The Dinamo Moscow striker was so eager to come to England after early success for Russia that his career has all but ground to a halt, writes Dan Brennan
From England’s north-west to its south coast, the considerable frame and increasingly weary visage of Dmitri Bulykin were familiar sights at training grounds in January. In fact, one in five top-flight clubs have had the pleasure of his company – a decent record if ground-hopping is your game, but not if you’re a Premiership wannabe with a dislike of hotel rooms.
The origins of the Russian’s thus far unrequited flirtation with English football go back to September 2003 and a cold night in Moscow. The previously uncelebrated 23-year-old – who had made his international debut just four days earlier in Dublin – was hailed as the new golden boy of Russian football thanks to a barnstorming hat-trick in a 4-1 demolition of Switzerland. It was the match that turned Russia’s Euro 2004 qualification campaign around. Coach Georgi Yartsev was hailed as a tactical genius, and his protégé Bulykin became the nation’s talisman.
Soon the burly striker was being talked of as a candidate for Serie A or the Premiership. Though claiming to model his game on that of Christian Vieri, Bulykin was adamant that his future lay in England. When the Bulykin PR machine kicked into gear, the first to have his interest piqued was David Moyes at Everton, who invited the Dinamo Moscow man to train for a week at Bellefield.
At that stage, though, the Russian’s relationship with his English admirers was always going to be platonic. He was still under the cap limit required for it to be consummated. That changed during Euro 2004, which was meant to bring the suitors flocking.
It didn’t go to script. Russia were poor, Bulykin was largely anonymous, his club blithely continued to ask a high fee for their man, and so Everton were not in any way encouraged to revive their early interest. The fact was that, aside from one fine season at Dinamo Moscow, where he had captained the side, and his brief early flourish for the Russian national team, much of what Bulykin has produced has been uninspiring and he has earned a reputation back home for being lazy.
Desperation, though, always breeds self-delusion, and various relegation scrappers and bargain-hunters were lured by the prospect of picking up a physically imposing forward who had scored four goals in his first three internationals. Never mind if, allied to the physical presence of a Vieri, he had the turning circle of a Micky Quinn.
First up were Bolton, who had him over to stay twice, but in the end were only willing to endorse a loan or a hire-purchase deal. Dinamo Moscow were adamant that they wanted around £1.5 million up front, no messing.
Dmitri swiftly resurfaced at Crystal Palace, among a plethora of eastern European trialists who schlepped in and out of south London in January. Iain Dowie was rumoured to be keen, but chairman Simon Jordan wouldn’t open his wallet. With options running out, next port of call was Southampton. But it turned out this was just the briefest of stop-overs, just long enough for Bulykin to catch his breath before his grand tour climaxed down at Pompey.
Days before the transfer window slammed shut, it was announced that Dinamo, Portsmouth and player had agreed terms on a £1.1m two-and-a-half year deal, only for it to collapse at the last minute when it turn-ed out he couldn’t secure a work permit. Details, details... Portsmouth, in a panic, signed a Slovenian, Aleksandar Rodic, instead.
On January 31, Bulykin was left, like a jilted lover, to pick up the pieces of his shattered English romance and return, tail between legs, to the cold comfort of Moscow. To make matters worse, Dinamo had, in his absence, embarked on an exotic dalliance of their own. They have a new Abramovich-style sugar daddy, Alexei Fedorychev, a manure magnate who once turned out for the team’s reserves and who has already committed more than £100m to the cause.
A state-of-the‑art new stadium is in the pipeline, but for the moment Dinamo are contenting themselves with buying up half the Porto team that won the 2004 Champions League final. So far Derlei, Maniche, Costinha, and now Giourkas Seitaridis have been lured from Mourinho’s former club, along with another six players from the Portuguese Superliga. Amid all this Latin glitz, Bulykin suddenly looks awfully frumpy and last year.
Doubtless Dmitri, now 25, and his agents will be back knocking on various English doors in the summer. His cause, though, is hardly being helped by Dinamo. “He is still desperate to play in England,” confirmed board member Sergei Stepashin in May. “What can I say? If there is a coach over there who needs a striker who has scored one goal in the last 18 months, they are welcome to buy Bulykin.”
From WSC 222 August 2005. What was happening this month