russian steps

24.5.2002

Sergei Rebrov's recent revelation that the death of his former Dynamo Kiev manager Valeriy Lobanovsky brought him great sadness may tell us more about the reason he has not reproduced his Champions League form at Tottenham than at first it appears.

Rebrov will, no doubt, be one of the players who leaves the club without fulfilling his potential.  Having become the highest scorer in the premier European competition in his time at the perennial Ukrainian champions, he has fallen from grace with a resounding bump.  His feted move to Tottenham for a club record 11 million was to be the start of Spurs' resurrection.  However, in two seasons he is now little more than a part time player, producing cameo roles that are a sad silhouette of his striking self.

The one thing that Sergei stated on Lobanovsky's passing was that he taught him more about football than anyone else he had come across, so that must include Hoddle now.  The fact that he trained Dynamo Kiev in such a way that they were very successful at home and abroad meant that the system he played suited the little forward.  Goals smashed in from all angles were his trademark and alongside Andrei Shevchenko, he set up as many as he tucked away.  But away from his comfortable surroundings in the Kiev team, he has been unable to fit the teams he has played in at Tottenham.

The Kiev method involved rigid tactics and a regime that focused on fitness.  Sir Charles Hughes would have thought that he had found along lost son in Lobanovsky, as his scientific and statistical systems produced a high level of performance from his players, whoever they were.  The beauty was that new men could come in and fit the system automatically.  Initially, players might have found it strange as they were taken away from their home towns and put together with the other Kiev squad members.  The squad was based at a special centre for the club and extensive medical tests were carried out to ensure they were always at peak fitness.  The system of play was drilled into them to ensure that they would know exactly what would happen in any given situation.

Some players might have been able to adapt when they found themselves removed from the culture they were accustomed to.  Some might not.  Shevchenko has maintained a high scoring rate at AC Milan, while Rebrov has looked like a fish out of water.

That might be because the football in England is a lot different to that in Italy, but there should still have been glimmers of the style that brought him such a reputation that encouraged Tottenham to splash millions on him.  He has never looked happy playing the lone striker being up against hulking centre-halves, who are happy enough to kick him all afternoon.  He has rarely linked up well with any of the other forwards at Tottenham, making any impact only occasionally with Steffen Iversen, when he was free of injury.

Sergei did show a flash of his class, when he took the ball on the right of the box against Newcastle United at home in early 2001 and chipped it inch perfect into the far top corner of the net, leaving the keeper flapping at thin air.  Perhaps his best game was the FA Cup quarter final at Upton Park, when, in a torrential downpour, he scored twice to take Tottenham through to the Old Trafford semi-final against Arsenal, where he was pretty anonymous, in a poor team performance.  His body shape to give Tottenham a 2-1 lead in the 31st minute was superb, producing a volley that flew horizontally after it left his boot and left Hislop with no chance.

But these were few and far between.  I would hope that he might stay at White Hart Lane to show us what he is really capable of, but there is slim hope of that happening.  Hoddle has used him rarely, even from the bench and the five minute run-outs he gets here and there are no good for him or the club.  He has obviously lost confidence and appears to be heading out of the club with a price tag that has a large chunk reduced from the purchase fee.  

It's a shame that he didn't fit in here, but maybe it was the system rather than anything else that made him fail to live up to the expectations.  May he find luck and form elsewhere (although not at our expense) and may his replacement fit in better (and hopefully the management will consider this).

Grayling Barraclough

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