Andrei Arshavin might have been one of the fleeting stars of Euro 2008, but the 27-year-old declared himself on strike yesterday and refused to play in a cup tie for Zenit St Petersburg in a simmering dispute which appears to have left Tottenham Hotspur's hopes of signing him in tatters.
Tottenham had been hopeful that a meeting between the Zenit president, Alexander Dyukov, and the player's representative Dennis Lachter this week might have forged a breakthrough in a stand-off over the Russian club's £27m demand for Arshavin. But Dyukov cancelled the meeting and, with the club unwilling to give any ground, the player has withdrawn his services. Lachter said last night that the prospects of him leaving the Uefa Cup holders for White Hart Lane were now "very, very weak".
"This is the Russian way," a frustrated Lachter said. "Nothing will change because this is the old Soviet Union way. For the Russian sports establishment the desires of a player mean absolutely nothing. They are the big bosses. It is a dictatorship. He is a slave."
The Arshavin case is beginning to have echoes of that of the Zenit player Alexander Kerzhakov, the striker who coveted a move to Seville in La Liga. He was dropped to the second team squad and did not play for eight months until the move finally went ahead in 2006.
Lachter predicted the same outcome might be in the offing for Arshavin, who Tottenham were hopeful of signing after a £15.6m bid for a striker whose desire to play in the Premier League has seen him reject bids from Italy and Spain. Spurs, who yesterday firmly rejected suggestions that they have approached West Ham with a £15m offer for Dean Ashton, had been hopeful that a £21m compromise deal for Arshavin may secure the player at a time when – with Robbie Keane gone and a new bid for Dimitar Berbatov by no means unlikely – they are actively looking for strikers.
Lachter still intends to speak to the Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy when Levy returns from a trip to Florida, but his prognosis will come as a genuine blow to Spurs. Lachter, an Israeli-registered, Fifa-licensed agent, was seen as an important factor in cutting through the red tape which had hampered attempts to talk to the club.
Zenit's unexpected elimination from the Russian Cup yesterday after a 1-0 defeat to Sibir Novosibirsk will hardly lighten the mood of the club, who are seventh in the Premier League, eight points off the leaders Rubin Kazan. Lachter is a major figure in the Russian game, representing a number of Russian and Ukrainian internationals, but in attempting to smooth Arshavin's exit he knew he was dealing with a huge star in the Russian game.
The struggle to secure the Russian's services leaves Spurs with an acute problem which will deepen considerably if United come in again for Berbatov, who has made it quite clear that he hankers after a move to Old Trafford. The club are looking for striking options, but West Ham have also rejected suggestions that Ashton might be among them. Hammers chief executive Scott Duxbury has said that "Hell would have to freeze over" for the club to part company with a player who fired a hat-trick for West Ham in a 5-3 victory over Ipswich at Portman Road.
Ferguson said yesterday that United's own ambitions this summer might have been satisfied. "We might well start 2008-09 with largely the squad we had last season – and after all, they didn't do too badly," he said. "We have not brought in the kind of top-quality player everyone seems to be expecting. We are still looking, but it is not easy and certainly we are not desperate."
But the probable absence of Wayne Rooney from the start of United's Premier League campaign, allied to the two months it will take Cristiano Ronaldo to recover from ankle surgery, has left Levy in no doubts about the likelihood of United coming back with a new offer for Berbatov.Reuse content