Marat Izmailov had to choose between his club and the national team ahead of Euro 2012, and the Sporting Lisbon midfielder now has to work hard to make sure that opting for Team Russia was the right decision.
Full name: Marat Nailevich Izmailov
Club: Sporting Lisbon
Caps for Russia: 31
Goals for Russia: 2
Marat Izmailov is just one of two members on Russia's Euro 2012 squad who plays abroad.
The attacking midfielder represents the Portuguese Premiera Liga powerhouse, Sporting Lisbon, in the national team.
Izmailov’s invitation was possibly the biggest surprise in Dick Advocaat’s preliminary lineup for the European Championships.
He hasn’t been called up for his country since 2006, being completely forgotten by the Sbornaya coaches after departing for Portugal from Lokomotiv Moscow.
But this season, Sporting reached the Europa League semis, with the Russian playing a significant role in that success.
Izmailov’s assist helped the Lions upset Man City in the quarterfinals. He also contributed to his team’s home win against Athletic Bilbao in the Last 4, and his disqualification for the second leg became one of the reasons for Sporting, eventually, missing the final.
And getting to the national wasn’t easy for Marat, as it was his own club that put his journey to Poland and Ukraine into question.
Sporting wanted their man to take part in a promo event that coincided with the beginning of the Russian training camp.
Advocaat set an ultimatum by saying that the player would be removed from the squad if he failed to arrive at Sbornaya in time.
And one of Russia’s most popular football commentators, Vasily Utkin, didn’t believe that Izmailov would make it to the team, explaining that the player is “a complete psycho."
“Don’t pin any hopes on him,” the man wrote in his blog. “He’s not coming – and if he comes he’s going to vomit into an ashtray or get scared of a hotel maid or, maybe, he’ll flinch at the sound of an opening door. And if that doesn’t happen, than there’ll be something even worse in store.”
But Marat arrived at to the national squad's camp in time… and he looked mentally stable, with Utkin being forced to make his apologies.
“I’ve explained the situation to the club’s administration,” Izmailov told Sportbox.ru. “They are all football people and understood everything. Besides, the participation of a player at Euros is good advertising for the club. I can’t say the negotiations were easy. But it in the end it all turned out well.”
Marat has always been known for his dribbling abilities. Previously, Russia’s Best Young Player of 2001 had occasionally misused his skills, beating three or four rivals in the middle of the pitch, without actually threatening the opposing goals.
But now he learned to be more parsimonious and take the maximum advantage of his talent.
Izmailov is also among the best in the national team when it comes to long-range efforts – and the keepers of Sporting’s archrivals from FC Porto can say a lot about that.
The 29-year-old also has experience of playing at World Cup 2002 and Euro 2004, as well as two Russian Premier League titles with Lokomotiv Moscow in the bag.
A footballer of such quality may be very useful for the national team when he comes from the bench at Euro 2012.
Advocaat said he sees Izmailov as a substitute for Russia’s wunderkind, Alan Dzagoev, in his team’s central line.
But the CSKA Moscow youngster has missed the end of the season, with a broken toe, and nobody knows what kind of shape he's in now.
So, Marat has good chances of playing a much more significant role in the team.
“Our group [of Czech Republic, Poland and Greece] is not easy, but we still have a good chance of making the knockout rounds,” Izmailov told UEFA’s official website. “It is too early to predict what will happen and football is a very unpredictable game but I am sure Russia will be very competitive at the European Championship.”
One of the things that may prevent Izmailov from showing off his best game at Euro 2012 – and what has seriously hampered his career in general – is his exposure to injuries.
He appeared in just 24 games for Sporting this season, spending the rest of the time with doctors. Let’s hope his health doesn't betray him again in Poland and Ukraine.
Dmitry Gorshkov, RT
By posting your comment, you agree to abide by our Posting rules