Thriving at Kairat Almaty at 35, Andrei Arshavin tells UEFA.com about his big move east, gives some European tips and admits he always wanted to play for Barcelona.
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Disappointed at a lack of playing time, former Zenit and Arsenal winger Andrei Arshavin left Kuban Krasnodar at the start of the year. He eventually teamed up with Guus Hiddink's former assistant during his time as Russia coach, Alexandr Borodyuk, at Kairat Almaty. Playing alongside former Zenit compadre Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, the 35-year-old scored eight goals as Kairat finished runners-up in the league and the Kazakh Cup, and has agreed to spend next year with the club too. He spoke to UEFA.com.
UEFA.com: You knew Alexandr Borodyuk when you joined Kairat – have coaches always been a big factor in your choice of clubs?
Andrei Arshavin: I haven't played for that many teams. At Zenit, I had to work with whoever was in charge. I'd have played for Arsenal regardless of their manager, too, even though it's been an Arsène Wenger's team for the last 20 years. But at Kairat, the manager factor was quite important. I didn't think any manager would want me, but Borodyuk knows me well as a player and as a person. When I signed for Kairat, he believed in me more than I did.
UEFA.com: Next year could be your final year as a player. How does that feel? What did you want to achieve in your career?
Arshavin: When I was young, I wasn't even sure that I'd become a professional footballer. I didn't think of how my career would end – I just played football because I liked it and I was doing alright. When you're just starting your career, you don't really think about how it ends. I always wanted to play in Europe, and I've managed to do that. Maybe it wasn't my ideal team – the one I really wanted to play for was Barcelona, who I have followed since I was a child.
UEFA.com: You have been in Kazakhstan for nearly a year now. How has it been?
Arshavin: I started out thinking it was always very hot here. Now I know it's not the case. I suppose I've played OK here. I didn't do anything extraordinary. After six months without training I played quite a lot of games, and that was good enough for me, but we didn't win anything.
UEFA.com: Kairat lost out to Maccabi Tel-Aviv in UEFA Europa League qualifying and the Israeli side ended up facing Zenit in the group stage. Would you have liked to play against your old club?
Arshavin: I would not like to play against Zenit in St Petersburg, but it would have been amazing to play against them in Almaty. Would I have celebrated if I had scored against them? Yes, why not? Maybe not in the maddest style though.
UEFA.com: Russian clubs are struggling in the UEFA Champions League. Why is that?
Arshavin: Qualification was a major achievement in itself for Rostov. They got drawn with two top clubs [Bayern and Atlético], who are much stronger than them. As for CSKA Moskva, they have some financial problems, unfortunately. The team is doing its best but is getting weaker from year to year. [Alan] Dzagoev is injured, [Roman] Eremenko is suspended, so the Army Men are in a very difficult situation.
UEFA.com: Are the prospects better for the Russian clubs in the UEFA Europa League?
Arshavin: Zenit can go a long way this season; they have a classy squad and play some good football. Krasnodar? They are ready for the serious challenges in Europa League as well.
UEFA.com: Finally, who do you think will win the English and Russian leagues this season?
Arshavin: I think Manchester City and Arsenal are the sides who will compete for the title in England even though Chelsea are top at the moment. As for Russia, Spartak Moskva and Zenit will compete for the first place.