Before the international break Russian football welcomed back one of its more colourful characters as Emmanuel Frimpong made his debut for Arsenal Tula in the closing stages of their 1-1 draw away to Ural. Although his late cameo was brief as the predominantly direct style mostly bypassed him, he wasted no time in making headlines upon his return to the Russian Premier League, although thankfully this time is was not at the centre of a disgusting case of racist chanting from opposition fans.
RFN’s David Sansun tweeted an image of Frimpong running out onto the pitch that was picked up by the British media showing a new name on the back of his shirt – ‘Dench’. After the match, while wearing a baseball cap with ‘Dench Gang’ emblazoned across the front, he explained to our own Andrew Flint why he had chosen to sport the unusual shirt name. “In Ufa I had Frimpong, so I basically wanted something different,” he exclusively explained to Russian Football News. “It’s my nickname.”
While still a precocious, explosive talent under Arsène Wenger in North London in his formative footballing years, he went into partnership with UK hip hop artist Lethal Bizzle to release a range of clothing centred around the word Dench, which was devolved into a loose synonym for great. He even posted a photoshopped picture of his business partner, himself and the brand’s namesake Judi Dench on Instagram in the style of a movie poster. He has built a reputation for tongue in cheek images, including one of Andrey Arshavin holding Frimpong as a baby, and last season celebrated a goal for Ufa by grabbing a teammate’s testicles in full view of the TV cameras.
His motivation, however, is much more than marketing his interests outside football or playing the joker; he didn’t mention the clothing line once in our conversation. It is impossible to avoid talk of Frimpong’s return without contextualising it with the disgusting incident at the start of last season when a section of Spartak fans openly and brazenly began making monkey chants in his direction. The fallout from the authorities focused on the Ghanaian international’s one-fingered gesture in response to the abuse, and after injury problems and another red card curtailed his nascent Ufa career, he left in the spring this year.
To come back to Russian football shows immense strength of character, but his decision was made significantly easier by other factors. “Oh you know, I know some of the players from before like [Igor] Shevchenko, Vlad (pointing at Ryzhkov giving an interview), [Felicio Brown] Forbes,” he said. In the warmup Frimpong was visibly relaxed and in the centre of the rondo exercises with his famous broad grin, despite having a lot to prove after a disrupted early career. “I knew them all before, so it makes it easier for me.”
Arsenal have begun the season in reasonable form, but will need to call upon the his powerful style if they hope to do a thing more than cling on to survival. Oleg Vlasov’s spectacular top corner screamer against Ural was their first in three matches, but exactly where Frimpong is deployed remains to be seen. At Arsenal – the English version – he was developed primarily as a driving defensive midfielder, although his character and physical attributes could see him used further forward. “Obviously it was a difficult game today, and I haven’t played since December, so [manager Sergey Pavlov] just told me to go on and help the team defend, to go there and run as much as I can. There were a lot of long balls and I’m quite short, so we decided to change my role.”
In fact Frimpong was substituted off again in injury time having barely had a touch as Ural staged staged a frantic late comeback sparked by Chisamba Lungu’s rare strike. Getting any game time at all under his belt at this stage must be considered an achievement. “It’s good to be back. You know I haven’t played since December, it’s a really long time, but hopefully after a couple of games I can get fitter.” Arsenal fans will be hoping he can do more than just that.
Follow Andrew on Twitter: @AndrewMijFlint
Author: Andrew Flint
I moved out to Russia in 2010 to teach English because it sounded like fun, then I met and fell in love with FC Tyumen (and my wife!) and decided to stay. Surprisingly, I turned out to be the only English person remotely interested in a Siberian third-tier club, but then who wouldn’t fall for a grizzly Georgian midget, a flying Brazilian and Tyumen’s 93rd most influential figure…