WORDS: ROBERT DILLON
Scoring goals for fun for both club and country, the Armenian who grew up in Azerbaijan and made his name in the USA has yet to make it onto the radar of most British football fans. We think it’s high time you discovered the unique story and goalscoring prowess of Spartak Moscow’s Yura Movsisyan…
Outside of Armenia, Russia, and a select few towns across the Atlantic in the United States, the name of Yura Movsisyan means very little to anybody without substantial Football Manager experience.
However, if the striker is able to maintain the form which secured him a move to billionaire-backed FC Krasnodar and then finish as the club’s top scorer in his first season, the 26-year old Spartak Moscow forward is unlikely to remain under the radar for much longer.
His unique story starts in the one of the most difficult places for an Armenian citizen – Baku. Born in the Azeri SSR under the old Soviet regime, he began life as an outsider in the modern-day capital of Azerbaijan. Although ethno-religious tensions in the region have heightened since the collapse of the USSR, his family’s identity automatically placed the Movsisyans on the fringes of society, and so, with a numbers of factors making life difficult, the decision was made to uproot and establish a new life overseas with Yura still a young child.
The United States was their destination of choice, and they joined an ever-growing Armenian diaspora in the Los Angeles area. Pasadena and its college provided Yura’s first real experience of competitive football, and it became clear that the new immigrant possessed notable talent. His performances at that early stage earned him a place in the MLS Superdraft and recognition as a high potential ‘Generation Adidas’ player, and Movsisyan broke new ground by being selected fourth overall – the Kansas City Wizards making him their first pick and the earliest ever selection of a non-scholarship player with no youth caps.
The reasons for the Wizards’ scouting team’s excitement have recently become obvious, during his time in Krasnodar. While the likes of Seydou Doumbia at CSKA Moscow, Zenit’s Alexander Kerzhakov and, until recently, superstar Samuel Eto’o at Anzhi have shared the headlines, Movsisyan continued to grab the important goals that have taken Krasnodar from the second team in their own city to battling for a European position in the blink of an eye.
However, his talents were initially recognised in the States, where he made 28 appearances in that first year in Kansas City and eventually took out US citizenship. Although he netted just five goals, a disappointing return by his own admission, his obvious potential to lead the line attracted the attentions of Real Salt Lake, who came in for him on deadline day. Two years on, Salt Lake saw a solid return of a goal every three-and-a-half games, and a move to Europe beckoned.
At this point in his career, an overall tally of 21 goals in 88 competitive games may not have represented the figures of a world-class goalscorer. However, still a developing talent, it was his style of play as much as anything else which attracted a whole host of European scouts to Salt Lake to watch him. Movsisyan himself has admitted modelling himself on Thierry Henry, and in some senses there is a comparison to be made. Preferring to play on the shoulder of the last defender and use his pace, a number of his goals have come through bursting past the opposition and into the clear, while his speed has also seen goals poached opportunistically, especially following less than perfect backpasses.
Upon leaving the MLS, Movsisyan’s first European destination of choice was the relatively unfashionable Danish Superliga, where he joined up with Randers FC, a side who regularly topped the fair play league but struggled at the foot of the standings. Nevertheless, he immediately began to pay back his transfer fee, hitting seven goals in the 13 games that remained of the season to save Randers from relegation.
When he continued his scoring streak into the next season, supermarket magnate Sergei Galitsky took notice and snapped him up for around £2m for his club, FC Krasnodar – at that time one of the biggest signings made by the newly-promoted side. Movsisyan left for the south of Russia, and Randers were immediately relegated without his goals, a clear sign of his importance to the club.
Much like his idol Henry, one of the main reasons for Movsisyan’s success at Krasnodar was his ability to match his speed with a healthy dose of strength. Averaging a goal every other game in Russia’s top flight, a look through the Armenian international’s goals reveals plenty of one-on-ones converted, but an equal number of strikes which see him muscle a defender out of the way before finishing the move. With a growing aerial presence an improving part of his game, it is little surprise to see him terrorise the often questionable Russian defending and a big-money move to Spartak in the winter of 2012/13 was due reward for his development. Despite picking up more injuries than he would have liked, he has set about establishing himself as the Russian giants’ line-leader, which is no mean feat.
On the international scene, Movsisyan has also followed a less-than-conventional path. Determined to take US citizenship, he flirted with the idea of a national call-up before fully committing to the country of his roots, making his debut in August 2010. While at Krasnodar he formed a lethal partnership with creative forward Joaozinho, his country is yet to produce a player with the same connection, forcing Movsisyan to take additional responsibility up front. Nevertheless, with an improving team around him, and a new link at club level with winger Araz Ozbiliz, he has still managed seven in 21 for his nation, and along with Borussia Dortmund’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan, is fast becoming the face of his nation’s football.
With his difficult early years behind him, Movsisyan has succeeded in turning a potentially tumultuous life into a successful sporting story – the immigrant come good who is now one of the most prolific strikers in a league packed with goalscoring talent. His track record of success at unfashionable teams was impressive, but Movsisyan now looks to have found his feet in the big-club environs of Spartak. Whether the Armenian can be the one to fire them to a first title in over a decade, or whether his future lies away from Moscow, he looks set to make a big impact.