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Why former Football Manager wonderkid Akinfeev never became a superstar

21:35 EAT 01/07/2018
Igor Akinfeev Russia Spain World Cup 2018 010718
The popular management simulation once regarded him as the best young talent in his position, but the Russian goalkeeper never reached the very top

A debutant at just 16 years old, Igor Akinfeev immediately made an impact with CSKA Moscow, saving a penalty and keeping a clean sheet against Krylia Sovetov Samara.

He announced himself as a wonderkid and his huge potential rating on popular computer game 'Football Manager' followed. He began making regular appearances at 17 and won an incredible treble for CSKA before turning 20.

Many thought that this incredible start to his professional career would lead him to become the world's best, but now, at 32, it seems almost impossible for Akinfeev to ever gain such status.

Two cruciate ligament ruptures in the 2006-07 and 2011-12 seasons had a huge impact on his development. Then Akinfeev's most high-profile error followed, as he allowed a shot from South Korea's Lee Keun-ho to slip through his hands at the 2014 World Cup. This played a role in Russia limping out of the tournament in Brazil at the group stage.

Still, in Russia, one gets the sense that it is Akinfeev who is the poster boy for this World Cup. Even more so after his penalty shootout heroics as Russia defeated Spain in the World Cup last 16 on Sunday.

The Moscow-born one-club man is captaining his side at his home nation's World Cup. Alexey Smertin, who is the Russian Football Union anti-racism and discrimination inspector, spoke of his status within Russia and he thinks that Akinfeev's career remains one to be proud of.

"This is his decision. [Francesco] Totti could also go to Real Madrid, but he chose his own club," Smertin told Goal . "Igor, I'm sure, had more than one proposal from top clubs, but, again, this is his decision and he must be respected. Igor is one of the most experienced players in this team.

"His successes are not only in the national team, but also in the club. With such a goalkeeper behind you always feel more confident. He's a real captain. I hope that he will stay at the highest level for a long time and be an example of professionalism for all the youth of the team."

Akinfeev had once been linked with Manchester United, but he feels comfortable in his hometown club.

Six Russian Premier Leagues, six Russian Cups and six Super Cups show his domination in his home nation, with the UEFA Cup his only international success. 

CSKA Moscow fitness coach Paulino Granero spoke about the dedication that his side's leader displays.

"Igor Akinfeev is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. He is a good professional, just like Sergei Ignashevich, Mario Fernandes, Alan Dzagoev and Alexandr Golovin," Granero told Goal .

"They are all good, good professionals. They train very hard every day. They take care of the small aspects like drinking, eating and sleeping. Everything. They control every aspect of their lives."

Granero does think that more of the Russian team in general are capable in playing in both the Premier League and La Liga.

"Of course, of course [Russians are good enough to play in the top five leagues]," Granero added. "They need to try out other competitions. They need to know other competitions and I invite them to play in England and Spain because they have the capacity to play there."

Perhaps it isn't just Akinfeev that hasn't reached his full potential by remaining in his home league, but a host of Russia's best stars.

For Akinfeev, a move overseas could have seen him fight to be the big fish in an even bigger pond. But the goalkeeper's career still remains impressive, and being the poster boy for his home country's biggest ever event isn't something to be taken lightly.