FK Atlantas's one-time teenage prodigy Evaldas Razulis was close to quitting the game last season but now, having enjoyed his most prolific campaign and scored on his international debut, the 27-year-old is at the height of his career.
Striker Razulis emerged onto the Lithuanian football scene as a 16-year-old and swiftly moved from his home town of Mazeikiai to Russian Premier League side PFC Krylya Sovetov Samara. However, he failed to make a single first-team appearance in five years and returned to Lithuania. Short spells followed at FK Vėtra, FK Šilutė and FBK Kaunas, punctuated by loans to Belarusian club FC MTZ-RIPO and Scotland's Heart of Midlothian FC, before a 2012 switch to Atlantas.
"At the time I didn't realise it, but I was too young to leave," Razulis told UEFA.com of his time in Samara. "I suffered from homesickness, injuries and other things. Every step I made, something went wrong."
Initially it was hardly plain sailing with Atlantas either, as the Klaipeda side came third from bottom in the 2012 A Lyga, a far cry from their expected runners-up finish this term. "It was one big nightmare," he said. "After losing 5-0 or 7-0 you didn't want to play or train. The club struggled to provide the necessary conditions for the players." However, the arrival of coach Konstantin Sarsania breathed new life into Atlantas. The 45-year-old convinced Razulis to stay for the 2013 season and built a new squad around domestic youngsters, unproven players and a couple of experienced campaigners.
"Before the start of the season we did not have clear objectives," said Razulis, who has registered 20 goals in 22 top-flight appearances this term. "Deep down we had hopes of a top-three finish and when the season started our appetite just kept growing." With two rounds to go, Atlantas are clear in second place in the First Division table, five points behind likely champions VMFD Žalgiris who boast a far superior goal difference.
"The club does not have an enormous budget to buy the top players," continued the forward. "We were more or less average players so the coach should take huge credit for leading this team. His authority and calmness means it takes just a few minutes to persuade us or get his point across. I have never worked with anyone like him."
Such has been the improvement under Sarsania that Razulis earned a national-team call-up and scored on his Lithuania debut against Albania in March, the first of five caps for the born-again attacker. "It is certainly my best season," he said. "It's because everything feels very professional here and you only need think about football."
Razulis also pointed to his marriage last year as a reason behind his upturn in fortunes. "When you have someone to support you at every match it gives you extra motivation," he added. "It's great to have someone by your side in good times and bad."
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