A mixed bag might be the best description of Diniyar Bilyaletdinov's two and a half years in English football with Everton FC, but the Russian international described it as an "invaluable experience" as he reflected on his decision to return home and join FC Spartak Moskva.
There were high hopes when the former FC Lokomotiv Moskva captain arrived in England in August 2009, signed by Everton manager David Moyes on the recommendation of Bilyaletdinov's then national coach Guus Hiddink. 'Bily' scored the Liverpool club's 2009/10 goal of the season against Manchester United FC but the midfielder became an increasingly peripheral figure.
"There were a lot of aspects that were against me," Bilyaletdinov said of his spell at Goodison Park. "It is not that easy to be a foreigner in England as there are certain demands on you. Overall, I am happy with my time in England. I got invaluable experience in the Premier League. There were also positive moments outside football – I learned English, got married and met a lot of interesting people."
Yuri Semin, the coach who gave Bilyaletdinov his chance in Lokomotiv's first team, defended his former charge, who made 77 Everton appearances, scoring nine goals. "
I do not think Diniyar was unsuccessful in England," the FC Dynamo Kyiv coach said. "Only outstanding players have an opportunity to play in every match. Others get 50–70% of playing time, and Bilyaletdinov was among them. He did a good job, he'll be well remembered in Liverpool, and he's moving to a team who are certainly not too bad. Unlike Everton they should be playing in Europe next year."
Once a Lokomotiv trainee, Bilyaletdinov enjoyed five and a half years in the club's first team, winning the 2004 Russian league title. Yet Loko's surplus of midfielders meant they did not make a bid for the 26-year-old. Instead it was Spartak, Russia's best-supported side, who moved for the left-footer, agreeing an undisclosed fee with Everton. "Spartak play attractive, attacking football which I like a lot," said Bilyaletdinov.
Bilyaletdinov, who aims to boost his UEFA EURO 2012 hopes with the transfer home, is the first former Lokomotiv player in recent history to switch to city rivals Spartak, though there are a good number of Spartak old boys at Lokomotiv. The moment of truth for him will come on 13 May when Spartak and Lokomotiv meet. "I expect the Loko fans will boo me," he admitted, though he stressed his love for his former team. "
Lokomotiv are the club who gave me my place in senior football and they are forever in my heart."
For this reason, 'Bily' promised he would not indulge in any badge-kissing at Spartak, who sit fourth in the Russian Premier-Liga. "I do not think that kissing the badge is a measure of your love for the team. When a person spends his whole career at one club he can do this but others should have to earn the right."
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