Unique Akinfeev: the best goalkeeper of the generation turns 35

Everyone is familiar with the situation when during the birthday congratulations the words are heard: “Are you already 20/50/100 years old ?! Time flies. But you won’t give you that much. ” With Igor Akinfeev, who celebrates his birthday on April 8, everything is exactly the opposite. It is impossible to get rid of the feeling that he has always been in football. Several generations of footballers who went out with him to the field and fans who came and came to watch his game changed, and he continues to take his place at the goal, undoubtedly remaining the best goalkeeper in the country even after completing his performances in the national team. Today, the CSKA goalkeeper, who has consistently entered the field under the 35th number, turns 35.

The milestones of his brilliant gaming career, which Akinfeev is in no hurry to complete, are well known. His debut as an adult CSKA in St. Petersburg 10 days before his 17th birthday, the first match in the “tower” for the army team 2 months later in Samara, where Igor defended to zero and took a penalty in the last minutes from Andrei Karjaka. The call to the first team and the first hit in the base in the match with the Norwegians at the age of 18 years and 20 days, which makes Akinfeev the youngest debutant in the history of the first team of the country. A trip to Euro 2004 in the status of the youngest participant in the European Championship, even if Igor did not have a chance to enter the field in Portugal …

The very next season, at the age of 19, Akinfeev won the UEFA Cup with CSKA, which became the first trophy for domestic clubs in Russian history. He staked out a place at the gates of the national team, winning the competition from the much more experienced and eminent Sergei Ovchinnikov and Vyacheslav Malafeev, who then did not concede to anyone for almost 15 years, for many years removing the question of the first number of the main team of the country. The interest in Igor from the European top clubs was serious, and more often than others on the list of teams wishing to see a Russian in their ranks, Manchester United figured, but today it is already safe to say that the entire goalkeeper’s career was spent in one club.

Akinfeev, who won several times with CSKA in all Russian tournaments, does not have to complain about the lack of titles. And there was also a league-championship match in London with Arsenal (0: 0), in which it was the goalkeeper who saved from the defeat of the Muscovites. And victories, victories, victories. Including the main achievement of our team in its modern history – reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2008. The brightest moment in Akinfeev’s career was the reflected penalty in the game against the Spaniards at the 2018 World Cup, thanks to which the Russian team reached the quarterfinals of the home world championship.

Enough has been written and said about Igor Akinfeev, he is the author of many records. Both qualitative and quantitative. But not a single article, book or film about him gives a clear answer to the question: what is his goalkeeper’s greatness? And really, in what?

Igor can hardly be called the best in at least one game goalkeeper component. Goal line play? Here, few can compare with Alexander Filimonov, who managed to react to the movements of his opponents that were elusive to the ordinary eye. Game on the outs? And there are serious competitors here. For example, Marinato Guilherme. Charisma and leadership qualities? In this component, it is already impossible to compete with Sergei Ovchinnikov. Spectacular jumps in corners? Here the championship is for Ruslan Nigmatullin. So how did a goalkeeper, who did not possess outstanding skills, manage to claim the position of number 1 in the national team and the honorary title of the goalkeeper of the republic for almost 15 years? This question was addressed to the experts of MK – the honored coach of Russia Oleg IVANOV, who took goalkeeper lessons at Dynamo from the great Lev Yashin, and the ex-goalkeeper of the USSR national team, medalist of the 1966 World Cup Anzor KAVAZASHVILI.

“Akinfeev has a unique goalkeeper property: he is less likely to be hit on goal than other goalkeepers,” says Ivanov. – The opponent’s forwards believe that it is useless to beat for sure: there is no thought that this goalkeeper can be taken by surprise, caught in a negligence, on a gross mistake … the football field with him, they know the true value of real skill. They see when the goalkeeper can play more useful not for himself – for the team. His outwardly discreet play style is distinguished by excellent reaction, economy of movement and reliability. “

“Igor was both lucky and unlucky in his career,” Anzor Kavazashvili believes. – On the one hand, he made his debut in the national team at the age of 18, and on the other hand, for many years he did not have real competition for a place in the national team. Perhaps due to her absence, he finished playing for the national team at the age of 32. I am convinced that at the age of 25-26, Akinfeev should have left for Europe. I am sure that if he moved to a strong German, Spanish or English club, he would certainly become a superstar there and could well claim the title of the best goalkeeper in Europe and even the world. When you have already achieved everything in Russia, it is difficult to find motivation for further growth. Both training and games begin to weigh on.

Why didn’t you leave? Perhaps the question is about money. I admit that at CSKA he had such a personal contract that no one could repeat. But most likely the matter is in Igor’s club patriotism, which to some extent turned out to be his side. His dedication to CSKA, multiplied by his gentlemanly behavior on the field, speaks of his decency and the presence in him of the great spirit of a real Russian athlete. If we talk about the playing qualities of Akinfeev, then first of all I would like to note the support from the partners. His undoubted merit is that both the club and the national team trust him unquestioningly. It can be seen that he and the defenders analyze in detail each of the possible game moments, agree on interaction in a variety of situations. So his feats at the gate are very often planned feats.

As for the repulsed penalty in the match with the Spaniards, in order to understand how Igor did it, you need to play at the goal yourself. Any goalkeeper, having made a decision and choosing an angle for a jump while trying to repulse a kick from the penalty spot, does it with his eyes closed. This is not cowardice, but pure psychology – the eyes close themselves at this moment. So Igor, falling into the right corner for himself, did not close his eyes, which allowed him to hit the ball with his foot. For playing with his eyes wide open in this moment, he deserves the highest praise for his goalkeeping skills. “

Published in the newspaper “Moskovsky Komsomolets” No. 28514 of April 8, 2021

Newspaper headline:
Wide-eyed goalkeeper

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