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Boom or Bust – The Eremenko Gamble

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killieIn 2010, a well-travelled Finn named Alexei Eremenko turned up at Rugby Park. Most of the support knew little or nothing about him, other than the fact he’d been desperate to work with his idol and father’s best friend Mixu Paatelainen, so had agreed to a loan deal from Ukrainian side Metalist Kharkiv.

On the 11th of September ‘Losa’ made his debut, and so began a season-long love affair. On that day, Eremenko scored the winner – a 30-yard free-kick that snuck in at Paul Gallagher’s near post as he ran the show.

Everything about him was different to any player we’d seen represent Kilmarnock since Tommy Burns. His first-touch was sublime, and he’d often beat an opposing player with that alone. When he picked the ball up he seemed to glide away from players, his chunky physique proving no match for his quick feet. When he received a pass, he’d open his body up and let it find space, not push it instantly outwards as so many British players do. And when he’d beaten his man, his vision to pick out a pass, shot or cross was extraordinary.

That vision proved to be the making of striker Conor Sammon too, with the Irishman going from average SPL workhorse to clinical goalscorer almost instantaneously. Sammon has a lot to thank ‘Losa’ for in my honest opinion, as it was his passes that made him look even better than he was and with it, earn a move to the English Premier League with Wigan Athletic. It wasn’t just Sammon that benefited however – with Craig Bryson shining alongside and Liam Kelly emerging as the midfield workhorse to cover, Kilmarnock’s midfield was beginning to rival anything outwith the Old Firm.

With the season drawing to a close, talk began of where Eremenko would end up next term. There was no way that Kilmarnock could match his reported wages of £20,000 per week, and as such the inevitable Rangers and Celtic links were made in the ever so original Scottish media.

‘Losa’ was eventually beaten to the Player of the Year award by Celtic’s Emilio Izaguirre, and Celtic were beaten to his signature by then Russian champions Rubin Kazan, who wanted to link him up with his brother Roman, who had joined from Dinamo Kyiv. So that-was-that. We’d had our treat as Kilmarnock fans, and we were never to see his like again in stripes.

Fast forward three years and Alexei Eremenko is once again on Kilmarnock’s radar. His time in Russia proved to be a frustrating one, with injuries and fitness issues not helping him break into a talented Rubin side. A move to Kazakh side Kairat Almaty, whilst good for his bank balance, wasn’t really in keeping with the cosmopolitan lifestyle he and his wife were used to, and as such Eremenko was released from his contract early. Rumours began circulating that Alexei was interested in a move back to Scotland and he was quoted as saying that “in Scotland, there is only one club for me – Kilmarnock.” That has led the Kilmarnock support, desperate for some good news in a season of turmoil, to reach almost fever pitch with the idea of a dramatic return to Rugby Park. But would that be a good move for the club to make?

This January, we have released several players, including high earners such as Rabiu Ibrahim and Gabriel Reuben, so there is money available to strengthen the squad. We have been crying out for a creative fulcrum to our midfield since Borja Perez left in the summer to return to Spain, and Eremenko would without-a-doubt fill that gap. I would argue that a much more pressing area of the side that needs addressing is the defence, with Killie short of a centre-back and cover for the full-backs. That seems to have been partly solved with the signing of Latvian defender Vitalijs Maksimenko on loan from Brighton, and the return to fitness of Ismael Bouzid. So it should be a no-brainer to bring ‘Losa’ back then? Not quite.

Alexei is quoted in the Finnish press as saying he wants to return to Ayrshire, and will do so for the same wage we covered during his first spell. That was reportedly £1,500 per week, with the club also covering his accommodation costs in Glasgow. If we were to match that this time around, it would make Eremenko comfortably our top-earner, which on paper doesn’t look to be too much of an issue. That’s where the old fitness problems rear their ugly head. In the last three seasons of football, Alexei Eremenko has played a grand total of 1,127 minutes of football, and a large chunk of that was in the relatively unremarkable Kazakh league. Is that a gamble worth taking in our financial predicament? Or should we simply decide that buying two or three more reliable players is the more prudent step to take?

If we do take the punt, it will require a massive change in how we’ve played football for the majority of the season under Allan Johnston. The long-balls at all costs will have to cease, although I believe that they are fueled in part by the lack of a creative player in our midfield, which would change should Eremenko be a part of it.

There’s little doubt that should one remain fit and one stay, an Eremenko and Boyd partnership is a salivating prospect. If he made Conor Sammon look brilliant, what could he provide for the league’s all-time record goalscorer? With Ross County signing a player of Filip Kiss’ ability, and Partick Thistle strengthening also, it may well be a risk that Johnston is willing to take to keep us in the top-flight. However the potential pit-falls are there, clear as day, to warn us not to go too far in our pursuit of the Finnish International and to make sure we don’t allow our hearts to rule our heads.

For the mean time, we can all lie in bed at night and imagine what a fit Eremenko and on-form Boyd could do to defences up and down the country. Whether it becomes a reality or not, is a massive decision to make.

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You can follow Russell on twitter via @russabercrombie as he talks about Football, politics and wrestling.

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