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Watching Diniyar Bilyaletdinov ask for a picture in front of the large Everton crest at Finch Farm after saying an emotional goodbye to his teammates spoke volumes about his feelings for the Club.
From day one the Russian bought into the Blues’ ethos, embraced life at the club and, moreover, life in Liverpool, and that really added to the sense of regret that common sense had to prevail and a move back to his native Russia be sealed.
Despite the odd flash of his undoubted talent fanning the embers, his Everton career never lived up to expectation, never blossomed in the way some of the early swipes of that cultured left boot deceptively suggested it might have done.
This season he has drifted further to the periphery and, with Euro 2012 on the horizon, the time is undoubtedly right – for both club and player – for a parting of the ways.
Most Evertonians will no doubt feel pangs of the aforementioned regret, even if the overwhelming majority must be able to acknowledge that any hope of him turning things around in a Blue shirt had long since evaporated.
Manager David Moyes talked often of how the supporters wanted him to succeed and that was probably true of all who encountered the self-effacing, intelligent, thoughtful and well-mannered Muscovite.
Other adjectives you might use are industrious, committed, diligent and funny. Anybody who saw Phil Neville tweeting about Billy slotting a Caesar Salad into the inside pocket of his suit jacket must have raised a smile.
You couldn’t fault his personality – not to mention the fact that Bilyaletdinov at his best was a sublime sight.
But sadly, an all too infrequent one.
There was plenty of early promise, as those who watched him rack up an archive of assists in just a handful of appearances will testify.
First he helped to orchestrate an attacking masterclass as dismal Hull were dismantled at the KC Stadium before a series of chopping left foot blows aided the execution of AEK Athens in front of an enthralled Goodison.
Soon he was chipping in with goals and his breathtaking strikes against Manchester United and Portsmouth will be remembered as some of the best of the Moyes era.
But those moments of lavish inspiration perhaps served to mask the fact that the man whose virtues had been compared to Kevin Sheedy was still to acclimatise fully to the demands of the Premier League.
And, as time went by, he looked more and more ill at ease with the pace, power and ruthlessness of our top-flight.
Unfortunately for Bily, that was in stark contrast to his rival for the left-wing berth, Steven Pienaar, whose synergy with Leighton Baines was so strong the Russian found it difficult to break the axis.
And by the time Pienaar left for Spurs last January, it seemed Bilyaletdinov’s opportunity had already passed.
The 2010/11 season – despite a trademark wonderstrike at Molineux – was not a happy season for the Russian.
His first team opportunities and ability to impact upon matches diminished in unison and it became ever clearer just what a ‘confidence player’ he is.
There was still the odd flicker – a quite brilliant assist for Louis Saha’s first of four against Blackpool stands out – but they were breakthroughs he was never able to capitalise on.
Shorn of belief in his ability to make a difference his Everton career fell into a decline he was unable to arrest.
Many felt the answer was to play him in a central role, but when asked, Bily said that playing on the left was his preference.
This season he fell further down the pecking order with the arrival of Royston Drenthe and, with rumoured interest from clubs in both the Bundesliga and his homeland, his departure moved ever nearer.
Now the 26-year-old has the chance to reinvigorate his career at Spartak Moscow, head to this summer’s Euros and show a global television audience just what a talent he is.
Despite his struggles Bily is sure to have learnt much in his spell in England and, with a fresh injection of confidence, there is every chance he will flourish into an even better player than the one that was already a star in the Russian league as a callow youngster.
Bilyaletdinov was proud to wear the shirt and proud to live in the city. In the summer of 2010 his father Rinat told evertonfc.com that his son was a regular start away from enjoying a ‘perfect life’ on Merseyside.
And judging by the carefree manner he and his wife Maria strolled around Liverpool One, often stopping to buy a multitude of souvenirs from the Everton megastore to post to relatives, this seemed to be very much the case.
A new chapter awaits for him at the Luzhniki Stadium, and while many will regret the fact he flattered to deceive with the Blues, few will dispute he is deserving of every success in his future career.
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