Russia's RT sports anchor Kate Partridge examines Igor Denisov's big blow-up at Zenit St Petersburg.
The Russian champions are rarely out of the headlines these days, but thanks to Igor Denisov, publicity around Zenit St Petersburg has stepped up a couple of levels over the last week.
No doubt you'll have heard about Denisov's protests against the wages of new teammates Hulk and Axel Witsel - and all the fallout that has come from it.
On September 3rd, with a week to go in the Russian transfer window, but with the UEFA deadline imminent for clubs to submit their teams to play in Europe, Zenit hit global headlines with their first major signings of the summer in a record-breaking double swoop.
While the focus had been on whether mega-rich Anzhi might make a last-gasp signing, suddenly the St. Petersburg side – backed by Russian energy giant, Gazprom – splashed out $100 million to buy Porto and Brazil striker Hulk, along with Benfica and Belgium midfielder Witsel, each on a five-year contract.
However, as often happens, the effect of the big signings on the existing squad was to prompt them to question their own contracts and salaries. Such was reportedly the case with Denisov – never a man to shy away from speaking his mind - and newly promoted to captain of Russia by coach Fabio Capello. He threatened to go on strike in protest over pay, and was demoted to the reserves.
He missed Zenit’s 2-2 draw at struggling Krylya on September 22nd, and the following day, a club statement read: "The decision to send Igor Denisov to the youth team for an indefinite period...is connected to the fact that the player issued an ultimatum, refusing to take to the field against Krylya Sovetov after demanding a renegotiation of his contract.”
Denisov has since explained that his stance against the club management was over “the proper organisation of the team. And respect for the Russian players which Zenit has always relied upon"
The fans can relate to their fellow St. Petersburg native. They voted him Player of the Year in 2010, runner-up in 2011-12 and – on the day Zenit signed Hulk and Witsel – he was named Zenit’s player of the month. However, it’s doubtful if many fans are on his side over this issue. Indeed, his subsequent comments might have made the situation worse.
At Zenit’s next home match, there was a banner that said: “Love Zenit more than money”. The general consensus is that the fans seem to be unanimously on the side of Gazprom against a greedy Denisov.
But Denisov is a St. Petersburg native and has been with Zenit for the whole of his career, from academy to armband. It’s highly unlikely the Zenit, and now Russia, captain and UEFA Cup winner will leave the club.
The situation is comparable to that of Carlos Tevez and Manchester City. In the same way that City supported Roberto Mancini’s censure of self-exiled Tevez, Zenit have backed Luciano Spalletti’s demotion of Denisov. And, taking that comparison to its conclusion would mean Denisov isn’t likely to be going anywhere. Especially with Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller negotiating with the player.
Denisov’s role at Zenit is defensive midfielder in their 'Christmas Tree' formation. The equivalent players at England’s top clubs include Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel (and Michael Essien, now on loan at Real Madrid), Jack Rodwell at Manchester City and Michael Carrick at Manchester United.
However, along with the doubts over whether Denisov would actually leave Zenit in the first place, there are also the usual queries about a Russian player actually shining in England. I wonder if his 5’9” (1.76m) frame might be considered too slight for a league as physical as the English top flight.
Also, given the previous experience of English Premier League managers having to deal with situations like the Tevez saga, many might shy away from the prospect of signing a known maverick. At 28, it’s also unlikely the major English clubs would be prepared to invest in a player who would have little sell-on value at the end of his contract.
Arsene Wenger doesn’t sign players of that age, so it’s hard to see that Denisov would appeal to Arsenal, or any top English club. He's better off walking back his outburst and fixing things with Spalletti and his two new teammates.