So perhaps it is not surprising that when Igor Akinfeev was just four-and-a-half years old his dad took him down to the local football club. The initial answer was a stern Niet. After all there was a strictly observed minimum age of six. Until, of course, they actually met little Akinfeev and noticed, even at that tender age, his blend of coordination, strength and athleticism. They took him on, knowing that it would be nothing short of criminal to let such a gifted child slip through their fingers.
Thus began a career which at every turn defied age and conventional wisdom. At nine he was named Player of the Tournament in a summer competition for under 14s. At 12, playing in an under-16 side, he kept 17 consecutive clean sheets. And, a month after his 16th birthday, he made his debut for CSKA Moscow, saving a penalty against Krylia Sovetov Samara along the way. By the end of the season he had supplanted Veniamin Mandryikin as CSKA's first-choice goalkeeper, despite the fact that Mandryikin was a Russian international.
The following season, 2004, he made his debut for Russia and was part of the squad at the European Championship. And, in 2005, he was a major part of CSKA's treble-winning season, as the Moscow club won the league, domestic cup and Uefa Cup. By now most of the football world had taken notice. Those who did not, had their eyes opened in 2006, when he kept clean sheets in CSKA's first four Champions' League matches. Not since Gigi Buffon had a goalkeeper been so dominant so young.
The summer of 2007 was supposed to be his chance to move to a big club in western Europe. Already he had drawn plenty of interest from sides in Spain, Germany and Italy. A move looked imminent when in a league match against Rostov he suffered a cruciate injury. He fought back tears as he came off the pitch, as Rostov's Olimp - 2 ground fell silent. Even the opposing fans understood how the loss of Akinfeev would be Russia's loss.
Some feared he would miss an entire season but six months later he was back on the pitch, as athletic and panther-like as ever. Since then he has gone from strength to strength, establishing himself as the best goalkeeper outside of the big three European leagues. Curiously he does not fit the mould of the big and rangy modern goalkeeper. At 6ft tall he is small for the position. And that may be why, if there is a weakness to his game, it is on crosses.
He rarely comes off his line, preferring instead to rely on his extraordinary athleticism and shot-stopping ability to keep the ball out, even at close range. "There are many ways to play goalkeeper. I am not going to grow another 10 centimetres at my age, so I don't see why I should play as if I was a tall man," he says. "My job is to prevent the other team from scoring, it does not matter how I do it."
He may be unorthodox in that sense, but that has not prevented his suitors from knocking at his door, the most recent reportedly being Manchester United, who see him as a potential long-term replacement for Edwin Van der Sar. Akinfeev is in no hurry to move, however. He is on the record as saying that, while he wants to win the Champions' League, one Champions League with CSKA is worth five with United or Real Madrid. He is probably right.
Besides, while he has already won three domestic titles, he's still just 23. There will be plenty of time to move elsewhere. Gabriele Marcotti is an expert in world football and lives in London. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org