Russian football commentators think that Lucas Podolski is one of theirs. This chap Podolski, who is of polish descent and has German citizenship, is playing for an English team, and not playing particularly well. Even so, every time he gets the ball, the two Commentators get all breathless with excitement just as they do when a Russian gets it.

The problem is there aren’t any Russians here who might get the ball, not even a Ukrainian, which is the same thing when you are desperate for all this excitement to say something to you about your life. Somewhere in the stadium though, there is actually, one Russian. By chance too, this one Russian is the best Russian there is in matters of football. This one Russian is the gnome faced genius of Petersburg. The legendary, well, you’d have to say, “nearly legendary”, or “almost brilliant”, or “so close to being astounding that it hurts”, the nearly man’s nearly man: Andre Arshavin.

 Arshavin, played incredibly well in front of the world once or twice, about 5 years back, and so he naturally concluded that he was God and must, as a result, be embraced at once by the heavenly host that is F.C. Barcelona. But Barcelona didn’t want him and so he went to that year’s Barcelona light, which was Arsenal, in London.

  He did some great things for a bit and then he stopped doing them. He said something about the food not being any good and his wife missing Russia, but you could see his heart wasn’t in it, even when he meandered back to Petersburg recently he didn’t do much there either.  This is an old tale for fans of Russian football: the sudden shining star that turns out to be merely a comet passing.  

So they are forced to live vicariously through the exploits of any player having a connection to Russia: the Ukranian Andre Shevchenko, for example, used to send them into paroxysms of delight, though less so when his free kick kept Russia out of an international championship. The London club Chelsea, or Chelski, is owned by a Russian Jewish oligarch. Football fans here are not famed for their love of Jewish people or oligarchs, but you have to take what you can get, and so about half of Russians, who express a preference, are Chelsea fans.

They used to have a Serbian playing at Spartak Moscow who went to Manchester and he got lots of love for a while until the passing years made the connection too tenuous and, even worse, it turned out that this Serbian was traitorously striving to stop Chelski from winning whenever he played against them. Hence they must look elsewhere when they need to shout the word “our” before the name of a player doing something outstanding, as they always did with “our Shevchenko.  But Podolski, A German pole? At least the Andre, and the perfidious Serbian were from orthodox countries.

There’s a joke: A Russian and a Ukrainian are walking through the country ravenous with hunger when they spot a huge, tasty looking cake cooling on the windowsill of an old lady’s cottage. They know they shouldn’t, these two friends, but needs must when the devil drives, so they grab it and run off into the forest. There the Russian takes out a knife and prepares to cut the cake, but his Ukrainian friend stops him, asking how they will divide it. “Why, we will share it like the Slavic brothers we are” replies the Russian: “is that not the way?” But the Ukrainian replies: “I thought this time we might go 50/50.

Like Shevchenko, the joke is Ukrainian.