C McQuadeComment

THE BOY WHO MADE YASHIN CRY

C McQuadeComment
THE BOY WHO MADE YASHIN CRY

In 1974 Anatoly Kozhemjakin returned home to his wife after a concert & a night of drinking, it was after midnight and - with a young baby in her arms - she turned him away. The young Dynamo Moscow striker decided he would stay in a friend’s apartment.

The next morning he and his friend got into the apartment complex’s elevator. They pressed the button for the ground floor, the elevator descended but stopped. They waited, no movement; they pressed the call button, no response; they tried all the buttons, to no avail. Being athletes , Anatoly and his friend were able to prise the mechanical door open and tried to reach the ground floor from there. His friend descended first and waited,  whilst Anatoly was hesitating as he didn’t want to get his jeans dirty. When he finally saw Anatoly start the descent the elevator started to move once again.

In 1970 Beskov Konstantine, then boss of Dynamo Moscow,  was convinced to make the trip to go see a young striker playing for FSM in Moscow. The striker had been the best forward of the 1969 All-Union Games of Schoolboys and also the top scorer of the Cup of Youth in 1968. Beskov was suitably impressed and brought the player to his club. Used first as a sub against Torpedo Moscow, only four days later he was placed in the starting eleven against Chernomorets. A correspondent for Soviet Sport saw him in that game and described him as “tall, slender, with a peculiar technique in handling the ball… almost no backswing, and fast.” He didn’t score a goal that game, but he did strike the post. At the other end of the pitch, keeping the goal for Dynamo Moscow, was the legendary Lev Yashin. The reporter discussed with Lev an incident in the match involving himself and an opponent before turning his attention to the debutant. Yashin’s answer was short and to the point, he was talented but he needed to work as well.

Kozhemjakin would not appear in the Dynamo team again that season, Beskov choosing not to rush him, but he did make the USSR’s team for the 1971 UEFA Youth Tournament Under-18 held in (then) Czechoslovakia . It was a tournament that England won by defeating Portugal 3-0 in the final, with England’s scorers that day Johnny Ayris and Peter Eastoe. However, the tournament’s top scorer was not involved in the final, nor was the player of the tournament because a Soviet striker with 7 goals in 5 games was both, Anatoly Kozhemjakin (the runner up was Rui Jordao, the prolific Benfica and Sporting striker). 

The USSR had lit up the tournament with a frontline of Anatoly Baydachny, Anatoly Kozhemjakin and Oleh Blokhin. Blokhin would memorably go on to score 211 times for Dynamo Kiev and play for the Soviet Union 112 times but it was Kozhemjakin that stole the show with several virtuoso performances. In a group match with Belgium, Kozhemjakin took a diagonal pass down with his chest, cushioned it with his thigh, flipped it as he turned past the defender and unleashed a shot, this entire sequence was reportedly done in the space of a meter. The Soviet Union would progress from their group unbeaten to meet the eventual champions in the semi-finals, the match featured a sublime free-kick from Kozhemjakin, described by a reporter thus:

“Kozemjahkin ran up and struck the ball softly, the ball flew high and constantly changed directions, slightly one way, then the other. Then it was in the net. For the ‘keeper and the audience it was a surprise”

England equalised in injury time with a cross that evaded everyone and settled in the back of the net. The match progressed to penalties and Soviet reporters noted a strange performance from the English goalkeeper, as the penalty takers ran to take their kicks he waved his arms in all directions. The Soviet penalty takers, not accustomed to this distraction, missed 2 of their 4 penalties. The two who kept their heads were Blokhin and Kozhemjakin. The English scored their 4 and the Soviet Union were in the third place play off. Paired with GDR the match followed a similar structure; Anatoly scored a free-kick once more but this match too finished 1-1. The Germans won on penalties and the Soviet Union, without losing a game, had finished fourth.

Upon his return to Moscow Kozhemjakin was placed, permanently, in the starting line-up for Dynamo and scored 7 goals in the league campaign. The following year Dynamo would compete in the Cup Winners Cup and, having scored in the quarter finals to help defeat Red Star Belgrade, Anatoly was part of the first Soviet team to make the semi-finals of the competition. It was there they were paired with another Dynamo, Dynamo Dresden. The semi-final was notable for Kozhemjakin for the wrong reasons, Dynamo Moscow led 1-0 in the first leg at home but after a scuffle in the Moscow penalty area the players froze as Zhukov (a Dynamo Moscow player) fell to the turf. Thinking he heard the whistle Kozhemjakin gathered the ball in his arms but it was only then that the referee did blow his whistle and point to the spot. The young striker was heart-broken, in the return leg he couldn’t influence the game and was injured after 48 minutes but his blushes were spared as Moscow progressed on Penalties to the Cup Winner’s Cup final to face Glasgow Rangers. The final itself is historically significant but not for Anatoly who missed it due to his injury.

Nevertheless, Anatoly’s star was on the rise. He was called up to the first team for the Soviet Union and at just 19 made his debut in a match with Bulgaria in Sofia. The match finished 1-1 but Anatoly was now part of the senior set-up, Oleh Blokhin remained with the youth team.

As with any young sports star, Kozhemjakin enjoyed his life off the pitch as much as on it. A fan of modern rock music Anatoly listened to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin and was hunting for the first recordings of a new band, Queen. Anatoly used his travelling to broaden his horizons, listened to new music, tried new beers (becoming a particular fan of Czech beers) and had once brought home a new denim suit, a sight unseen in the Soviet Union. He would drink champagne in fancy restaurants; he was - according to some - the ‘soul of the team’. 

1973 was a blue riband year for Anatoly, which some attribute to him getting married and ‘settling down.’ He was leading the scoring charts with 16 goals for Dynamo, scoring four in one match, he was drawing comparisons with Streltsov (who Jonathan Wilson once described as “the greatest outfield player Russia has ever produced”) and was once again recalled to the Soviet Union team to face Chile in the play-offs for the 1974 World Cup. Similar to the Cup Winner’s Cup final this would prove to be a tie of great significance but for Anatoly the first leg finished a disappointing 0-0. Substituted on he had one of the most promising attacks of the game, Anatoly was through one on one with Juan Olivares but could not beat the Chilean (which would have been his first senior goal). He would not play in the highly controversial second leg because on the 14th of October 1973, in a league match with Dnipro, Kozhemjakin scored a brace but in an attempt to get his hat-trick was involved in a collision with Sergey Sobetsky, the Dnipro goalkeeper. The ‘keeper’s entire weight fell on Anatoly’s leg and tore his cruciate ligament. His season was over with 3 games left to run, Blokhin would finish as top goal scorer in 1973 with 18 goals but Kozhemjakin was named as one of the top 33 players in the Soviet Union, number 1 for forwards. 

At this time, given the severity of the injury, it was not clear if Kozhemjakin would be able to play again. Some doctors spoke of his leg shortening and of walking his whole life with a limp, but Anatoly rested and waited. It would not be until August of 1974 that Anatoly would take the field again and in his first game (met with rapturous applause from the Dynamo faithful) he played, according to some, the ‘perfect game’ but his next appearances were more laboured, as if he was trying too hard. Dynamo already had a young striker vying for the title of top goal scorer in 1974 in Vadim Pavlenko (a title that would once again go to Blokhin) and with this in mind, before a match with Torpedo, Anatoly was told to take some time and ‘look more carefully at his conscience’. 

Knowing he would not be playing Anatoly decided he would go to ‘The Time Machine’ concert. It was after midnight when he returned home to his wife and - with a young baby in her arms - she turned him away. The young striker decided he would stay in a friend’s apartment.

The next morning he and his friend got into the apartment complexes elevator, they pressed the button for the ground floor, the lift descended, but stopped. They waited, no movement; they pressed the call button, no response; they tried all the buttons, to no avail. Being athletes Anatoly and his friend were able to prise the mechanical door open and tried to reach the ground floor from there. His friend descended first and waited, Anatoly was hesitating as he didn’t want to get his Jeans dirty, when he finally saw Anatoly start the descent the elevator started to move once again and Anatoly was crushed, he was 21.

Dynamo had lost the match to Torpedo 1:0 and the next day Lev Yashin walked disconsolately into the stadium. He was asked how he was by a reporter and replied ‘Bad, very bad…’ Yashin had played his last game for Dynamo in 1971, his career only overlapping with Anatoly’s in those nascent days but he remained around the club in various roles and thus was always present for Kozhemyakin’s exploits. He noted his talent in those early days and when the young striker showed up in jeans Yashin was heard to remark that they had a plumber in the team, but Lev was convinced of his talent. In Igor Rabiner’s interview with Lev’s widow Valentina, she discussed the difficult moments in Yashin’s career, one such moment was the death of a player he had once said could be ‘better than Pele’, Anatoly Kozhemjakin. She simply said ‘Lev cried’.

 


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