Zenit Signs Yuri Zhevnov, but is the Goal Big Enough for Two Keepers?

Sergey ZikovSenior Analyst IFebruary 23, 2010

Not even five minutes after completing a friendly match with UEFA Champions League side Dynamo Kiev, Zenit St. Petersburg announced the signing of Belorussian international goalkeeper Yuri Zhevnov from the now-bankrupt FC Moscow.

The opportunity essentially fell into Zenit's lap.

Earlier in the month, FC Moscow declared itself unable to continue its participation in the Russian Premier League, officially withdrawing on February 5, 2010.

But this wasn't some bottom-of-the-table club up for relegation every year. In 2009, the Caps barely missed out on a place in the Europa League, finishing in sixth place. Zhevnov was leading the charge, like he has done for many years. 

He marshaled the third-best defense in Russia and won 13 games, probably none more important than a 1-0 shutout of Zenit on Halloween that effectively ended the sine-byelo-goluboy's title aspirations.  

Logging over 130 appearances for FC Moscow and another 39 for country, Zhevnov now had no other choice but to leave the club.

Of course, many Russian clubs expressed an interest in the superb 28-year-old keeper. But those with a serious interest either already had a more than solidified goalkeeping situation or simply not enough money to sign him.

Which lead him to sign for Russia's richest club, Zenit.

"Zenit made me the most specific proposal. In addition, I always liked the games at the Petrovsky, always a full stadium and an exciting atmosphere," said Zhevnov in an interview with Radio Zenit. The contract was signed for four years. The details of the contract were not released, but Zhevnov holds Russian citizenship and would not count towards the RPL's 6+5 Rule for international players.

While nobody is questioning the signing itself as Zhevnov is a very underrated keeper who could be even better with a decent team in front of him, it does raise quite a few concerns as well.

Zenit does happen to have an established goalkeeper. Soon to be 31-year-old St. Petersburg native Vyacheslav Malafeev has been the club's starting keeper since 1999 and has over 250 appearances to his name. In 2009, he started 28 of 30 league matches as well as several more in the Europa League and Russian Cup.

Aside from a few shaky performances during the summer, Malafeev has been a solid keeper for Zenit throughout his many years of service. 

Does the signing of Zhevnov mean that the club was looking for a more reliable netminder? Certainly they can't be attempting to force out the longest-tenured player when he hasn't done anything wrong?

Or maybe it means Zhevnov will serve as a replacement to backup Kamil Contofalsky, who left for Cypriot club AEL Limassol early in December? Through the training and friendly matches, it appears obvious that current backup, 32-year-old Dmitri Borodin is nowhere near good enough any more.

Except, how long will that sit with Zhevnov? He has been "the guy" between the pipes every weekend for FC Moscow since 2005.

Across Europe, teams face similar situations. They want goalkeeping depth and they want a backup who can fill in well if something happens to the No. 1 man, but rarely do teams want a platoon in net with two keepers who are equally able to start.

Certainly now, the Zenit goal is completely safe. There are two very good keepers to protect it. But after some of the bad goals Malafeev let in last season, who will be the top man for Luciano Spalletti at the beginning of the season?

If it is Malafeev, it is sure that the fans will want to see Zhevnov sooner rather than later (myself included). 

If it is Zhevnov, does this mean Malafeev has been relegated to the secondary role?

We will find out.