Scouting isn’t rocket science! Every time a Premier League side signs a good foreign player the nation goes crazy. Who is this mystery guy? Where did he come from? Anyone with a decent knowledge of the game outside the UK would have known that the likes of Santi Cazorla, Oscar and Papisse Demba Cissé were likely to succeed, and there are plenty more of them out there. So who’s the next “secret” star to watch out for? Who is the next Cabaye?
He’s not big, but he is clever.
Appearances can be deceptive: Jano Ananidze, just twenty and a tiny, frail presence on the left or the hole, looks like he couldn’t cope with the rigours of a stiff walk home, let alone a full football season. But he’s already shown he’s got plenty of character, not to mention talent. The question is whether he needs to move now before the challenges in front of him grow too great.
The headlines are good: the youngest scorer in the history of the Russian league, two months after he scored on his debut in a Russian cup match, and a regular fixture in the Spartak side for a couple of years already, he’s perhaps more revealingly been a key player for his national side for a similar length of time.
His role carrying the expectations of Georgia show his true qualities. Spartak can draft in foreign talent to fill the gaps; Georgia have to rely on what they’ve got. Ananidze, with his sharp eye for a pass, great balance and clever movement, is already his nation’s leading light, and isn’t showing signs of shrinking from the pressure of it all.
But then he’s used to carrying expectations well beyond what you’d normally expect to lump on a lad of his tender years. By the time he was 16 he’d already done a tour of the great clubs of the old Soviet empire, having spent time at Dynamo Tbilisi, Dynamo Kiev and Spartak, for whom he spent two years waiting to be old enough to play for the reserves! Valeri Karpin couldn’t wait to draft him into the senior side and, after a prolific burst once he was allowed to play for the reserves, the coach gave in to temptation and the club has been profiting every since.
Still, all resilience has its limits, and one wonders whether it’s time for his peripatetic career to continue. Signing him almost feels more like an errand of mercy than a transfer deal. Even a young man who seems to be blessed with the ability to adapt in new surroundings and show resilience in the face of challenge must have his limits, and surely it would be no bad thing for his development if he were to be released from the torment of being stuck at the ludicrous farce that is Spartak at the moment. It’s an environment with the potential to crush the sternest of constitutions, so you can’t help but fear that this precocious talent will wither in such pressurised, unhealthy conditions.
Spartak have said for a couple of years that they wouldn’t contemplate cashing in on their young prodigy until he turned twenty. That time has come, and perhaps it’s time for them to let him go. If you love your playmaker, set him free.