Roman Pavlyuchenko: Tottenham Hotspur's 21st Century Cult Hero

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2016

Roman Pavlyuchenko celebrates scoring against Inter Milan in the Champions League, one of the highs of a tumultuous stay with Tottenham Hotspur.
Roman Pavlyuchenko celebrates scoring against Inter Milan in the Champions League, one of the highs of a tumultuous stay with Tottenham Hotspur.Clive Rose/Getty Images

On YouTube there is a fan-created compilation than runs through every one of Roman Pavlyuchenko's 42 Tottenham Hotspur goals. Unlike most similar football videos on the website, it is not soundtracked by bad dance music or often completely unsuitable hip-hop, thematically speaking.

Its creator instead chose Buzzcocks' 1978 punk classic "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)." The song's shared title and chorus is about as perfect as they were likely to find in evoking the mix of charm and frustration that typified the mercurial Russian striker's eventful four-year stay with Tottenham.

Pavlyuchenko's FK Ural Sverdlovskaya Oblast side lost 4-0 to Spurs' Champions League opponents CSKA Moscow this past weekend.
Pavlyuchenko's FK Ural Sverdlovskaya Oblast side lost 4-0 to Spurs' Champions League opponents CSKA Moscow this past weekend.Epsilon/Getty Images

Pavlyuchenko is back in his home country playing with FK Ural Sverdlovskaya Oblast these days. On Wednesday one of their Russian Premier League rivals CSKA Moscow visit his former side in the Champions League.

Although never a CSKA player—spells with Spartak and Lokomotiv Moscow sandwiched the 34-year-old's time at Spurs—his compatriots' visit and Spurs' elimination from the tournament have brought Pavlyuchenko's time in England to mind.

His contribution to their memorable 2010-11 run in the Champions League are among several reasons why he stands as one of, if not the cult hero of Tottenham's 21st century thus far.

 

A Familiar Face

Tottenham were in the midst of a winless league run that would last until late-October when Pavlyuchenko made his debut against Aston Villa.
Tottenham were in the midst of a winless league run that would last until late-October when Pavlyuchenko made his debut against Aston Villa.Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

When legendary Renaissance man Leonard Cohen passed away last month, the former Conservative MP and current Atlantic-crossing political commentator Louise Mensch used it as an opportunity to praise American culture and deride Russia's as "joyless."

As many people quickly pointed out, Cohen was Canadian. Mensch has also never likely watched Pavlyuchenko play football if she thinks his country has little to offer.

When the centre-forward joined Tottenham in 2008 he was already familiar to fans.

Pavlyuchenko opens the scoring in Russia's 3-1 Euro 2008 quarter-final win over the Netherlands.
Pavlyuchenko opens the scoring in Russia's 3-1 Euro 2008 quarter-final win over the Netherlands.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

He had scored twice for Russia in a 2-1 Euro 2008 qualifying win over England a year earlier. At the tournament, Pavlyucheko was part of a Guus Hiddink side that lit up the competition, netting in wins over Sweden and the Netherlands before they lost to eventual winners Spain in the semi-finals.

Signing the then-26-year-old was not quite on the excitement level of another blond-bomber recruit, Jurgen Klinsmann back after the 1994 World Cup. But as tournament-influenced purchases go, it proved one of Spurs' more notable ones.

Unfortunately for Pavlyuchenko he arrived at a bad time for the club.

The team's star strikers Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov had left for Liverpool and Manchester United respectively. Manager Juande Ramos' side were in the midst of a woeful start not ideal for integrating a newcomer such as the Russian international.

Still, his headed goal in the 2-1 League Cup win over Newcastle United was a promising reminder of what he was capable of.

 

Harry and Pav (And his Translator)

Harry Redknapp recently told a story about his first training session working with Pavlyuchenko at Tottenham (video above, per BT Sport). The tale of the Russian's translator having to run onto the pitch to relay instructions is comical, though you would not be surprised if it had been exaggerated somewhat with after-dinner-speaking gigs in mind.

Ramos was sacked after recording just two points from eight Premier League matches to open 2008-09. Redknapp replaced him and began what would prove a tempestuous working relationship with the recently signed attacker.

The latter scored in the first game after the coach's appointment, heading in a David Bentley cross as Spurs recorded a much-needed 2-0 win over Bolton Wanderers. Soon after he grabbed the winner in a 2-1 home win over Liverpool, now famous for another Redknapp/translator story. Asked for instructions to give the substitute, the boss told him "to f--king run around a bit."

Pavlyuchenko would be prominent in some of the big periods of Redknapp's reign, a time that would end just four months after he sold him back to Russia. They included but were not limited to Spurs qualifying for and excelling in the 2010-11 Champions League.

Yet, Pavlyuchenko never became a regular starter under the manager. Frustrated by a lack of opportunities, he left for home in February 2012 (a costly error in judgement on Redknapp's part he exacerbated by replacing him with a waning, even more inconsistent and largely disinterested Louis Saha).

Redknapp may speak about him more as a punchline now, but in his 2013 autobiography Always Managing revealed a more nuanced assessment. Although complimentary, he believed there was a problematic discrepancy between his home and away efforts:

He could be unplayable at White Hart Lane one week and then anonymous on the road the next, yet the supporters never seemed to see it, and that became a problem for us. In the end, if he wasn't in the team, I was almost reluctant to name him among the substitutes because after ten minutes, if the game wasn't going well, the fans would begin to chant this name and that would make the other strikers on the field even more nervous.

 

Super Pav

White Hart Lane roars in delight after Pavlyuchenko scores against Leeds United in the 2010 FA Cup fourth round.
White Hart Lane roars in delight after Pavlyuchenko scores against Leeds United in the 2010 FA Cup fourth round.AFP/Getty Images

It is true Pavlyuchenko did score the majority of his Tottenham goals at home, but there were also some notable away strikes too. A brace in a momentum-sustaining 3-0 win over Wigan Athletic was big in their Champions League push, while in the competition a strike in the playoff round at Young Boys helped avoid an embarrassingly premature exit.

As for the supporters, they were not so much calling for the player to be brought on any time anyone else was struggling. Rather, it was a case of wanting a talented, intelligent footballer to get the consistent opportunities that might have helped his abilities flourish.

When Tottenham faced Leeds United in the FA Cup fourth round in late January 2010, Pavlyuchenko had appeared just once since October.

The fans' call for Pavlyuchenko that day were warranted. Spurs were poor against the League One side and needed something.

Within four minutes of his 71st-minute introduction he delivered, finishing a brilliantly crafted goal to give the Lilywhites a 2-1 lead.

In celebration Pavlyuchenko took off and flung his gloves into the crowd, his delight clear to see. The ecstatic White Hart Lane crowd knew how much this meant and promptly delivered a stirring rendition of their "Super Pav" song.

It was a true feel-good moment, unfortunately tarnished when Jermaine Beckford equalised for Leeds late on.

 

In-Form

Peter Crouch congratulates Pavlyuchenko after one of his brace against Twente in the 2010-11 Champions League.
Peter Crouch congratulates Pavlyuchenko after one of his brace against Twente in the 2010-11 Champions League.Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Despite Pavlyuchenko ultimately never doing enough to satisfy Redknapp's standards, there was no denying the impact of some important runs of form on the club's fortunes.

In their first season together Pavlyuchenko helped them out of their Premier League rut and fired them to the League Cup final, scoring in every round. A season later, his reinstalling in the rotation helped boost the side’s top-four push and advanced a corresponding run to the FA Cup semi-final.

Pavlyuchenko scored in some big European wins over Twente and Inter Milan in the following campaign and helped keep the team ticking over in the league. In his final year, he did his best to liven up a largely drab Europa League group stage experience.

There were quiet runs in between these when Spurs either did not need him, the likes of Gareth Bale, Jermain Defoe and Rafael van der Vaart keeping him out of the team. Sometimes his varied, deceptively unhurried movement was just not sufficiently in-sync with team-mates in a Redknapp side that often played fast-moving football.

Looking back is up for debate if Redknapp could have made more use of Pavlyuchenko, or he more of his talent.

 

Best of Pavlyuchenko: His Top 6 Spurs Goals

Pavlyuchenko scores the opening goal in a 1-1 draw with Chelsea from December 2010.
Pavlyuchenko scores the opening goal in a 1-1 draw with Chelsea from December 2010.Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Whatever your perception of Pavlyuchenko's time at Tottenham, there is no denying the quality and importance of many of his goals.

His tally of 42 from 113 appearances was a more than decent ratio. As YouTube-compilation material goes, it is a body of work most strikers would be happy to have.

Here are six of the best:

 

Burnley (H), League Cup Semi-Final First-Leg—6 January, 2009

Pavlyuchenko's early Tottenham goals came in the air and from deep in the box. Days prior to this League Cup strike he showed his range with a longer effort against Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup.

Against Burnley he demonstrated his ability to create space from himself. Showing defender Clark Carlisle one way before going the other, he then fired past Brian Jensen into the far-post.

 

Leeds United (H), FA Cup Fourth Round—23 January, 2010

Wyscout / Karl Matchett

Wyscout / Karl Matchett

Bale was still being used as a left-back when this aforementioned goal happened.

The Welshman combined with Wilson Palacios who in turn passed inward to Pavlyuchenko. He dummied it for Defoe, span round and collected it the other side, finishing tidily in an emotional moment.

 

Young Boys (A), Champions League Playoff First-Leg—17 August, 2010

Tottenham were 3-1 down in their Champions League play-off away at Young Boys. Another away goal was needed to make their job in the return leg simpler.

Cue a Keane-Pavlyuchenko combination in the right-hand channel, the latter rifling his shot past Marco Wolfli into the top corner.

 

Inter Milan (H), Champions League Group Stage—2 November, 2010

Wyscout / Karl Matchett

Wyscout / Karl Matchett

Wyscout / Karl Matchett

This was future Real Madrid star Bale's night, further alerting European football to his blossoming talent by eviscerating Inter Milan.

Pavlyuchenko joined Van der Vaart and Peter Crouch in getting on the scoresheet in a memorable 3-1 win over the European Champions, though, finishing off a superb run and cross by Bale.

 

Chelsea (H), Premier League—12 December, 2010

One of Pavlyuchenko's best Premier League goals, Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech could not get down fast enough to save the Spurs man's precise, low shot from the edge of the area.

 

Rubin Kazan (H), Europa League—20 October, 2011

Wyscout / Karl Matchett

Wyscout / Karl Matchett

Pavlyuchenko made this free-kick look so easy you wonder why more do not make attempts like these. Rubin Kazan's goalkeeper Sergey Ryzhikov never stood a chance saving this rocket.

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