Moscow star is a red-hot Spur

A year after Roman Pavlyuchenko knocked England out of Euro 2008, the blond beanpole with a happy childish smile celebrated his first goals wearing a Tottenham Hotspur shirt. The homeland of football has transformed his career and it is no surprise that this talented striker with an imperial name has ended up in London.
Roman Pavlyuchenko was born in Mostovaya, in southern Russia, but his family moved a few months later to Cherkessk. With Moscow nearly 1,200 miles away and Stavropol (which has a more or less decent team) not too close either, it was clearly not the best town for a world-class football player to be brought up. Even so, Roman's father, Anatoliy, took his son to Khasan Kurochinov, a coach at a local sports school and said: "Do what you will, but make a football player out of him." Pavlyuchenko still keeps in touch with his first mentor, even phoning him during the European Championships.

"He was two years younger than the others. When I sent him onto the field, he kept his feet away from the ball, afraid of fighting. I barked at him: 'Are you a man or what?' Then he began to fight," recalls Kurochinov.

As a teenager, Pavlyuchenko took his football seriously. At 16, he played in the first division of the local Dynamo team - a big success for such a youngster. Vladimir Goryunov soon offered to take him to the Rotor Club in Volgograd, which was a formidable force back in the 1990s and a rival to match the invincible Spartak Moscow.

Pavlyuchenko switched to Volgograd without second thoughts - and his entire family went with him. The player's father had been a driver all his life and Goryunov offered him an attractive job at the club. In 2002, Pavlyuchenko was approached by Spartak Moscow.

The new face created neither much excitement nor great expectations. He had not scored a lot at Rotor and was bought for a song; the transfer price was so laughable that not even journalists took any notice. Pavlyuchenko was regarded as a benchman rather than a goalscorer.

Yet the way things turned out, the other strikers were even worse; the capable ones left the team, others were unimpressive, and the coaches had to let Roman play. In his debut season in 2003, he scored 16 goals, won the Cup of Russia and earned his first cap for the national team as a substitute in a friendly with Israel.

Outside of football, Pavlyuchenko kept a low profile. It took him a long time to adapt to the hustle and bustle of the huge capital city: he felt a little oppressed by the crowds. In interviews, Roman was reserved and tight-lipped, doing his best to avoid publicity. He looked circumspectly even at his fans.

Every year, he scored more than a dozen goals - as a decent forward should - and was even rated top striker in 2006 and 2007. In the national squad, however, Roman was not even a runner-up.

Before Guus Hiddink took over, Roman played only four games for the national team and scored only one goal. Even with the Dutch coach, some time passed before he advanced to become the main forward. Things changed dramatically on October 17, 2007. During the game against England, Pavlyuchenko came off the bench as merely a decent striker, yet was a national hero before the final whistle.

His two goals at the Luzhniki ground in Moscow made him, for a while, the most popular sportsman in all Russia. The next morning his phone kept ringing, with non-stop calls from interviewers and TV channels.

His immense popularity was not to the liking of Spartak head coach Stanislav Cherchesov. Pavlyuchenko was reportedly "advised" to talk less and train more.

Roman's behaviour changed overnight. He became withdrawn, reserved and slightly supercilious. At times, however, his youthful enthusiasm and natural directness came through. At the end of the season, the readers of Rossi-yskaya Gazeta rated Pavly-uchenko their Footballer of theYear.

When he heard my voice over the phone, he flatly refused to talk to me; but, as soon as I told him why I was calling, he thawed. "I am so grateful to the fans. Tell them I love them all," he said, before readily answering all my questions. Although Roman was a recognised star when he set out for Euro 2008, Guus Hiddink looked set to rely on Pavel Pogrebnyak, who was in excellent shape. But it was Pavlyuchenko who publicised as the face of the Russian squad before the championships. He and Hiddink appeared in a TV ad with Roman scoring a critical penalty, a clear allusion to the famous definitive goal against England, while Guus was seen watching it on TV. This commercial was broadcast by all major Russian channels complemented by billboards in major Russian cities.

And the script turned out to have been a prophesy. Pogrebnyak was injured and had to stay at home, whereas Pavlyuchenko came out a hero, scoring three goals.

Following Russia's successful Euro 2008, many predicted more than one player would be lured to play abroad. But eventually only Pavlyuchenko - and, very recently, Andrey Arshavin, received offers. Roman was said to be reluctant to join Spurs, but Spartak favoured the deal. Initially the player refused to go, but changed his mind and left for London just a few days later.

Typically, Roman, who always puts his family first, took his wife Larisa and small daughter Kristina to the dolphinarium before going to the embassy for his work visa.

5 facts about Roman

Pavlyuchenko began his career as a right midfielder, where he played for Dynamo in Stavropol.

Throughout his career, Pavlyuchenko has earned only one title, the Cup of Russia with Spartak in 2003.

In 2005, Pavlyuchenko and Flemanya Vidich were rated by fans among the top three Spartak players. As a prize, the club gave each of them an Audi TT.

Pavlyuchenko might have missed the 2007 game against England. He was stuck in a traffic jam, but would not take the underground and, as a result, was 19 minutes late. Fortunately, Hiddink forgave him.

When his daughter Kristina was born, Pavlyuchenko confessed that he would like to have four children.

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