x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Pavel Pogrebnyak determined to stay the course at Fulham

The Russian has made an immediate impact in the Premier League with Fulham with five goals in his first three games, writes Ian Hawkey.

Pavel Pogrebnyak scored five times in his first three games for Fulham.
Pavel Pogrebnyak scored five times in his first three games for Fulham.

Russian stars are a relative novelty in the English Premier League. Many years ago, the goalkeeper Dimitri Kharine achieved a popularity at Chelsea.

He was uniquely exotic even in a cosmopolitan squad. At Manchester United in the same 1990s, the winger Andrei Kanchelskis made a strong, exciting impression though he, a Russia international, was by origin and upbringing a Ukrainian.

The more recent recruits from the fast-growing centre of football wealth and power that is Russia have gained a particular reputation: that they start with a bang and later fizzle.

Andrei Arshavin joined Arsenal in early 2009 and struck six goals for Arsene Wenger's team in his first 12 league games. Trace his productivity in the period after that and the statistics mainly confirm the broadly held view that Arshavin, wonderfully skilled, never quite yielded what he should have done in North London.

His first full season? Ten goals in 30 league outings. His next? Six in 37. By the time he moved, on loan, back to Zenit Saint Petersburg in February this year, he had scored just once in 19 Arsenal games in 2011/12. Arshavin is more than just a goalscorer, but he had become less of creator, too.

At Everton, fans remember the stirring debut of Diniyar Bilyaletdinov in a Europa League tie against AEK Athens, and his magnificent goal against Manchester United in his debut campaign.

It went downhill for the left-footer from Lokomotiv Moscow after that. Two and half years later, Bilyaletdinov was heading home, to Spartak Moscow.

Meanwhile, at Tottenham Hotspur, Roman Pavlyuchenko occupied a place some rungs down the striking hierarchy.

Spurs had imagined, when Pavlyuchenko registered five goals in his first eight Premier League starts in his debut, 2009/10 English campaign, he might turn into something other than an occasional impact player, who left for Lokomotiv in February.

Pavel Pogrebnyak has outdone all of those, at least in the manner with which he launched his Fulham career.

He signed on loan on the final day of the January transfer window. The club's popular target-man striker, Bobby Zamora, had just left for Queens Park Rangers. So when the Muscovite lined up for his debut, 11 days after leaving Stuttgart, he would be under immediate scrutiny.

Making his bow in English football against Stoke City, Pogrebnyak scored in a 2-1 Fulham win. In the next match, he scored the winner in the West London derby against QPR. By the end of his third game, he had five goals for his new club, his hat-trick against Wolverhampton Wandererstaking just 25 minutes and comprising strikes with each foot and one from a header.

Some start. It was also an insight into what, on his best form, Pogrebnyak, 28, can offer. The tall build is initially deceptive. Pogrebnyak looks like an orthodox target man but while useful enough in the air, his heading is not his principal asset.

Martin Jol, the Fulham manager, had admired him for some years. "I tried to sign him when I was managing Hamburg," he said.

Pogrebnyak chose to join Stuttgart instead, having contributed to Zenit Saint Petersburg's run to the 2008 Uefa Cup final.

He would be that competition's top goalscorer, though he missed the victorious final against Glasgow Rangers through suspension.

He arrived at Stuttgart with a burden of expectation. Mario Gomez, a prolific goalscorer, had left for Bayern Munich. Suffice to say Pogrebnyak never reached Gomez's level of influence, which is why he became available to Fulham, and why a sum of £5 million (Dh29.3m) rather than something a good deal higher could make the move permanent.

On Saturday against Norwich City, he picked up an ankle injury which may threaten the continuity of his promising start in which his scoring rate now stands at a more realistic five goals in seven games.

His hope is that he will score enough to secure a place in Russia's Euro 2012 squad, to persuade Fulham to commit to a longer-term future in England, and to show that Russian talent can be an enduring feature of the Premier League, not something that lights up briefly and then fades.

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