Words by Tom Danicek
Coming off the back of the 2013 U-20 World Cup, there existed a rare consensus: Javshid Iskanderov was to be the future difference-maker for Uzbekistan and Igor Sergeev the capable feeder on his skills, who altogether doesn’t offer much on his own beyond some instinctive work in the penalty area.
The following year this started to be realised; Iskanderov made it onto the shortlist for the best performer in the Uzbek league, whereas the tall striker had a barely productive season. This year, however, has brought about a significant change in both players’ fortunes. While Iskanderov’s creative mind had been forced to spend most of the year on the sidelines, Sergeev has come on leaps and bounds…
In his Pakhtakor kit, Sergeev appeared to be on the scoresheet pretty much every single weekend, barring one miserable four-game stretch between August and September, and so he ultimately more than doubled his previous league goals account.
Indeed, his first professional hattrick in this term’s second round along with his first Champions League hit had together set the tone perfectly; from 11 league tallies he moved to a glorious 23, from three braces to a more commendable five, and overall he’s decided a significant eight league encounters. In the past decade, there had been no other such prolific 22-year-old lad in the PFL.
In Uzbekistan kit, Sergeev didn’t really set the world alight at the Asian Cup (albeit he bagged the winner in his very first tournament start; so many firsts, you notice?), but he was visibly spurred on by the arrival of Samvel Babayan later in 2015. In the first four games under the guidance of the former Pakhtakor coach, the Sergeev – Rashidov – Akhmedov star triumvirate was responsible for 9 out of 12 goals of the rejuvenated collective, and in particular the Tashkent-based killer was on fire. Battling extremely hard off the ball, Sergeev would score four times in three consecutive qualifiers.
His movement is arguably the one area Igor Sergeev has improved on the most over the last 12 months. He’s always had a special nose for tap-ins and, being a supreme header, he would convert almost every cross, especially from the left, but his technique and agility have been catching up greatly in recent months. Sergeev is simply a hardworking fellow, who’s quietly growing into one all round complete striker to be widely reckoned with.
Highlight of the Year: Finishing the league season on a high
You could argue that those initially hot young strikers usually tend to water down as the season progresses. Not so much Igor Sergeev, though. As Pakhtakor were holding onto a tight lead over Lokomotiv Tashkent at the top of the table, their prominent goal-getter wasn’t seen to be slowing down. In the last eight rounds, he was absent from the scoresheet only twice while collecting three braces in the process.
In the end, Sergeev became the first Pakhtakor player to reach the 20-goal mark since 2005 (Anvar Soliev, 29) and the only other top league goalscorer from the Tashkent giants in this century.