Based purely on the period of English international football he represents, a player is normally likened to Peter Crouch in a pejorative sense; it isn’t utterly offensive, but it’s rarely a term of endearment. Likening Russia’s emergent hitman to England’s former ‘put-it-in-the-mixer’ striker is a positive reflection of Artem Dzyuba’s charm, as much as his playing style.
At six foot and five inches, Dzyuba isn’t quite the stringy presence that Crouch’s six foot seven represents. Instead he possesses an immovable quality, a strength to his hold up play that has made him a nightmare for the - admittedly terrible - defences of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
(Above: Artem bends down to congratulate Roman Zobnin.)
His influence from the bench in this World Cup’s opening game was the first impressive showing. Replacing an out of sorts Smolov with the score at 2-0, the Russian wrecking ball introduced himself to the tournament with a clever angled header, before storming away like a man possessed, and waving his arms about in an order that appeared choreographed, but was so shrouded in lunacy that it was truly difficult to tell.
Yet there is something indefinably likeable about Dzyuba. It could be down to his marvellously expressive face, so changeable and reactive that viewers could probably chart the entire progression of each match based on nothing else. Maybe a potential option for the Red Button, if that even still exists.
(Above: During tonight's Group A game, Egypt's Abdel-Shafy decided that the only way to deal with Dzyuba was to climb him, as if he were a tree.)
Or perhaps it’s his surprising passion for famous English poetry. After being deemed unfit to travel for a Zenit training camp last year, Dzyuba posted an obligatory gym photo on Instagram, with a caption that included nothing more than William Henley’s ‘Invictus’. Glorious insanity.
Of course in the Russian League, Dzyuba is anything but emerging. At 29 years old he has been something of a journeyman in the league, scoring a distinctly average twenty-nine goals in seventy appearances for Zenit since 2015. His stay in Russia’s second city has been so uninspiring that last season he was loaned out to Arsenal Tula, previously home to Mr. Dench himself, Emmanuel Frimpong.
(Above: Dzyuba is congratulated by Stanislav Cherchesov after being subbed against Egypt)
But tournament football often gives birth to unlikely stars. Alongside his goal in the final, Angelos Charisteas’ performances throughout Euro 2004 seemed a career anomaly at the time, and remained so. This could well be the case here, but a few more showings like tonight’s against Egypt may help provide this Russian journeyman with one final big contract.
One thing is for certain: Artem Dzyuba’s personal charm is difficult to resist. But his goal against Egypt proved that, like Crouch, his is more than just a novelty act. The chest control, spin and deft finish inside the right post showed that in their big target man, Russia have found a useful out-ball probably capable of unsettling the generally weak defences of this tournament.
No one expected the big man to feature as anything more than an impact sub, but now he will surely start in next week’s clash with Uruguay; a big performance against one of the competition’s strongest defences could set Artem well on his way to World Cup cult status.