Why did I leave Tottenham? If I’d stayed, with their shortage of strikers this season, I could have finally made it to be first choice at White Hart Lane!
Pavlyuchenko produced mixed views among Spurs supporters, some point to his excellent goals and think that he was never given a proper opportunity at White Hart Lane but others remember his lethargic performances from which he occasionally produced a goal of class.
Following his transfer to Moscow, his comments in the Russian media, Sports Express, didn’t help to endear Pavlyuchenko to Spurs fans as he indicated that if he hadn’t been transferred, he was planning to sit out the remainder of his contract and leave on a free in the summer of 2013.
“I explained that if they did not let me go now, when match practice for the European Championship is particularly important, then I would not consider a transfer in the summer.”
Super, Super Pav ….Super Pavlyuchenko
The Russian signed for Tottenham from Spartak Moscow in September, 2008 for £14 million but he had first come to the notice of fans in England a year earlier when he scored the two goals, past Paul Robinson, for Russia in the qualifying game against England for Euro 2008. He then scored three goals and produced some worthy performances in the Finals as Russia progressed to the semi-finals before losing to eventual winners, Spain.
So when Tottenham signed Pavlyuchenko, they were recruiting a player with international experience who had scored goals at the highest level of international competition. Pavluchenko, however, found it difficult to settle into the demands of Premier League football and to life in England. He scored his first goal in a Carling Cup win over Newcastle United in late September and his first League goal was against Bolton Wanderers at the end of October in Harry Redknapp’s first game in charge. A week later he scored a late, unexpected winner against Liverpool at White Hart Lane to end the visitors undefeated start to the season. He continued to score in Cup games and was at his best against Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup 3rd Round game. He scored twice and showed a level of performance not previously seen from him during the early months of his time at Tottenham. His link up play and distribution was good and it seemed that finally Spurs fans were seeing the true player in Pavlyuchenko and they responded with their ‘Super, Super Pav, Super, Super Pav, Super, Super Pav, Super Pavlyuchenko’ song from the stands.
However, it was not to last and his inconsistency became apparent as he only scored another five goals before the end of the season, two in League games and three Cup goals. Which was the true Pavlyuchenko? Harry Redknapp seemed confused and uncertain.
The following season Pavlyuchenko had difficulty getting into the team with Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane appearing to be selected ahead of him for the strikers’ positions. In the first half of the season he was restricted to appearances mainly in Cup games but was given an opportunity as a substitute against Wigan Athletic in February. He scored twice and scored again in subsequent games over the next few weeks which helped Spurs to end the season in fourth. Many fans regarded him as the best striker at the club but the management still had issues over his overall contribution. He had again only scored 5 League goals from 16 appearances with another 5 from 8 Cup appearances. At each transfer window there was talk of him leaving Spurs and returning to Russia but nothing materialised.
With Tottenham’s strikers having a collective difficulty in finding the net in season 2010 -11, Pavlyuchenko produced his best League return with 10 goals from 28 appearances and another 4 goals in Champions League games, including the third in the home win over Inter Milan. He was, however, never certain of his position in the team with Crouch preferred in the European games and Defoe and Pavlyuchenko vying for a starting place in the team alongside Rafael Van der Vaart who had signed from Real Madrid at the end of August. This signing brought a change in formation, as Van der Vaart was more suited to playing a support role to a lone striker rather than with two strikers, the system which Spurs had previously employed.
Pavlyuchenko seemed unsuited to the lone striker’s role as his link up play was poor and he often looked lazy through an apparent lack of effort. He is very much his own player and while other strikers have developed understandings with those around them, this was alien to the Russian and at no time did he develop such an understanding with another striker at Spurs. Keane linked well with Dimitar Berbatov and Defoe, Crouch and Defoe had worked well at Portsmouth and Spurs’ history is littered with examples of a striking partnership which was mutually beneficial – Bobby Smith and Les Allen in the ‘Double’ team, Jimmy Greaves and Smith, Greaves and Alan Gilzean, Gilzean and Martin Chivers, Steve Archibald and Garth Crooks, Teddy Sheringham and Jurgen Klinsmann were all fine examples of how the team prospered with two strikers working together. In the Spurs squad of Spurs’ Champions League season, Crouch seemed to quickly develop an understanding with Van der Vaart and many of the Dutchman’s goals were due to Crouch heading the ball down to him to finish off. The lack of understanding with those around him made it difficult for Pavlyuchenko to get a regular starting position in the team.
It proved to be the same for Pavlychenko in the opening months of the season as as he remained fourth choice, relegated to playing in the Europa League with the younger players. Even after Keane’s departure and with Crouch injured, Defoe and Van der Vaart were entrusted with the strikers role. Pavlychenko in pre-season games was described by commentators as being ‘disinterested’ and in the Europa League game at home to Hearts when he started with young Academy player, Harry Kane, he proved less than successful. His best effort which brought an early save from the Hearts keeper, came after good work by Kane. It was mostly downhill from that point – he did little to support the young player making his debut – Kane actually created more for him than he did for the youngster. His first touch was so poor it was like playing to a barn door. His link up play with team mates was poor. His shooting was wayward and when he got the ball near goal he had only one thought, a shot, but on those occasions the fans high up in the stands were in greater danger than the Hearts goalkeeper. It was not a good night for Pavlyuchenko and with the signing of Emmanuel Adebayor announced, it became even more difficult for him to claim a starting place in the Spurs team.
Pavlyuchenko scored in the Europa League against Shamrock Rovers and his goal from a free-kick against Rubin Kazan was outstanding. He only played 18 minutes of Premier League football before appearing as a substitute against Sunderland to score the winning goal with tremendous shot – he obviously felt he had a point to prove. Even after that goal, he started only one more match for Spurs, at home to Cheltenham Town in the FA Cup 3rd Round at White Hart Lane, and again, he scored.
Making the Most of Pavlyuchenko’s Talent
Pavlyuchenko was player with talent but it was so rarely seen that he was often on the fringes of the Tottenham team, to be used as third or fourth choice. Throughout his time at White Hart Lane, communication with Pavlyuchenko was difficult as the Russian spoke little English. Harry Redknapp was unable to find a way of using his ability to best purpose and the club was constantly looking to sign new strikers – a search which continues. In contrast, Guus Hiddink, during his time as manager of the Russia football team, appeared to coax or cajole Pavlyuchenko into producing his best performances in international football.
For the Tottenham manager, the question was always, ‘What to do with a player like Roman Pavlyuchenko?’ and they never came up with an answer – the occasional flash of the player he could be, shown by a stunning strike for goal, was surrounded with mediocrity of poor passing, limited link up play and the impression of being disinterested. There was little confidence in Pavlychenko’s ability to produce regularly at Tottenham. Fans tried to lift him with their ‘SuperPav’ song but it didn’t made any lasting impression on Pavlyuchenko’s performances.
In his year since leaving Spurs, Pavlyuchenko has amde 19 appearances for Lokomotiv Moscow and scored 6 goals.