Why it makes sense
For The Club
This is the best PR move Michael Johnston has pulled off since, well, probably ever since he took charge of Kilmarnock. Numerous home fans (including our very own Craig Anderson) have deliberately stayed away from home games this season in protest of his ownership. It’s very possible that those same fans, or at least some of them, will come back to watch one of the greatest players to have donned the blue and white stripes in the modern era. Fans would argue that Johnston doesn’t give two ****s about the club, and they may have a point, but even he’d recognise that if nobody is attending games then his position becomes vulnerable and he would struggle to sell the club for any sort of personal financial gain. Giving those supporters a reason to come back could potentially strengthen his hold.
On the park the dream for supporters and Allan Johnston, if he’s not too boring to dream, is that Alexei Eremenko will slot straight into the team and provide greater creativity throughout the side; a great thing when you already have one of the league’s greatest ever goalscorers at your disposal. During his last spell at Kilmarnock, Eremenko helped turn Connor Sammon from a misfit forward, who scored two league goals in two years, into the league’s top goalscorer during the first half of the 2010/11 season. It should also be noted that he has netted only 14 times in the three seasons since leaving the Finnish playmaker.
Furthermore, for those who’ve watched Kilmarnock this season, Eremenko will make football fun again. The guy is an absolute joy to watch. He sees passes that supporters in the back row can’t even envision and strolls through games exuding confidence. It’s not just those at Rugby Park who are happy he is back, all of Scottish football is.
For The Player
There’s little doubt that the success of his previous spell with Kilmarnock failed to halt the downward turn in Eremenko’s career. Having enjoyed success with HJK and Saturn, in Finland and Russia, respectively, he stalled with Metalist Kharkiv and has since barely featured for both Rubin Kazan and Kazakhstan side Kairat. As we’ve seen with Rudi Skacel and Hearts, sometimes a player just performs to his absolute best when he’s in an environment that suits his comforts and in front of a support who dote on his every move. For Eremenko, that place could be Rugby Park.
If he performs to a high standard we know that clubs in England, possibly even as high as the upper half of the second tier, will be interested in acquiring his services. It could be an indirect route to playing in the English Premier League before his career finishes. Or at the very least earn some good money in one of the world’s most richest leagues.
Alternatively, he could follow through on his apparent intentions the last time he was in Ayrshire and see out the rest of his career at Kilmarnock. He would lose out on some money but could at least secure himself some happier memories from the twilight of his career. It certainly helps if a player who wishes to stay on in the game and get a job coaching to have had a previous club which idolises him.
Why it Doesn’t
For The Player
He’s not joining Paatelainen’s Kilmarnock team, he’s joining Allan Johnston’s Kilmarnock team. Those two are very different animals in a football context. The former wanted free flowing passing football and needed a puppet master in the middle of it all pulling the strings – a service Eremenko provided. The current boss, at least thus far, has liked direct football where the play is launched in the general vicinity of Kris Boyd. The early perception is that Eremenko would fill the No.10 role behind Kris Boyd. He’s certainly comfortable playing there but it would hinder his ability to run the game by dropping deep to receive the ball and bringing all his attacking teammates into play. Also, the No.10 in Johnston’s system is there to create, but to do so by picking up scraps and loose balls. He’s also required to provide energy and work rate to go along with the team’s overall ethos as bottom six scrappers. It may take a little too much away from Eremenko’s game.
It shall be interesting to see how the player and his new boss take to each other.
For The Club
We’ve touched upon it already; the player’s career has been in decline for some years and his last spell with Kilmarnock was the only bright spot in an otherwise poor period. It could be that his cultured style stands out so much in the brash nature of Scottish football and that his talent exceeds that of any teammate or opponent. Or it could be that the reason he was so good last time was because he was willing to put absolutely everything into his performances to please his hero, Mixu Paatelainen. The former Finnish striker was the reason Eremenko joined in the first place, and the respect he had for the man pushed him to continue being the perfect team player.
Would he fall into line so much with Johnston? You only have to look at his bulky frame to know that he’s not the most dedicated of athletes. In Johnston’s kick-and-rush style is he going to fit in? What if Johnston decides to leave him on the bench for an extended period? The Kilmarnock fans already have a strained relationship with the manager, it would be viewed as unforgivable if he refused to put “God” in the starting eleven. His position would soon become untenable.
Fans also have to be prepared for the fact that they might not be getting the same player who departed in 2011. He’s now in his 30s and not the fittest of players at the best of times, let alone at this very moment where he hasn’t played competitively in two months. There’s not a lot of time left to settle in and you would certainly hate to see his legacy tarnished in any way.