Roman Pavlyuchenko - Magical, Mercurial or Maniacal?

It's me again. Since my last FanPost, my slightly disappointing and embarrassing story of how I became a Spurs fan has come to light (as well as the fact that I am not actually a melon). For those who don't know, I was born in Australia and am currently living there, but I have always been proud of my Russian heritage. For many years, I have been a Spartak Moscow fan and avidly followed the national team, so when Roman Pavlyuchenko transferred to Spurs in August 2008, I followed. As the man who brought me to Spurs, I have a deep appreciation and gratitude of him, similar (but more extreme) to how many Americans feel about Robbie Keane.

From the off, Pav was under pressure to perform. He came in as the cheapest of three "big money" signings for Tottenham in that transfer window (the others being Luka Modrić and David Bentley) and he was immediately given the job of replacing the brilliant Dimitar Berbatov. Whilst giving Pav this sort of job may have been unfair considering he had never played outside of the Russian Premier League, the similarities between the two were striking. Both had been given the #9, but neither fit the role in the classic English definition of the sense, both having a somewhat average height and a laid-back play style. The problem with this comparison is that while Berba always had more natural skill, Pav was more energetic in his play.

Pav's first season in England did not go to plan. After only 2 points from 8 games, manager Juande Ramos and director of football Damien Comolli were sacked and replaced with Harry Redknapp. Meanwhile, Pavlyuchenko struggled for form. Scoring his first goal for the club in a League Cup game against Newcastle in late September, but failing to score until Redknapp's first game in charge, almost a month later. It was in these early stages of his Tottenham career that his heavily underrated aerial game became apparent. His first two goals for Tottenham (and Harry Redknapp's first in a 2-0 win over Bolton) came off accurate headers, and an impressive diving header against United that followed in January. Despite impressing early in Redknapp's time at Spurs, Pav never really got consistent playing time in the league as he struggled for a starting place with Darren Bent. Nevertheless, he was excellent in the cups, scoring in every domestic cup game except for the League Cup Final, which Tottenham lost to United on penalties. Pav ended the season as Tottenham's second best goalscorer, with 14 goals in 36 appearances in all competitions.

The 2009-10 season was worse for Pav, but Spurs saw an upturn in results as they advanced from 8th to their first ever 4th place finish in the Premier League era. The returns of Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane and the arrival of Peter Crouch pushed Pav down to fourth on Tottenham's depth chart and he only managed to score 5 league goals that season, coming over the course of 3 consecutive games in February and March (braces against Wigan and Blackburn, with a goal against Everton in between). Pav ended that season as Spurs third highest goalscorer, behind Defoe and Crouch, yet it was in this season that much of the criticism aimed at the Russian originated.

With the return to European football came Pav's return to playing time and, despite much criticism, he was fairly impressive for Tottenham. The arrival of Rafael van der Vaart led to the introduction of a 4-4-1-1, with Peter Crouch preferred as the lone striker, however squad rotation (yes, you heard right) led to the Russian playing 26 games in all competitions. Despite playing 19 games less than Crouch, Pav scored 3 goals more, and was Tottenham's second highest scorer behind Rafa. In his few games, he managed to seal a brace against Birmingham City on the final day of the season. These two goals sealed fifth place for Spurs, whilst also relegating the Blues.

And now on to the disappointing 2011-12 season. The arrival of Emmanuel Adebayor led to Pav only playing in 14 games in all competitions. By all accounts, the Russian was poor and failed to have any major impact besides his winners against Sunderland and Rubin Kazan. In January, Pav departed to Lokomotiv Moscow after a reported training ground bust-up with Kevin Bond. He cost the Railwaymen a reported 8 million pounds.

Since his return to the motherland, Pav has been spectacular. His link-up play has improved massively as he has been deployed as both a second striker and a winger under Slaven Bilić. He has largely returned to the form he once had as the Russian Premier League's top scorer in two consecutive years.

Generally, while it is true that his work rate was incredibly low for Spurs, it is quite unfair to call him "bad" or "useless". His penchant for brilliant long range goals and excellent volleys was almost unmatched at Tottenham and his skill level was much higher than one would expect. Given his goalscoring rate was the highest at the club in the 2010-11 season (151 minutes per goal), one can only wonder what he could have achieved if given consistent playing time at Spurs, like that which he had received at Spartak.

Now, I'd like to thank and congratulate anyone who bothered to read that much text. I have to apologise for the length of both this and the "Modric Replacements" piece. It seems I'm not very good at keeping things short. I'm all for any constructive criticism and I hope for a friendly discussion in the comments. My aim for making this article was not to say that Pav was brilliant for Spurs, or even that he should have stayed, but I was simply trying to assert that he was certainly far better than many (especially within the commentariat) give him credit for.

See y'all in the comments

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