Andrei Arshavin has promised football fans a “perfect” World Cup in Russia in 2018 because Vladimir Putin, the country’s prime minister, will insist on nothing less.
But Russia international Arshavin, who plays for Premier League leaders Arsenal, said he understood the disappointment of English fans, for whom football is a “religion”, at losing out to his homeland in the race to stage the 2018 global showpiece.
Arshavin, who gave an emotional speech to FIFA delegates ahead of last week’s vote in Zurich that decided the destiny of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, was in no doubt about what the tournament would mean to Russia.
“It will help our country to improve, not just in terms of football,” the 29-year-old told reporters here on Tuesday.
“It will be perfect, believe me – if Vladimir Putin wants something, he does really well.”
But he said he understood why fans of England, where the World Cup has been staged just once — in 1966 — were so frustrated by the outcome of a vote that has been mired in allegations of corruption.
“It was predictable, you love football, I see it every day, football in England is a religion,” he said.
“When I came back, (Arsenal and England’s) Jack Wilshere said to me: ‘heh, what have you done? I dreamed to lift the trophy in front of my own supporters!”
“I can understand him, but I said ‘you still have time to wait’.”
Arshavin found himself being booed by Fulham fans during a 2-1 win for Arsenal over their London rivals last weekend that saw the Gunners go top of the league.
“I fully understand them, but it did not disturb me to beat their team, no problem,” the 29-year-old added.
Arshavin was speaking ahead of Arsenal’s final Champions League Group H match against Partizan Belgrade at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.
The Gunners had looked certain to qualify for the last 16 of Europe’s premier club football tournament but successive defeats have left them needing to beat Partizan to have a change of going through to the knockout stages.
“We struggle all the time in defence. We have to score more than we concede. That’s it,” said Arshavin.
“It is very frustrating. We are trying to improve, but we can’t.
“It doesn’t always depend on defenders. As a team we need to improve defensively.”
And while Arshavin believes winning the group is beyond the Gunners, he said they should not fear any future European opponents.
“I think we have no chance of topping the group,” he said.
“It is disappointing, but we always knew Shakhtar and Braga were good teams, especially at home. Unfortunately they showed that against us.
“We will get a difficult draw, but Arsenal want to win the Champions League and if you want to win it you have to play the best teams, like Barcelona and Real Madrid.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s in the last 16, quarter-finals or semi-finals.”