Get to know Aleksandr Golovin, AS Monaco's Russian Super-Tsar who inspired AS Monaco past OGC Nice with two goals and an assist in Week 7.
It has been a difficult start to the season for the 2016/17 Ligue 1 Conforama champions, who came into their Tuesday clash with Patrick Vieira's side having spent each of the previous six weeks in the relegation places.
Golovin, who starred in Russia's run to the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup last summer, was meant to be one of the players best-placed to restore Monaco to their recent glories, and the principality club reportedly fought off interest from Juventus and Chelsea to seal his signature.
While three goals and three assists in 30 appearances were a solid return for a team who avoided the automatic relegation places by just three points, there was a nagging feeling that Golovin rather played within himself, but after bringing Les Aiglons back down to earth, the 23-year-old looks ready to build upon his eastern promise.
Watch: Highlights of Monaco's 3-1 win over Nice
It was a first career brace for the former CSKA Moscow man, but what else is there to know about Aleksandr Golovin? Read on…
Born in the small mining town of Kaltan in Southern Siberia on 30 May 1996, the young Golovin was fond of winter sports growing up, as well as playing chess and tennis to a high level, but it was football which ultimately won his heart.
At 13, he started making the one-hour journey north to play in Metallurg Novokuznetsk's youth teams, and after two impressive years there - which also took in a spell with the Olympic reserve school in Leninsk-Kuznetsky - Golovin took the plunge and headed for the capital, joining the CSKA Moscow youth academy in 2012.
Golovin didn't spend a long time playing for the underage teams, with coach Leonid Slutsky handing the young midfielder his senior debut against FC Khimik Dzerzhinsk in the Russian Cup just three months past his 18th birthday. Within the year he was a full international too.
Already a UEFA European Under-17 champion with his nation in 2013, Golovin was handed his senior international debut by Fabio Capello in June 2015, coming on and scoring in a 4-2 win over Belarus. Now, 30 caps and that starring role at the World Cup later, he is considered their best player.
Soon enough, Monaco might be saying the same thing.
Style of play:
Nominally right-footed, Golovin is able to use both feet - as his brace against Nice attests - while his sprint speed is matched by an extra yard in his head. Slightly taller than compatriot Andrey Arshavin, the lithe Golovin nonetheless has the same ability the former Arsenal man had to carry the ball forward at pace whilst still knowing when to release it, allowing him to play across the midfield with aplomb.
Not selected for the opening day 3-0 loss to Olympique Lyonnais, Golovin put in an abject display from No.10 in the subsequent loss by the same scoreline to FC Metz. A change of system from coach Leonardo Jardim saw Golovin drop deeper, first in a 4-4-2 and latterly as part of a central midfield three with Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoué Bakayoko for company.
With more of the game in front of him, Golovin has enjoyed the chance to stretch his legs, and what looked like promise in the 0-0 draw at Stade de Reims last Saturday became final product at the Stade Louis II on Tuesday, with Golovin putting in a performance which was impossible to defend against.
What you didn't know:
A Russian Premier League winner with CSKA Moscow in 2016, Golovin could have made his first strides in the game with their cross-town rivals Spartak, but they turned him down when he was 10.
"I was 10 or 11 years old," he explained. "I came to the big city with my parents and trained for about a week. They told me they'd take me if I lived in Moscow, and that they'd invite children from elsewhere to stay at a boarding school if they were better than the local kids."
The opener against Nice on Tuesday. Golovin shaped for an out-swinging corner before playing the ball short to Gelson Martins. A passing triangle with Fabregas later and the Russian was in the box, on the ball, but on his allegedly weaker left foot. His quick feet bamboozled three Nice defenders, and goalkeeper Walter Benitez won't have seen the blink-and-you'll-miss-it finish into his near top corner until Vieira's video analysis in the days after.
Watch: Golovin's brace against Nice
What he said:
"I don't care about my goals, that's not essential. Above all, we have to put Monaco back towards the top of the table. I feel comfortable in midfield. I can impose my game and help my teammates."
- On his goalscoring star-turn against Nice
"Probably, if I were a football player from Europe, the transition would've been easier. I didn't consult anyone when making this choice. Many people, Slutsky, [Stanislav] Cherchesov, [Viktor] Goncharenko told me what they thought. Everyone had a different opinion."
- On deciding to join Monaco
What they said:
"We came up against a team that wanted to bounce back and show that they had good players. I could've made better substitutions. Golovin had a great match. I could've strengthened my midfield against him."
- Vieira on Golovin's match-winning performance
"[Aleksandr Golovin] is progressing. He is more of an 8 than Fabregas. He gives more penetration in a game."
- Monaco coach Jardim