Officials of Nantes and Metz will not have enjoyed watching Russian attacking starlet Dmitri Sychev turning it onat this summer’s World Cup. Both French clubs had Sychev on trial last autumn, only to decide they would not take him on.

How they must regret their decision now. Sychev has become one of the hottest properties in Eastern Europe, and Nantes and Metz certainly could not afford him today.

In January this year, Russian champions Moscow Spartak stepped in to sign the forward from Second Division Spartak Tambov, and he was an instant hit in the capital, clinching a first-team place with a clutch of goals in the pre-season CIS Cup.

A regular for the Russian Under-18s, Sychev soon found himself thrust into the senior international side. He made his debut in March in the 2-1 defeat by Estonia, then sealed a spot in Russia’s World Cup squad with a goal in a warm-up game against Yugoslavia. Sychev became the youngest player to appear for the USSR or Russia at a World Cup when going on as a substitute in the game against Tunisia aged 18 years and 222 days.

In truth, he was the only good note of a decidedly off-key Russian tournament, havinga hand in all four Russian goals, of which he scored the last, despite appearing only as a substitute.

With his pace, quick feet and exuberant play, it was obvious why the Russian media had likened him to Michael Owen. “The best compliment I can pay Sychev is that it seemed as if he had played for the national team for some time,” said Russian skipper Victor Onopko.

“He took the World Cup finals completely in his stride. He had no fear, no nervousness and showed how skilful he is.”

Sychev, a Siberian, spent his formative footballing years at St Petersburg’s famous Smena soccer academy. Now, just months into a five-year contract with Spartak, it is a given that he will not stay long in Moscow. Leading Western clubs are already on the case, and Spartak may find it difficult to resist their approaches.

“I’m not one to look too far ahead into the future,” says Sychev. “I’m just enjoying my good fortune. Only a short time ago, I could not have imagined playing for Moscow Spartak and Russia at the World Cup. It was only yesterday I wassitting in front of a television watching these top players. Now I’m living with these same players, eating at the same table as them. ”

Club Moscow Spartak
Country Russia
Born October 26, 1983, in Omsk
Previous club Spartak Tambov
International debut March 2002, v Estonia
International caps 6 (2 goals)