sports blog by andy shenk

Aleksandr Kokorin – the Next Russian Hero

In Russian Football on March 22, 2013 at 11:41 AM

My latest for The False Nine. A brief look at up-and-coming Russian football star, Aleksandr Kokorin, as well as a trim preview of Northern Ireland – Russia. To read the entire piece click here or at the bottom of this excerpt.

Aleksandr Kokorin celebrated his 22nd birthday on March 19, just four days before suiting up for a World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland in Belfast. The Russian national team is ensconced at a golf resort outside of North London, a few kilometers from Arsenal’s training grounds, where they’ve been training since Monday.

The young Dinamo Moscow forward, who captained his club for the first time on Saturday evening during a 1-1 draw with Kuban, admitted this day was a bit different. “[My birthday’s] never come during camp…. This time I had a very strange birthday – with the national team, and in London, no less,” he told reporters after practice.

There certainly was no time to skip downtown, either, for post-workout drinks. Fabio Capello, who signed on with the Russian Football Union last July, has tightened the screws on a squad that earned its country’s ire at Euro 2012, both for their disappointing group stage exit and media reports of pampered footballers run wild in Warsaw.

Sergei Ryzhikov, the national team’s third-string keeper, shocked journalists recently when he claimed that Capello was even stricter than Kurban Berdiyev, the straight-laced Rubin manager hailing from Turkmenistan. The reports leaking from national team training camps back the goalie up. In addition to no-nonsense training, players are restricted to the floor of the hotel on which they sleep, with trips into town off limits. Mandatory 8:30 am breakfasts are another innovation. Journalists grumble, too. Capello frequently limits access to practices and forbade the media from seeing the team when it initially arrived at The Grove, their fancy suburban hotel.

Kokorin still manages to keep the fans back home happy with the help of the Internet. Roman Shirokov, Zenit’s outspoken midfielder, snapped a pic of the birthday boy at camp on Monday, generating a thousand likes on his Instagram account.

Last fall, the two national team regulars kept fans entertained with cheeky insults over Twitter. Shirokov, no stranger to fan conflict, tweeted @kokorin9 after he led Dinamo to a 2-1 win over Mordovia: “It seems you should have been shot at earlier :) )) Congrats on your brace!”

Two days earlier, of course, Dinamo hooligans had snuck onto the club’s Moscow Region training camp and opened fire on the players from paintball guns as punishment for their embarrassing start to the season. Kokorin hit back that Dinamo, unlike Zenit, never got any help from the officials (Zenit won 1-0 at Kuban that weekend thanks to a highly controversial Kerzhakov penalty… an officiating decision that Russia’s head referee Roberto Rosetti critiqued again in a recent interview).

Continue reading at The False Nine.

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