A look at Arsene Wenger’s less than successful youth signings during his Arsenal tenure
Mention the name Igor Stepanovs to an Arsenal fan and he will shudder as his mind drifts back over seven years, to a Sunday afternoon in wintry February.
The date was February 25, 2001, the venue Old Trafford, and Stepanovs partnered Gilles Grimandi in a makeshift defence against the eventual champions. The resulting 6-1 defeat has gone down in infamy, along with Wenger’s tirade at half-time with his side 5-1 down and victims of a Dwight Yorke hattrick.
Latvian centre back Stepanovs arrived from Skonto Riga in September 2000, but never impressed in an Arsenal shirt, looking way out of his depth from his first appearance to his last. Eventually, he was loaned out to then feeder club Beveren for the 2003-04 season, who struggled to twelfth in the Belgian league.
On his return, it was abundantly clear that he was never going to make it at Arsenal, and Stepanovs was transferred to Grasshopper Zurich on a free, as he looked to rebuild his ailing career. That same summer turned out to be a highlight, as he represented Latvia in their Euro 2004 campaign having qualified against the odds.
But once he got back to club football, his troubles resurfaced. He was in and out of the Zurich team, and struggled for form when picked. After nearly two years in Switzerland, he returned home to Latvia to play for strugglers FK Jurmala, desperate for regular football.
But even that was fruitless, and after six months in his native country he had appeared just nine times. Attempting once again to resurrect his career, he joined FC Esbjerg, a midtable side in the Danish Superliga. Finally, he managed regular first team football for the second half of the 2006-07 season as Esbjerg finished seventh out of twelve teams.
It was a brief high, as he found himself in familiar territory at the start of the 2007-08 season, out of favour with his club, and after only three appearances in the first half of the season made another switch in January, this time to Shinnik Yaroslavl, who had just been promoted to the Russian top flight. It was hardly a glamorous move.
And it wasn’t a successful one either – Shinnik are currently in the relegation zone, but despite that Stepanovs couldn’t get a game, and was released at the end of June, after just six months of his contract. At 32, he is currently without a club.
It seems his is a story without a happy ending, and that he will always be remembered for that awful day in Manchester.