CSKA Moscow's Roman Eremenko is an unusually gifted talent
He is a Russian with a terribly mispronounced Ukrainian name who represents Finland and speaks Swedish with his brother. Roman Eremenko -- pronounced "Yeryomenko" -- certainly has an unusual life story, and he is also an unusual talent. CSKA Moscow have been transformed since he joined two months ago from Rubin Kazan, and his skills will pose a significant threat to Manchester City when the Army Men host the Premier League champions on Tuesday.
CSKA won the last two Russian titles, scoring just 48 goals in 30 games in each season. Their football was effective but far from spectacular, and one could even call them rather boring. The current season started in similar fashion, as CSKA found the net seven times in their first five matches.
Then Eremenko came along and, suddenly, they became an unstoppable attacking machine, scoring 17 goals in the five league fixtures since. The playmaker himself has scored four times and assisted two more, but his contributions go far beyond that.
Granted, he hasn't found such success in the Champions League just yet. Eremenko was swept away, like all of his teammates, when CSKA were thrashed 5-1 by Roma at the Stadio Olimpico. Against Bayern Munich, however, the Finnish schemer stood out and could easily have become the hero of the night. Eremenko was responsible for two brilliant scoring chances in the first half, first sending Ahmed Musa to meet Manuel Neuer one-on-one with a stupendous long ball -- the Nigerian failed to beat the keeper -- then going close himself with a beautiful, curling shot that hit the bar.
Remarkably, Eremenko almost scored versus Bayern with his weaker left foot. The midfielder put a lot of effort in training over the years to improve such abilities, and now he can easily be considered perfectly two-footed. Just look at this brilliant, close control with both feet to score against Arsenal Tula in September with his left. As for his right foot, here is a truly Van Basten-esque effort on his CSKA debut against Rostov.
The 27-year-old likes to shoot a lot, but that wasn't always the case. He was reluctant to go for goal himself in his younger days, even though his father, Alexei Eremenko Sr., remarked: "It's a shame, because he has got a terrific shot." Talking about Roman's qualities, he added: "His vision is great, and he thinks about the next move before getting the ball."
Eremenko Sr. would know that better than most because he was privileged enough to play with his son. After a decent career with Spartak and Dinamo Moscow, he moved to Finland right after the Soviet Union fell apart in the early '90s and settled in Swedish-speaking Jakobstad. He was still going strong for local FF Jaro at the age of 40 when Roman made his Veikkausliiga debut aged 17 in 2004.
The father and son starred together in midfield and, quite astonishingly, that wasn't a new feeling for Eremenko Sr. -- he had already played with his older son, Alexei Jr., at HJK Helsinki. Roman's big brother was once thought to be at least as talented, but problematic character prevented him from fulfilling that potential, and he now plays for Kilmarnock.
Roman's abilities were quickly noticed by Udinese's scouting network, and he duly moved to Italy in the summer of 2005. He didn't get a lot of playing time in Serie A, though, and was eventually glad to sign for Dynamo Kiev in 2008. That's where he tasted the Champions League for the first time -- the debut happened to take place against Arsenal.
By the end of his three-year spell in the Ukrainian capital, Eremenko was a well-respected and versatile star, able to fill every position in midfield, and even occasionally used as full-back on both flanks. Russian fans would have loved to see him in the national team, but that was way too late. Eremenko was first capped by Finland back in 2007 and never regretted the choice. He feels half Finnish, half Russian by his own admission and is more comfortable using Swedish when chatting with his brothers.
In 2011, Eremenko finally returned to Russia, the country he left aged 3. Rubin Kazan paid 13 million euros for his services and got one of the best midfielders in the league. Roman profited immensely from working with Kurban Berdyev, and the veteran coach was the reason he stayed at the club. When Berdyev was bizarrely sacked last December, it became clear that most of the stars would leave the club.
Eremenko used the so-called "Webster ruling" to buy out his contract in August, and CSKA got their man at a laughable price of about four million euros. While waiting for the transfer to be finalised, he trained with Jaro, where his father now serves as a coach.
At the moment, Eremenko looks like one of the best bargains in all of Europe. Even cheaper was the arrival of Bibars Natcho, who was signed as a free agent. The Israeli midfielder played with Eremenko at Rubin, where they became close friends and developed great mutual understanding on the pitch. Now, they are using it at CSKA, and both aforementioned brilliant Eremenko goals against Rostov and Arsenal Tula came from Natcho assists.
Coach Leonid Slutsky simply couldn't have been happier with his new leader. "Eremenko is a player of highest quality who was chosen because he suits our style, and that's why he found his feet so fast," he said this week. "He can do everything -- scoring, passing, defending. Before signing him I asked our players who is the most difficult opponent to play against, and Pontus Wernbloom named Eremenko. That's a big compliment." Needless to say, the Swede is now happy to talk to Roman in his mother tongue.
Playing in the Champions League was one of the main reasons Eremenko chose CSKA, but the draw was cruel, and the Russian champions have very little chance of making it to the next round from the group of death, especially after two defeats. Winning against Manchester City is absolutely vital to keep their slim hopes alive, and Eremenko is ready for the challenge.
On Saturday, he provided a goal and an assist in a 6-0 win over Kuban, a team that conceded just six goals in their first nine league games. That shows the attacking potential of the new-look CSKA lineup, and Manuel Pellegrini should be aware of the challenge his defence is about to face.
Michael Yokhin is ESPN FC's European football writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Yokhin