It was the November of 2011 and I was twelve years old, early into my fourth term as a ‘new boy’ at a prep school in West London. Desperate to fit in somewhere, I kept my ears on high alert for any conversational Trojan Horse I could use to penetrate the rigid armour of brotherhood the ‘old boys’ had forged over the past five years.
I identified two things that united my peers: football and a YouTuber named KSI. The prospect of finding time to keep up with YouTube videos on top of my already-high workload (incomparable to the tiny hippy-run primary school that had produced me) quickly ruled KSI out. Now football, that I could do. My father took my brother and I to home games every two weeks, which I enjoyed primarily as time to daydream for ninety-plus-fifteen minutes without anyone disturbing me.
Back at school, one name bounced around the lunch-hall and corridors more than any other: Andrey Arshavin. The rosy-cheeked Russian wonderkid had recently signed for Arsenal – a popular team among glory-hunting West Londoners – and I found in him a kindred spirit. We were both new kids, young, not too tall and not too blond. He was everything I thought I could be, if only my footballing illiteracy was magicked away overnight.
This man’s presence cast its shadow over that year like nothing else. But the thing is, Andrey Arshavin had in fact been playing for the Gunners since 2008, when I was nine and running a faux-buddhist cult from the playground of my primary school, not following football. Furthermore, Arshavin was not the spunky youth I knew him to be. He was thirty.
Why did I think this thirty-year-old veteran was a teenage rookie? And why did I only find out I was wrong a few weeks ago, a year after he retired from professional football?
There is only one answer I’ll entertain: he is magic.
And his greatest trick: he could make himself invisible.
I’ll prove it. The school year ended and I didn’t think of him again and neither did you. Despite the buzz around him, I never heard one of the riotous redshirts from my school days discuss him since, even in passing. He went from the hot commodity to a non-entity in the Anglosphere.
If you check the record books you will discover a 2012 loan move to Zenit, then to Arsenal, then back to Zenit. Afterwards, a move to Kuban Krasnodar was cut short halfway through his one-year contract. He made eight appearances and left goalless to finish his career at FC Kairat.
Whether or not any of this truly happened is open to debate. But it was during his doomed tenure at Kuban Krasnodar that I next came across him, in a late-night game of FIFA 16 with my housemate three years after he left the club.
What happened to Andrey Arshavin? A player with so much potential that his sporting implosion caused memories of his existence to warp into something temporally impossible?
Had his babyface tricked me? Or was I simply projecting my own desire for acceptance onto the figure I saw as most-accepted among my peers?
Andrey was not just a blurry avatar on my PS3 game, he was a real man. And a complicated one as it turns out.
Like me, Andrey was never supposed to be a footballer.
Teammates describe him as a quiet, lonely figure in the changing room, a reputation that led one Russian man to claim to be haunted by Arshavin’s ghost. (Editor’s Note: Andrey Arshavin is alive as of publication.)
His career was halted by his lack of ambition, and he preferred to spend his time on his lifelong passions: chess and fashion design (in which he has a bachelor’s degree).
Yet off the pitch his playboy lifestyle caused problems in his private life. His wife reported him to the police for threatening behaviour, and herself threatened to cut a model’s finger off after she was photographed with him.
Last year Arshavin was filmed drunkenly leaving a strip club in St Petersburg with two unknown women on the back of a stolen horse. Perhaps this is the best proof I have that he is magical, and that my memory isn’t falling apart at the seams.
I don’t know if I’m any closer to finding my place in this world than I was at twelve. I certainly never followed in Andrey Arshavin’s footsteps as a footballer. But Arshavin was no footballer really, was he? He was an adulterous, time-travelling, chess-playing, fashion-designing, horse-stealing ghost. And if he can be all that, we can at least be something.
by Poster Child