Dmitri Sychev: The forgotten hero

The career of a footballer can morph from so many differing points and perspectives that it can often be difficult to contrast and compare the development of individual players. Some burst on to the scene at the youngest of ages, while others spend a little longer honing their skills before becoming an integral part of their respective team. You could say that either method is to be respected as long as one reaches the potential that they possess. However despite a footballer’s career being perilously short there remains a notion that breaking through into the public consciousness is a marathon, as opposed to a sprint.

It is often the case that young, pacey and fearless centre forwards burst onto the scene in their late teens, striking fear into the heart of defences through pure athleticism and spontaneity. However as reality takes hold, and opponents begin to wise up, times can often become a little tougher for those players who previously looked impervious to floundering performances. This may well sound like the opening to an article around the demise of a certain Michael Owen, however today the focus is firmly upon Lokomotiv Moscow’s Dmitri Sychev.

Sychev was once Russian football’s greatest hope. As a young midfielder showcasing his skills for Spartak Tambov in Russia’s second tier he quickly established himself as a teenage prodigy of the highest order – a youngster whom was placing clubs across Europe on red alert. At Tambov, Sychev had forged a prominent reputation in a side predominantly made up of local players, with only a couple coming from outside the Tambov region – including Sychev who grew up to the east in Omsk. The process of acclimatisation was one that was aided by Sychev’s ability on the pitch, and his relaxed manner off it. The teenager’s persona quickly became a prized possession and as such his transfer to Spartak Moscow in the winter of 2002 came as little surprise.

It was with the capital club that Sychev’s rapid ascent to the fore of Russian football was complete as his conversion into a centre forward saw him rack up the goals for his new club at a rate of knots. Such performances ultimately saw the 18 year old selected for the 2002 World Cup – a tournament at which his stock rose further thanks to his exploits off the bench in all 3 of Russia’s games, including a goal against Belgium in an exciting 3-2 defeat. The tournament may well have ultimately ended in disappointment for Russia, as the nation failed to progress past the group stage, however for Sychev the tournament served to open further doors, particularly on the continent.

The youngster’s contentious departure from Spartak Moscow, in favour of French side Marseille, left a bitter taste in the mouths of many of the red and white portion of the capital thanks to his refusal to feature for the club – although the move served to provide the prospect of success on an even grander scale. However, despite the move coming during a golden age of Russian footballers succeeding in Western Europe – the transfer ultimately saw Sychev’s development stunted by cameo appearances off the bench in unfamiliar positions.

Sychev’s return to Russian soil became inevitable and following 3 years of frustration with Marseille, the forward quickly became an integral part of Lokomotiv Moscow’s pursuit of domestic success – culminating in a league title in his debut season of 2004. However, since arriving back in Moscow, Sychev has gradually seen his influence within the club dwindle as a merry go round of coaches and foreign talent have left Lokomotiv surrounded by a tumultuous atmosphere. This season the club have attempted to lay down firm foundations in the appointment of former Croatia coach, Slaven Bilic, however the planting of such firm roots could well lead to the further demise of Dmitri Sychev.

Over the past 18 months Lokomotiv have seen a gradual change in the personnel of their strike force, with the likes of Roman Pavlyuchenko, Felipe Caicedo, Victor Obinna and more recently Dame N’Doye arriving at the club to much fanfare. The increased level of competition within the club’s attacking positions has ultimately seen Sychev demoted to the role of bench warmer, making the briefest of cameos redundant of whether the game is either won or lost. There would once have been a time where having Sychev sitting on the bench would be a joker in the pack that would leave a tiring defence living in fear. At present, however, Sychev cuts a forlorn figure, shorn of confidence and lacking in interest.

It is a sorry state of affairs for a player who was once the figurehead of Russian football’s grand pursuit of excellence on the continent. Sychev is no longer the player he once was, his electric pace and acceleration has diminished somewhat and his eye for goal is tarnished thanks to periods of misuse in positions on the flank, where he can struggle to involve himself. However this is a player with significant levels of experience at the very highest level, and a footballer who could still provide a threat if used appropriately and safe in the knowledge that he is likely to feature prominently.

At a time where a number of Russia’s premier sides are looking to invest in a centre forward, it is a shame that there remains such little interest in the former Russian player of the year. Perhaps the time for Sychev to compete within a top side on a regular basis has passed, however for an ambitious club – and there are a great deal of those in Russia – who are looking to work their way through to the higher echelons of the domestic game, the signing of Sychev could prove to be a solid investment.

It remains intriguing that both Sychev and – the player with whom he was so often compared – Michael Owen have suffered from such similar fates over recent months, when the world was at both their feet merely a decade ago. There is a case for arguing that neither player has managed to consistently work at their highest level for a period of time that could constitute being held in the highest regard – however both players will continue to earn respect thanks to the exploits of their youth.


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