Kazakhstan: Arshavin Joins Almaty’s Foreign Legion
After weeks of speculation, Andrey Arshavin, the former Arsenal and Russia star, has finally committed his future to Almaty’s FC Kairat, helping stoke Kazakhstan’s dreams of success on the European football stage.
Arshavin became the latest legionnaire to join Kazakhstan’s Premier League after signing a 1+1 deal with FC Kairat on March 18. The club’s website had pictures of Arshavin signing up to a one-year deal with the possibility of a further year’s extension.
Speculation about Arshavin’s future began in February when his contract with Russia’s Kuban Krasnador was terminated by mutual consent. He was spotted training with FC Kairat ahead of Kazakhstan’s Super Cup match with FC Astana, which opened the 2016 season on March 8. FC Kairat won that game on penalties.
Arshavin, 34, is set to make his debut in Kazakhstan’s top-tier on April 3 in the match against Uralsk’s FC Akzhayik. The former Russia captain started his career at Zenit St Petersburg in 1999. Following some eye-catching performances during 2008, a number of big European clubs appeared as suitors for the rising star before Arsenal finally landed him for around $24 million, a club record at the time, in 2009.
After a bright start, Arshavin’s career in England’s Premier League faltered and he was loaned back to Zenit in 2012. Having failed to secure a place in Zenit’s starting line-up, Arshavin was then loaned out to Kuban Krasnador in 2015.
Arshavin joins another seasoned legionnaire in Almaty: Ukrainian international Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, 36. Tymoshchuk formerly starred for Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit St. Petersburg and Bayern Munich.
Football is at the forefront of Astana’s bid to make Kazakhstan a sports powerhouse. FC Astana made it to the group stages of this year’s UEFA Champions League, the first club from Kazakhstan to make it this far in Europe’s elite competition.
Sponsors have brought in big bucks to boost Kazakhstan’s football dreams. FC Kairat is backed by well-connected gas tycoon Kairat Boranbayev, whose daughter Alima is married to Aysultan Nazarbayev, the grandson of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Boranbayev is also behind McDonald’s in Kazakhstan, whose first Central Asian outlet opened in Astana on March 8.
FC Astana is bankrolled by Samruk-Kazyna, which controls Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth fund. In February, Samruk-Kazyna announced that it was scaling back in its investment in the Astana Presidential Sports Club due to funding cutbacks linked to the economic crisis engulfing the country.
In recent years, a rivalry has grown between the team from Kazakhstan’s glitzy new capital, Astana, and the team from the former capital, Almaty. FC Astana won Kazakhstan’s 2015 Premier League title by one point from FC Kairat, whilst the 2015 cup final saw the Almaty team triumph 2-1 over its rivals from the capital.
FC Astana has invested heavily in young talent including Serbia’s Nemanja Maksimović, Ghana’s Patrick Twumasi and Columbia’s Roger Cañas. Not to be outdone by its northern neighbour, FC Kairat, has opted for experience by recruiting former Russian international Arshavin to its ranks.
FC Kairat’s new coach,Aleksandr Borodyuk is well-acquainted with Arshavin — the pair worked together in the 2000s, when Borodyuk was assistant manager of Russia’s national team. Borodyuk took over at FC Kairat at the end of December.
Kazakhstan is already recouping some of its investment in the former Arsenal star. During a training session ahead of the Super Cup final, Arshavin was kitted out in a sweatshirt emblazoned with the logo for EXPO 2017 Green Energy, an international exhibition to be held next year in Astana.