my career – I was isolated from football. I couldn't play and they wouldn't let me go."
Now he has recovered his mojo, Bulykin is determined to show Russian audiences what he can do – and add to the seven goals he netted in 15 Russia appearances. Although his last cap came in October 2004, Bulykin's form with Den Haag has prompted calls for his return to the national fold, despite coach Dick Advocaat again omitting him from his latest squad.
"I really want to help the team and increase the competition for places," Bulykin said. "I still hope to get back into the squad. Recently I showed my Den Haag team-mates a video of the best moments of my career, including goals for Russia. Those memories are always with me and help me motivate myself for Den Haag."
If he maintains his current strike rate, better things will surely come, and while the future is far from certain, Bulykin sounds optimistic. "I still have a contract with Anderlecht," he said. "I'll go back to Brussels at the end of May and we will see what happens. I really want to play another four years at the top level, enjoying my football."
©UEFA.com 1998-2013. All rights reserved.