Asian Debate: Why Isn't Uzbekistan's Maksim Shatskikh As Famous As Park Or Nakamura?

He has been around for years but should be better known...
Park Ji-sung became the first Asian to play in the Champions League final in May 2009 but the feted South Korean had yet to go to Europe when Maksim Shatskikh first starred in the cash-rich continental competition.

Throughout this decade, the Uzbekistan striker has made numerous appearances for Dinamo Kiev, scored eleven goals against some of the world’s best teams and made team of the round on more than one occasion.

The 31 year-old has also scored 30 goals in 45 internationals, has been top scorer in the Ukrainian league twice and Uzbekistan player of the year no less than four times.

Battling With Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos In 2006

But he is not a household name in Asia or anywhere else.

For Asian football fans, there has been something almost mythical about Maksim Shatskikh. Nobody knows much about him. He rarely gives interviews to the media, he may have played in the world’s richest club competition but played for an unfashionable club and as far as the national team went, sometimes he played, sometimes he didn’t.

As far as his profile in the west went, newspapers were satisfied with his label of Shevchenko’s replacement and didn’t take much more notice than that –apart from the odd occasion.

One of those was his performance in the 2002 Champions League when he put Newcastle United to the sword. He ran Bobby Robson’s men ragged, scoring one beauty and having two others disallowed as the Ukrainians won 2-0.

“It was a world-class piece of finishing from Shatskikh… regarded by many as the natural successor to Andrei Shevchenko,” gushed The Independent.

“It is, however, questionable whether even Shevchenko has scored a better goal in the Champions' League than the shot from Shatskikh, aimed from 20 yards, which just scraped the inside of Shay Given's post as it flew in.”

Putting Newcastle To The Sword In 2002

One wonders what would have become of the player had he moved to the big leagues at that time. We will never know. Despite a desire to play in the Premier League, Shatskikh’s profile never got any bigger or brighter and the closest he came to a move farther west were reports linking him to a relegation-destined West Bromich Albion in 2005.

Now back in Asia, if not the AFC, with Kazakhstan's Lokomotiv Astana, Shatskikh should have been, and should still be, one of the continent’s biggest stars. His face should be as recognisable as Park’s, Nakamura’s or Nekounam’s. Not playing at the World Cup doesn't help.

The same can be said about not playing for a team such as Manchester United or Celtic. He has also never really done the business at a big tournament and is missing for his national team as often as he is present.

In the decade since he made his debut for Uzbekistan, he has still to break the half-century mark. By contrast Park, who made his debut back in 2000, and like Shatskikh has never played in the league of his homeland –indeed has played his club football farther away from his national team base- has played more than 80 times.

Only joining FIFA in 1994, Uzbekistan is still forging its identity as a football nation. Good performances at the 2004 and 2007 Asian Cups suggested that the team was on the rise. A great performance in the third round of qualification for the 2010 World Cup made the Blues the dark horse that the favourites wished to see lining up in the other race.

Despite being in the easier group, the Uzbeks had a torrid time and after losing their first two games, were never in the running and limped into last.

A Rare Highlight In Qualification - A Goal In Japan

On a personal level, it was no better. Shatskikh got off the mark as the Uzbeks drew in Japan. It was a fleeting highlight. He was benched by former team-mate and new coach Mirdjalal Kasimov for the fourth match, recalled for the next game against Qatar but subbed soon after the break as Uzbekistan went to record their only win – an emphatic 4-0 thrashing. 

Replacement Anvarjon Soliev got one and young gun Farhod Tadjiyev grabbed a hat-trick and the headlines. Suddenly life without Shatskikh didn’t seem so bad.

The player didn’t play the next game in Australia and he explained why: “I just had a sudden fever after the match against Qatar. Probably, I picked up an infection. That is why I didn’t fly to Australia with my national team and returned to Kiev. But now everything is fine and I hope to be ready for Sunday’s league match against Metalurh Donetsk. I think, the coach can count on me.”

National coach Kasimov didn’t think he could and dropped the striker for the final two matches against Japan and Bahrain.

For many, that has been the problem. His club coach has long been able to count on Shatskikh but fans at home could be forgiven for thinking that he could have been more passionate about the national team.

It remains to be seen if Shatskikh gets another crack at the World Cup but it is unlikely.

He will probably be on the sidelines watching to see if the talented Alexsander Geynrikh is ever going to fulfill his potential and become the ‘next Shatskikh’.

John Duerden

Asia Editor