On This Day: Yuriy Zhirkov score first RPL goal for CSKA

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On 3 April 2004, a 20-year-old Yuriy Zhirkov scored his first goal in the Russian Premier Liga for CSKA Moscow against Zenit St. Petersburg.

The Tambov native signed a contract with the Armymen at the end of 2003 but could have ended up in the RPL even earlier. At the beginning of that year, Zhirkov went to see Spartak Moscow. "I played a training match and even scored a goal, but after that Spartak left for a training camp, and I didn't have a passport. Apparently, the team's management considered it unnecessary to spend money on it," the player told Sport-Express in an interview eight years later.

In the summer of 2003, the Sports Director of the red and white team, Alexander Shikunov, told Komsomolets Moscow about the player: "We have been following him for a long time, and we had him on trial. It would be inexpensive, but it just doesn't suit us with all things considered. The second tier is one thing, but Spartak is another. I know that he can go to Baltika now. Let him play in the top flight first…”

Even Lokomotiv and Arsenal Kyiv looked at Zhirkov. He trained with the Railwaymen reserves (the team was coached by Yuriy Semin's son Andrey), but did not fit the club. With Arsenal, according to Zhirkov, "something did not work out either." Zhirkov spent the whole of 2003 at Spartak Tambov, scoring 16 goals in the FNL and again interested RPL clubs. Among them, the media did not mention CSKA, but in the end, that’s where he moved.

“I was already tired of everything then,” Zhirkov recalled in an interview with Championat in 2016. “My manager told me: ‘Go to the training camp in Turkey.’ I said: ‘Can I go to Tambov for the weekend?’

“‘Zhirkov,’ he says. – What are you, a complete fool?!’ I went there and also scored a goal against Antalyaspor in the first friendly game, and then everything moved fast.”

Before the season, not only Zhirkov came to CSKA, but also a new head coach - Artur Jorge. He put the rookie in the squad for the first official match, the Supercup against Spartak, who had rejected the player a year earlier. Zhirkov received a yellow card before being substituted in the 75th minute, but after the match - a 3-1 win - he received praise from the manager.

"This is a talented young footballer who started his career in a very important match," said Jorge. “I am calm for his future. Zhirkov will grow into a great player.”

The 20-year-old midfielder played in every match, even if not completely. On the opening matchday of the RPL Zhirkov came on in the 63rd minute, while in the next two games he was put in the starting line-up and substituted off after the 70th minute.

He also started the match against Zenit, set up for his first goal past Sergey Ivanov by the more experienced Roland Gusev and Dmitriy Kirichenko. Before the break, Zhirkov scored with a shot from outside the penalty area. Ivanov admitted: "Zhirkov struck the ball exceptionally well."

“Roland Gusev took a corner, I rushed towards the penalty area and when the ball bounced in my direction, I hit the far corner,” Zhirkov told Sport-Express. “What did I feel? Joy, of course. This is my first goal in the RPL.”

The mood was spoiled by the result - the fourth draw in a row at the start of the season. Jorge’s team had been in front 3-1, but were pegged back by Aleksandr Kerzhakov with 10 minutes remaining. In the 90th minute the score was levelled by Aleksandr Spivak. By that time, Zhirkov was already sitting on the bench.

Four days later, the midfielder scored his second goal in the RPL en route to his first RPL win with CSKA, a 3-1 victory over FC Rostov. Zhirkov scored 15 goals in 139 RPL matches for them, becoming a two-time champion of Russia and UEFA Cup winner.

From CSKA, the midfielder left for Chelsea in London, and after returning to Russia, played for Anzhi and Dynamo Moscow. Since January 2016, Zhirkov has been a Zenit player. Ironically, he scored his first goal for Zenit against his old club.


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