Russian outfit Tom Tomsk have completed the signing of former Scotland international Garry O’Connor on a 2-year deal. The 29-year-old, who narrowly avoided jail last month, had been a free agent after his contract with Hibernian had expired on 1 June.
Beginning his career with Hibs in 2000, O’Connor left six years later for Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow. Despite making 33 appearances in his one-year spell, and scoring the winner in the 2007 Russian Cup final, O’Connor struggled to settle in his new surroundings, and cited family reasons as a major part of his decision to leave the club in June 2007.
It comes as something of a surprise, then, that the former Birmingham striker has chosen to return to Russia after winding down his contract with Hibs, who finished second-bottom in the SPL in 2011 – especially as a number of British clubs were rumoured to be interested in O’Connor.
The change of scenery could be part of a bid to escape an ugly situation at home: O’Connor was arrested in May 2011 after being spotted snorting cocaine in the back of a car. Attempts to mislead officers by giving a false name hilariously backfired – claiming to be “Mr. Johnstone”, O’Connor’s cover was blown when he failed to spell the name correctly: he managed a mightily impressive “J…O…S..” before cutting his losses and attempting to outrun officers.
Although he escaped a prison sentence in June 2012 – instead being ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work – O’Connor may well feel he has to leave the country to resurrect his threatened career. Prior to rejoining Hibs in 2011, O’Connor had failed to reach double figures for any one club for 5 years, with unimpressive spells in England at Birmingham City and Barnsley.
The 16-cap Scotland international, only forced into international retirement by his off-field antics, will become only the fifth foreign player in Tom Tomsk’s largely homegrown squad. The financially-troubled club were only spared bankruptcy in 2009 thanks to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s cojoling of local businesses, and were relegated in 2011-12 after finishing second-bottom of the 16-team top-flight.
With Tom Tomsk having sold top-scorer Pavel Golyshev, the pressure will be on O’Connor to grab the goals that earn promotion next season. Incredibly, the club’s current goal-shy forwards have scored just one goal for Tomsk between the five them in a combined 55 league outings.
Unsurprisingly, the Belo-Zelyonye were the Russian Premier League’s lowest scorers in 2011-12, netting just 19 times in 30 games in the season’s first stage and recording a measly 30 goals in 44 matches overall.