The youngest player to score a goal in the top division in Latvia at the age of 15 years and 193 days, JFK Olimps striker Valērijs Šabala hopes bigger achievements are yet to come.
Olimps' 3-1 defeat to Skonto FC on 23 April may not have earned the youthful side any points in the Virsliga table but it made an instant legend of the player who scored their only goal of the game. "I outran their defenders and scored in a one-on-one situation," said Šabala. "I was extremely happy to score against such a powerful team as Skonto."
The fact that Skonto are led by Latvia coach Aleksandrs Starkovs means that Šabala has also moved on to the national-team radar, but the schoolboy is not getting caught up in his own hype. "I am a very calm person," he said. "My father is the same. Also, if I make decision, it is very difficult to change my mind. I understand that a strong character is very important not for any athlete."
Combining full-time education and football has been an occasional strain, but he is juggling his responsibilities well. "Sometimes it is very difficult, but I try my best and I am getting good grades," Šabala said. "I am also very glad that my classmates all are Olimps fans. They follow the team and support us."
Scoring that landmark goal helped restore Šabala's belief that he could yet be a successful player. "At one time, I was very close to giving up football but I don't think that way anymore," he explained. "I want to improve and succeed as a player." A challenging pre-season training campaign gave him further evidence that he could handle the pace.
Now, he is setting his sights on bigger goals. "Every match is a new challenge," he said. "
Scoring this goal doesn't make me feel I have nothing more to achieve in my life. My parents keep reminding me of that." Hoping one day to be as good as his heroes Didier Drogba and Gonzalo Higuaín, he said: "My dream is to play in England, and I hope to play for the national team."
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