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Football: 'Prodigal son' Arshavin returns home to Zenit

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Russia's former international captain Andrei Arshavin has agreed a two-year deal to return to his native club Zenit St Petersburg after a frustrating half decade at London's Arsenal, Zenit announced Thursday.

The return of Arshavin, 32, to Zenit had been rumoured in the Russian press for several days but the final signing of the deal had apparently been delayed by wrangling over the small print.

"One of the best footballers in Russia of the last decade is returning to his home city," Zenit said in a statement, confirming that the contract was for two years.

He will formally join Zenit from July 1 once his Arsenal contract expires, Zenit said.

"I am happy to pull on a Zenit shirt again. Now I just want to play football," Zenit quoted Arshavin as saying.

He said he "of course" wanted to return to the national team ahead of the 2014 Brazil World Cup, after being dropped under the reign of Italian manager Fabio Capello. "I do not know if my return to Zenit will help or not," he acknowledged.

Arshavin, born in Saint Petersburg in 1981 when it was still known as Leningrad, started his career in the Zenit reserves in 1999 while still a teenager.

Almost a decade at the club saw him score 71 goals in 310 matches and win Russian premier league titles as well as the UEFA Cup in 2008. He also lit up the 2008 Euro where Russia reached the semi finals.

But his move to Arsenal failed to live up to initial expectations and the midfielder spent most of his time on the bench and clearly felt wasted under the Arsene Wenger regime.

Arshavin became a hero for Russian fans in the Euro 2008. But after Russia's humiliating Euro 2012 exit he was at the centre of controversy that outraged top Russian officials after being caught on a mobile phone camera criticising fans.

"The prodigal son has returned home, acknowledging his mistakes," wrote the chief football editor of the Sovietsky Sport daily Yevgeny Lovchev.

But he said Arshavin faces an uphill task to make the move back to Zenit a success, given he barely played first team football at Arsenal in the last two years.

"Can Arshavin come back for real? I have big doubts," said Lovchev. "If he ends up on the bench it will be the end of his career and the guy will have buried his own talent."

Commentators said Arshavin will have his work cut out to make the Zenit first team -- stuffed with international talent like Brazil's Hulk and Axel Witsel of Belgium -- let alone the Russian national squad.

"The main thing for Andrei now is to rehabilitate himself," former Soviet and Russian national team coach Anatoly Byshovets told the RIA Novosti news agency.

"He has not been able to realise his capabilities in the last years."

The Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily said his annual salary is believed to have been agreed at 2.5 million euros ($3.2 million, £2.1 million).

Most in Russia now expect Arshavin to see out the rest of his career at Zenit and seek to help the club win back the premier league title they lost last year to arch rivals CSKA of Moscow.

The signing was seen as invitable after his request to return was backed by the club owners state-run gas giant Gazprom, irrespective of the opinion of Zenit's Italian manager Luciano Spalletti.

"We have to remember that Arshavin is a product of Zenit. And I think it right that a product of Zenit finishes his career at his native club," Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller was quoted as saying at the weekend.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130627/football-prodigal-son-arshavin-returns-home-zenit