Diniyar Bilyaletdinov has this week reaffirmed his desire to stay at Everton and earn a place in David Moyes’ starting XI. Bilyaletdinov, who is part of the Russia squad aiming to qualify for Euro 2012 with a win over Slovakia on Friday evening, has largely been a bit-part player since arriving at Goodison Park in 2009.
Known colloquially as Billy, he was signed by Moyes for an officially undisclosed fee, believed to be around £9m. Having already played 14 games in the Russian Premier League when he joined Everton. His initial sluggish performances were excused by the majority of fans, with the general expectation being that – like Marouane Fellaini – Bilyaletdinov’s second season would bring his best form. If anything, that inaugural campaign has so far proven the winger’s high-water mark.
Bilyaletdinov impressed early in his Everton tenure. A brief debut cameo – as an 89th minute substitute – against Wigan Athletic aside, Bilyaletdinov’s real first opportunity came in the Europa League against AEK Athens, where he created three goals in a resounding 4-0 victory. It was an excellent impact that he has, sadly, struggled to match on a consistent basis. That first season saw seven goals from 33 appearances, including important strikes against Manchester United – Everton’s goal of the season that year – and the only goal in the away fixture with AEK. 2009-10 ended with a stunning curling goal with the last kick of the season against Portsmouth, a superb way to sign off what was a generally encouraging if occasionally frustrating first season.
Repeating the feat a year later was, however, more of a struggle. From a similar number of games – 32 in 2010-11, only one fewer than the prior season – Bilyaletdinov managed only two goals, although the latter strike, away at Wolverhampton Wanderers, was even more memorable than his award-winning effort against Man United and on par with his goal against Pompey. It was nevertheless a brief highlight in a season of torpor. Every side seems to have a player the tetchy home supporters turn on first, the one given shorter shrift than the rest, and last year, Bilyaletdinov became Everton’s. A distinct air of lethargy emanated from the midfielder, and a reluctance to chase the ball when he lost possession – which happened with alarming regularity – was usually what brought the jeers.
The new season has not really brought a new start for Bilyaletdinov’s relationship with the Goodison crowd. There have been some promising moments – such as the delightful footwork that tortured the Aston Villa right-back and put him in an excellent crossing position, but the chipped ball to the back post that cleared the crossbar rather summed up the 26-year-old’s Toffees career so far. That said, at such a tender age, Bilyaletdinov is more than capable of rediscovering the better form of his first season, or, if that does not happen, generating a substantial fee with an eventual return home to Russia.
Can England beat Montenegro? Get the latest Euro