Pavel Pogrebnyak has scored two goals in two games for Fulham since his move from Stuttgart in January, and in a league which is often said to be difficult for new signings from foreign leagues to adapt to, Pogrebnyak has proven he has the ability to fit straight in at the Cottage. No wonder Martin Jol didn’t seem too fussed about the departure of Bobby Zamora, as he moved to sign the 28 year old Russian with money to spare.
Pogrebnyak is a player who has always had the ability to become a good striker in the Premier League. He has the prerequisite great feet for a big man, is strong on and off the ball, and possesses a good left foot, and a decent right one. He also has a cool head in front of goal, as his goal against QPR recently demonstrated. So why has it taken so long for the striker to arrive in the English league?
In the build up to Euro 2008, Pogrebnyak was a regular in the Russian squads for the qualifying games, scoring one goal in their qualifying group as he came on at half time to score the winning goal against Estonia. He formed part of a Russian attack which included an emerging bunch of Russian star players such as Andrei Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Dmitri Sychev, and Aleksandr Kerzhakov. Although many of Pogrebnyak’s appearances in qualifying came from the bench, he was seen as a major part of the squad, and his domestic form – forming a strike force with Arshavin which took Zenit St. Petersburg to the title – meant that many considered him to be Russia’s in form striker going into the tournament proper.
Then a slice of bad luck came. Pogrebnyak suffered a knee injury just as the tournament was about to start. Russia went on to be one of the more impressive teams in the tournament in Germany, with their only defeats coming to the eventual champions Spain. They qualified through a tough group which included Spain, Sweden, and Greece, then they beat the Netherlands in the quarter finals, before falling again to Spain in the semis. Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko were Russia’s stars and were now stars of Europe, and the major footballing nations began to take note. Pavluchenko signed for Spurs, Arshavin ended up at Arsenal, and a couple of other players found their way to the Premier League on the back of their performances and subsequent rise in status after Euro 2008, most notably Yuri Zhirkov to Chelsea, and Dinyar Bilyaletdinov to Everton. But Pavel Pogrebnyak was the forgotten man.
A spell at Stuttgart began in 2009 with mixed success. Pogrebnyak starred for the Bundesliga side in the Champions League in his debut season, as they qualified for the first knockout round, only to be drawn against Barcelona. The striker was steady for the club domestically, but didn’t trouble the goal scoring charts enough for some. However he maintained his core skills and was always there for the team, and still had the attributes of a top striker, and this is what Martin Jol saw as he looked to freshen up Fulham’s front line.
His start for Fulham may be out of character in terms of goal scoring, and the goal a game record is unlikely to stay, but Fulham have players such as Dempsey, Ruiz, Johnson, and Dembele who can benefit from the centre forward’s presence in the side. Even if the goals stop, he’ll worry defenders enough to allow his team mates more space in the final third, and considering the going rate for a good strong centre forward in this country, £3m isn’t much. Pogrebnyak has said himself that he’s here to learn, and commenting on the thoroughness of his Fulham medical he said:
“Last night’s medical was six hours long, they inspected my every finger! But the medical staff were satisfied with my condition. They said I can improve in England, become powerful and lean, like a beast.”
Pogrebnyak’s journey to the Premier League has taken him all around the houses, but it looks like he’s finally arrived at The Cottage.