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Watching a paunchy Muscovite roll up the hem of his grubby vest to expose his swollen belly to the 32 degree heat was concerning.
So was being repeatedly stabbed by the exuberant Alexei, who gleefully mutilated my chest while attempting to pin a Dynamo badge to my shirt in a well meant but somewhat contrived show of solidarity.
This was Russia and covering football was quirkier than I could have hoped.
Everton’s reserves were producing a travel-weary display as they slipped to a 1-0 defeat to Freiberg at the Dynamo Small Arena (see picture 1) in their opening match of July’s Lev Yashin Cup.
The ground was indeed small – a decomposing limb on the corpse of the old Dynamo Moscow.
The most historic Russian club of them all will be reincarnated with the completion of a spanking World Cup-ready ‘new Dynamo Stadium’ in 2016, while until then they play their home games at Arena Khimki – a modern facility in a remote suburb of the sprawling Slavic metropolis.
But stepping into this crumbling edifice on the fringe of the historic Petrovsky Park was like stumbling through a time warp and arriving in the twilight of the Soviet era, a feeling enhanced by the abundant material disrepair.
Weeds sprouted from cracks amid the dilapidation, a crackly PA system whimpered in the background and policemen in militaristic attire loitered like KGB goons straight out of a Cold War Bond film.
Their presence was more than offset by a breezy calm in this Rusky-80s vortex, the hazy tranquility only momentarily pierced by a small pocket of OFK Beogrud fans staging an impromptu riot in the corner following their team’s 3-1 victory over the hosts in the tournament’s opening match.
The locals, meanwhile, were generally clad with stupefying poor taste (picture 2) and simply ambled around, flashing cartoon grins and shaking hands vigorously with their Brit guests.
Among the smiling faces, and conspicuous by their westernised dress and dental hygiene, were two particularly keen observers – Rinat and Daniel Bilyaletdinov – father and brother of Everton’s very own Muscovite, Diniyar.
“With Everton being here we were always going to come and watch the games,” explained Daniel in perfect English, before enthusing about his regular trips to the ‘amazing’ city of Liverpool.
“I speak to Dinyar every day,” added Rinat, with the help of Yelena our interpreter, tour guide, matriarch, Mary Poppins…
“And if it is not me speaking to him then it is his mother, we are close and we always like to know how he is doing.”
Billy is understandably well-known in Russia, particularly in his native Moscow.
Football is fashionable and awash with cash. The game is a voguish outlet for oligarchs and their extreme wealth and the financial clout of Roman Abramovic and his contemporaries - the billionaires who have profited from the privatisation of former state industries – has impacted greatly on the domestic game.
The World Cup award fanned the flames of the rekindled affair and on the streets of Moscow, everyone is a football fan, albeit a badly dressed one.
So quite naturally the acknowledgement of an Everton crest is quickly followed by a question about the club’s 43-cap Russian international.
Billy’s progress is tracked here, particularly by fans of his former club Lokomotiv.
And most – including his father Rinat – are hoping that 2011/12 brings renewed impetus to his Blues career.
“My hopes for this season are for Diniyar to play more minutes on the pitch and for Everton to finish back in the European places,” added Bilyaletdinov senior, himself a coach and former player with Lokomotiv.
“I remember coming to Everton and watching the players and, for me, they have every chance of making the top section of the league.
“They have very good technical players who are very mobile – it was a pleasure to watch them.
“They probably drew too many games last season as a lot of the teams – and I watched them play Wigan at home – were trying to tie their hands behind their back. It is not easy when teams adopt this approach.
“But Diniyar is generally very happy,” he added. “He likes his life at Everton, and in Liverpool, and is working very hard. His present way of live is optimal for him. His situation is almost perfect.
“He got married in the summer – his wife was already with him and is studying in Liverpool, learning English at college. They are happy.”
Billy's own command of the English language is impressive and also indicative of the efforts he has made to adapt. As his father says - he is happy and settled.
The challenge now, again as his father points out, is to play more.
After an impressive first season, Billy found it far harder to hold down a regular start last term. It is a common scenario whereby decreased opportunities impacts on confidence and subsequently the ability to make the most of what chances do come along and, in the case of Bilyaletdinov, his level of confidence is clearly a big factor.
Ultimately, however, the buck stops with the player and Everton fans, as desperate as they are for him to succeed, would perhaps like to see signs of mental strength and fighting spirit as he seeks a platform to showcase that undoubtedly rich technical ability.
There were encouraging signs against Aston Villa with the Russian linking well with Leighton Baines and some of his crossing – particularly to the back post area – causing the visitors some real headaches.
On Saturday he made it consecutive starts when he faced Wigan, but with Royston Drenthe arriving at the club, competition will be as fierce as ever for a place in the team.
Some have called for him to be given a chance in a central attacking midfield role, but if you ask Billy himself, he says the left wing is his preferred position.
And he, and his father Rinat, will hope this is the season where he makes that spot his own.
“I remember he was interviewed for TV here in Russia,” his father added.
“The journalist said to him ‘when you have scored, Everton have never lost’. I am not sure if this is still true but hopefully he can play more, score more goals and help Everton win matches.”
If there has been a trademark of Billy’s spell at Goodison Park it has been his penchant for the spectacular.
Strikes against Manchester United, Portsmouth and Wolves are up there with some of the most handsome goals scored in the Club’s modern history.
But is this talent innate? A trait he has always manifested?
“Da,” confirms Rinat with a smile and a nod. “Da, vsegda (always).”
I didn’t need Yelena’s help with that one.
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