Andrei Arshavin’s “dream” of playing for Barcelona appears to have come a step closer to being realised on Thursday after Barcelona economic vice president Ferran Soriano and coach Pep Guardiola admitted their admiration for the Russian forward.
The 27-year-old has emerged as one of the most coveted players in Europe over the past week thanks to two fine performances at Euro 2008.
He is now widely tipped to leave UEFA Cup champions Zenit St Petersburg this summer, with Barca seemingly at the head of the queue after Arshavin himself admitted that moving to the Catalan capital would be a “dream”.
Zenit revealed on Thursday that the Catalans had made a bid for the player, prompting Soriano and Guardiola to both go on record stating their interest in the player.
However, in his declarations to the Catalan press Soriano made it clear Barca’s interest in Arshavin is not merely due to his heroics in Austria and Switzerland.
Instead he claims the Russian forward is a player that the Primera Liga club have been following for some time, and that his performances on Europe’s top stage have merely confirmed what Barca already knew.
“We’re interested in Arshavin. But our interest is not recent,” he told Catalan radio station RAC1.
“We’ve been following him for months but we’ve been doing it discreetly.
“We saw him when he played against Bayer Leverkusen and he gave us the impression that his best position was just behind the frontman.
“But now we’ve confirmed that in the big games, with his national team at Euro 2008, he plays on the wing.
“Now we’ve removed all doubts and this is the type of player that we want. But it won’t be easy to sign him as all the teams want him.”
New coach Pep Guardiola reiterated Soriano’s claims that Arshavin has been on the Barca radar for some time, and added that he had no doubt that both the Russian and Barca’s other rumoured targets – such as Arsenal’s Alexander Hleb - would combine well in his new Barcelona side.
“Arshavin is having a great European Championship and he’s a player we were already following,” Guardiola revealed in Spanish newspaper Sport.
“All the players that have been linked with us in the media and all the players that the board are following are of a very good level.
“Good players are always compatible, and there’s no doubt that both Hleb and Arshavin are good players.”
Not only have Barcelona been following Arshavin for some time, but it also appears that the player himself has had his eye on a move to the club for a while now too.
Former Barca forward Maxi Lopez, now a player at FC Moscow, also claimed on Thursday to have spoken to his Zenit rival during a clash between the two sides in the Russian league.
Lopez told Catalunya Radio that when he spoke to Arshavin he was very keen to know about life in Spain and in the Spanish league, and backed the forward to excel should he move to Barcelona.
“We spoke with Arshavin when we met in the league and he asked me about Spain and the football there,” the 24-year-old explained.
“I suppose everyone knows it now, but he’s been playing at this high level for a really long time.
“As far as I’m concerned he’s an excellent professional. I can see him playing for Barca.
“He’s a player who has carried the team on his back and achieved great things. It’s not for no reason that he’s the highest paid player in Russia.”
This latter fact, however, appears to be the biggest obstacle in Barca’s path.
Many reports in Spain have raised doubts over whether the Catalan club can afford the Russia star after having already spent heavily on Gerard Pique, Martin Caceres, Seydou Keita and Daniel Alves already this summer.
The player’s agent, Dennis Lachter, insists that the player will move for “sporting reasons rather than economic ones”, but still it is believed that the club may have to sell some of their unwanted players to make room for Arshavin.
Forward Samuel Eto’o, and playmakers Deco and Ronaldinho have all been told their services are not required, but as yet there have been no takers for the trio.
And Soriano insists the club will not lower their asking price for the players in order to get a quick sale.
“We only need 3 or 4 new signings, but this could change depending on who leaves the club,” Soriano admitted.
“Eto’o? The technical secretary believes that he (Eto’o) is no longer motivated at Barca and Samuel himself thinks the same.
“Ronnie? We won’t give him away. If those who want him don’t give us what we think is fair for a player of his quality and with such a high commercial value, then we won’t sell him and he’ll stay at Barca.”
Furthermore, Arshavin is not the only big name planned to come to the Nou Camp this summer, as the club are also interested in Arsenal’s Emmanuel Adebayor.
Soriano admitted that negotiations have begun for the Togo forward, stating: “The operation is still in the early stages, but it doesn’t depend on Eto’o leaving.”