After being frozen out for the best part of two years at Racing Santander, Russian international forward Vladimir Beschastnykh has wisely decided to return to the club where he began his career, Moscow Spartak.

Beschastnykh started well enough in Spain, following his move to Santander from Werder Bremen in summer 1996. He scored 26 goals in his first three seasons and won over the fans at the El Sardinero stadium with his speed on the counter-attack, ability to hold the ball up and high workrate.

But the blond, baby-faced striker fell out with coach Gustavo Benitez during the 1999-2000 season and, after being dropped, told a Russian newspaper that he sometimes supported the opposition in the hope that defeats would lead to Benitez being given the sack.

Club president Miguel Angel Diaz was furious and the Russian seemed sure to be offloaded. But no buyers could be found and, incredibly, Beschastnykh started last season as a Racing certainty.

But the truce was not to last long. In February, Santander brought in Uruguayan attacker Federico Magallanes, and Beschastnykh was unceremoniously dumped from the squad.

All the Russian could do was sit on the sidelines and wait for July, when his contract expired. However, it was Beschastnykh who had the last laugh. While Santander were falling out of the Spanish top flight, he was moving on a free transfer to Spartak, a switch that gives him his first taste of European club competition in six years.

‘I’m glad to be back at Spartak,’ he says. ‘I’m honoured that coach (Oleg) Romantsev wanted me to return. He discovered me as a kid of 17, taught me how to play and trusted me enough to put me in the first team.

‘I had a good relationship with the fans and players at Santander. Not with the board, though. The president decided there were too many foreigners at the club. It was awful not being able to play.’

Yet, for all his problems at Santander, Beschastnykh has not let them affect his international career. Indeed, he has played a key role in Russia’s excellentstart to the World Cup qualifiers.

‘We’re unbeaten and as long as we don’t lose our heads, we have a good chance ofgoing to the World Cup finals,’ he says.

‘I’ve been in Russian teams which did not go beyond the first round of the 1994 World Cup and Euro 96. We must do much better in Japan and Korea.’

Club Moscow Spartak
Country Russia
Born April 1, 1974, in Moscow
Previous clubs Moscow Spartak, Werder Bremen (Ger), Racing Santander (Spa)
International debut August 1992, v Mexico
International caps 53 (18 goals)
Honours Russian League 1992, 1993; German Super Cup 1994