Aleksandr Golovin: Russia’s long-hidden treasure set for stardom
Unless you're a Russian domestic football connoisseur, Aleksandr Golovin would have been a relative unknown prior World Cup curtain raiser. But after a five-star display against Saudi Arabia, he's suddenly become just as famous as his country's most powerful man; Vladimir Putin. As we've seen time-and-time again, much can change in just 90 minutes of football.
Russia may be hosting the biggest tournament in the sport, all is not well within football. The game is at an all-time low there; Sbornaya is in the midst of its worst iteration in years. At 70, they’re the lowest ranked team in the competition. Even the conquered Saudi's are better placed. Never mind Thursday's debacle, the Falcons suffered a relapse of glossophobia.
Domestic club sides in Russia aren’t doing well, either. Despite sixth ranking on UEFA country coefficient, none was strong enough to sneak into top 15. FC Porto, Benfica and even Shakhtar Donetsk were deemed superior to Zenit. A different tale nearly a decade ago, when those ruthless oligarchs frightened the continent. Thank God for the Chinese moneybags, though.
In terms of talents, the factory appears to have either stopped working or no longer exist whatsoever. There are sparse prospects emerging these days. The era of Andrey Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko seem an eternity ago. Bereft of motivation, the current crop is quite comfortable consuming exuberant wages, while doing nothing.
However, young playmaker Golovin may just be subconsciously pulling out from the crowd. Handpicked by CSKA Moscow aged 16, the Kaltan-native has always distinguished himself. His composition, intelligence and skill set totally alien. He was instrumental in clinching the 2013 UEFA U17 Championship. From then, the path to stardom was clear.
Three years later, Golovin was at the Euros proper. He started two of three matches in France. The attacker displayed a maturity beyond his years, having progressed at the VEB Arena under Leonid Slutsky and Viktor Goncharenko respectively. In addition to remarkable deft, direct passing, Golovin was nurturing his set-piece wizardry.
Golovin continued to grow in stature and pedigree over next two seasons. With the biggest spectacle coming home, he had something to prove. The expectation was massive. Being the youngest and most valued squad member, the burden of the entire Russian people were on his shoulder.
He hasn't disappointed, at least not yet. Golovin justified the hype in style, involved in almost all five goals against Saudi. He assisted Iury Galinsky's opener, prompted the second laid by Roman Zobnin for Denis Cheryshev. Not done yet, Golovin crafted Artem Dzyuba’s third and crowned it up with a solo set piece finish – a replica of that wonder strike away at Arsenal in the Europa League.
Golovin was linked with Juventus and the Gunners prior to the competition. Manchester United appears to have entered the fray, particularly after those kind words from Jose Mourinho. Anything close to Thursday's masterpiece against Egypt and Uruguay, even more, top guns will join the chase.
Where is best for him?
England doesn’t seem a homely enough destination for Russians. Arshavin did great things when he arrived but ultimately went off the rails. Pavlyuchenko and Yuri Zhirkov were no different from routine tourists. Besides, there may not be any room either at Arsenal or Manchester United, with Lucas Torreira and Fred involved.
Juve could be the most realistic stop. Claudio Marchisio appears to be heading out of the club and with Lazio’s excessive demands for Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Golovin could just be a cheaper alternative. The player, himself, is flattered to be linked to the Old Lady. However, wherever he ends up eventually, this 22-year-old is destined for greatness.