Andrei Kanchelskis

Which would you choose, Brighton or Moscow? As Julian Daniels reports, the former Manchester United winger opted for the latter and he will probably be regretting it now

When Andrei Kanchelskis signed a one-year-deal with Dinamo Moscow in January, he was in­stant­ly named club captain. It seemed like his nine-month exile from the game had ended in style. However, within weeks it had turned into a nightmare.

It was with something of a heavy heart that Kanchelskis agreed to the move. Still harbouring notions of a Premiership return, he had been desperate to stay in England. However, a 34-year-old winger, whose heyday trademark was his blistering pace, was not at the top of too many top-flight shopping lists and, with memories of a failed stint at Southampton 18 months ago fresh in the minds, he was viewed with suspicion.

At one point last winter, he was offered to Dundee, who had already bagged Fabrizio Ravanelli and Craig Burley and seemed good for at least one more thirty­something former star. But the timing proved unfortunate. Would-be Dundee saviour Giovanni Di Stefano was passing through Dens Park at the time, spouting loudly about how he would soon deliver up Edgar Davids and various other A-list desirables.

The Italian lawyer showed both his ignor­ance of the game and a supreme lack of decorum by publicly dissing Kanchelskis, professing he had never heard of him and that Dundee had no need for such players.

As it turned out, the only offer in Britain came from Brighton, just down the road from Andrei’s West Sussex pile. Kanchelskis was happy to train with the Seagulls for a few weeks, provoking a surge of excitement in the local press. But in the end their wage offer was far too low for his pride, if not his pension scheme.

Though not quite on the scale of the Saudi/Qatar gold rush, the Russian premier league is now sufficiently awash with cash to prompt a big influx of foreigners and returning natives. Russian captain and long time Spanish exile Viktor Onopko, for example, spurned Everton in favour of a move to Russian mid-table outfit Saturn. So at least, when Dinamo signed up Kanchelskis, he could cash in for a season and enjoy be­ing the prodigal returned. Or so he thought. Before you could say “Clive Allen’s signed for Palace”, he had been shown the door – with­out managing a single minute of competitive football for Dinamo.

During pre-season training in Spain, Kanchelskis found himself unceremoniously packed off home. Initially no proper explanations were offered, beyond mutterings of a “disciplinary offence”. When the squad list for the new season was announced his name was missing. The indignant player claimed to be baffled. Eventually, the club claimed he had turned up drunk for training. Whether this is true will probably never be known. There had already been murmurings of a falling out with Dinamo’s new martinet coach, Czech Jaroslav Grebik, whose functionalist approach did not chime with the ex-Man Utd winger’s ideas.

During the briefest of honeymoons back in February, Grebik had hailed Kanchelskis’s arrival as a major coup. He praised his experience and intelligence, promised to make him leader of his team, and even expressed a desire for game of chess with his new captain. But after Spain, Grebik proclaimed himself shocked at the player’s “lack of professionalism”. Kanchelskis claims Grebik had already lost the confidence of the players and that his team-mates wanted him to stay. But Dinamo would not relent. “He no longer has a future at this club,” said a statement.

Kanchelskis now finds himself in the wilderness. He has been training with Saturn – doubtless with Onopko, his old mate from Dynamo Kiev and the Russian national side, oiling the wheels. And he reckons that a move to Saturn might be on.

But he has also become embroiled in a legal spat with Dinamo over compensation. Kanchelskis says he is entitled to have his contract paid off in full, but even though he is not asking for the total amount, the club have been unwilling to compromise. It has all started to get messy as the lawyers and the football federation were called in.

At one point in April Kanchelskis alleged he was been threatened in the street by someone claiming to be an ex-KGB man with connections to Dinamo, who told him to withdraw any claims against the club or else, stirring vague memories of rumoured mafia threats way back in his Manchester United days. It would never have happened at Brighton.

From WSC 209 July 2004. What was happening this month