By Pavle Gognidze
Earlier this winter PFC CSKA Moskva captain Sergei Semak had reportedly been transfer-listed and was set to sign for arch-rivals FC Lokomotiv Moskva. After this week, such a modest move would seem stupid for a player of Semak's calibre.
Having recorded four goals in six appearances in the UEFA Champions League group stage, including a fantastic hat-trick at Paris Saint-Germain FC on Tuesday night, Semak has yet again proved to his club that as well as being team captain he is also CSKA's best-loved player.
The 28-year-old's situation this season would certainly have tried many other players. With the arrival of Brazilian youth international Daniel Carvalho and senior international Vágner Love, Semak had been forced to compete to even play as a substitute.
However, the Ukrainian-born Semak has never been one to shy away from competition, gradually proving to coach Valeriy Gazzaev the old maxim that one old friend can be as a good as several new ones.
His hat-trick in the 3-1 win in Paris on Tuesday was all the more remarkable considering that he scored his second and third goals after the dismissal of CSKA's Lithuanian defender Deividas Šemberas. At 1-1 and with more than an hour remaining, things had certainly looked grim for the Muscovites.
However, Semak does not cave in so easily. "I was sure we would get a positive result," said the striker. "None of the lads were falling apart. But the fact that I went on to score three times came as a huge surprise."
It was a magnificent individual performance from the graduate of the Lugansk sporting academy who moved to Moscow at 17 to join FC Asmaral Moskva before signing for CSKA as part of his military service and then permanently in 1994. However, agonisingly, it did not mean a place in the last 16 of the Champions League for CSKA. A goal for FC Porto four minutes from time gave them a 2-1 win against Chelsea FC in Portugal and saw them steal second place in Group H.
"When the final whistle went we did not know Chelsea had lost in Portugal," said Semak. "At half-time we were told that the English were ahead and we were sure the match would end like that. I could not believe it at first.
How come we're not in the play-offs after such a victory? But then the result was confirmed, and all our happiness just disappeared somewhere."
Certainly, Semak has never had much luck in football. Two years ago, he scored twice in a UEFA Cup game against Parma FC only to see his side bow out 4-3 on aggregate. "The boys have noted that my goals in Europe don't help us," he said. "This time even a hat-trick was not enough to earn us a Champions League place."
The longest-serving player at the club, the rumour that he had been transfer-listed in the summer caused outrage among supporters. Yet the fact that he only made the staring lineup in Paris because of injuries to Ivica Olic and Chidi Odiah may yet stir up further interest in the player.
Semak knows that Lokomotiv and FC Dinamo Moskva are interested in him and that CSKA fans would hate to see him go. However, if a big club from western Europe comes calling, the Army Men could well be losing one of their finest footsoldiers this winter.
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