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Why Russian clubs were desperate for Arsenal's Arshavin, Tottenham striker Pavlyuchenko

On the face of it, for Russia's ex-Premier League players, their disappointing form has followed them home.

As the Russian transfer window shut last month, Tottenham striker Roman Pavlyuchenko had signed with Lokomotiv Moscow, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov had left Everton for Spartak Moscow and Arsenal's Andrey Arshavin had returned to Zenit St Petersburg. But none of this trio have been pulling up any trees since their return home.

But Russian football expert and RT sports anchor Kate Partridge insists the local league is benefiting from a lift in standard as more locals now return from the West.

"Whatever the opinions, the return of the Russian players has several benefits. Firstly, because of the quota system (although the RPL are talking about relaxing that), this boosts the number of quality native players available for the clubs. Their returns are also a boon for the Russian national team, as they now have the chance to play regular football ahead of the European championships instead of warming the benches in England," Partridge told tribalfootball.com.

"However, the quota system is psychologically a double-edged sword. The Russian players know that they are indispensable back in their native land, and so can earn much more, and will also be welcomed back if they face any problems elsewhere."

The Russian Premier League's quota system has its critics and Partridge acknowledges it could stall talent development given the riches on offer for local players.

"Some pundits feel the return of Arshavin further boosts the claim that Russian players do not have a fighting spirit: they do not want to progress, or fight for a place in the starting eleven - a situation encouraged by the security blanket of the quota system.

"It's a debatable point if the Russian Premier League is more technical than its English counterpart, but psychology does seem to be a factor. Peter Odemwingie (West Bromwich Albion) says the key is confidence, suggesting Yuri Zhirkov´s inability to hold down a regular first team place at Chelsea was less to do with talent than a little timidity.

"Should the RPL decide to reduce or remove the quota system, that could force future Russian players to be more forceful - and thus perhaps more successful - in England."

So how have these returning internationals performed in recent weeks?

"Arshavin's return to Russia in the extended winter transfer window was greeted with a mixture of anticipation and scepticism - with at least one journalist suggesting the Russia captain was overweight. It is also safe to confirm that the 30-year-old forward has indeed made a slow start, being substituted in the second-half of both games in which he has played," reflected Partridge.

On Pavlyuchenko, Partridge says: "Loko's fans are happy to have signed 'Super Pav'. They know he has the record and potential to be the best striker they have. The Loko supporters do not care that the now 30-year-old used to play for Moscow rivals Spartak, as half of their team was developed through the red-and-white system.

"Some Loko fans feel that Pavlyuchenko did not 'fail' in England; rather that he did not get on with Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp and was therefore rather unfortunate. The striker's record of 42 goals in 113 appearances for Spurs, many of them off the bench, is a creditable return."

Christopher Samba, the former Blackburn Rovers captain, was a surprise signing for new Anzhi coach Guus Hiddink - and Partridge says the towering DR Congo defender could be the pick of the ex-Premier League stars.

"Not only has the defender helped keep two clean sheets, at an imposing 1.94 metres (6 feet 4 inches) tall, in time Anzhi may utilise Samba's aerial threat in set pieces, as they did at Blackburn.

"In a league where only the top few teams have excellent defences, Hiddink´s second signing could be the catalyst which propels Anzhi into Europe next season, and which could therefore cement his popularity with the Dagestan club."

Samba has enjoyed the full support of Anzhi this week after a banana was thrown by a Lokomotiv Moscow fan. The Dagestan club met the issue head-on, demanding Loko find and identify the culprit, describing the incident as "outrageous" and "idiotic".

The former Rovers captain has made it clear he is happy with the way Anzhi fans have taken to him, as Partridge explains: "Following his debut victory at Dynamo, Samba also commented that the fans are great and his team mates supportive. The problem of racism in football has never been an issue at Anzhi, with Roberto Carlos and Samuel Eto'o both openly stating how much they support the club's 'project' and enjoy life in Russia."

In a competition that is still growing and developing, RPL powerbrokers will be hoping the influx of foreigners and returning expats not only lift standards on the pitch, but in the stands as well.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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