To help mark UEFA's Jubilee in 2004, each national association was asked to nominate its most outstanding player of the past 50 years. Latvia chose Aleksandrs Starkovs as their Golden Player.
Since independence in 1991, Latvia have produced a number of quality players, the most renowned being Marians Pahars, Maris Verpakovskis, Igors N Stepanovs and Aleksandrs Koliņko.
However, nobody was really surprised when the Latvian Football Federation (LVA) nominated Aleksandrs Starkovs, then the national team coach, as the best footballer in the country's history. Starkovs the player starred for Daugava Riga, the leading Latvian team in Soviet times, up until the late 1980s.
Born in the small town of Madona in 1955, he began playing at the age of ten, and got his big break when he joined Daugava in 1975. It was the start of a fine career. "I joined Daugava in October 1975 – I was only 20 and considered myself very lucky to be at such a famous club. Before that I had been playing amateur football with the Technical University team." Sergei Korshunov was the coach who signed him.
Remembering his top-flight debut, Starkovs said: "We were playing in Liepaja and I came on as a second-half substitute. We could only manage a disappointing draw, but I was so excited about playing top-level football that I forgot my main job on the field – to score goals. Maybe I don't remember it so well because it was a poor performance."
The young striker soon found his feet, however. As Daugava pushed for promotion to the Soviet top flight in 1977, Starkovs topped the second-division scoring charts with 26 goals, earning a move to FC Dinamo Moskva. Yet after failing to adapt to life in the Russian capital, he returned to Daugava in search of first-team football.
Starkovs became a fixture in the team during a mixed period for Daugava. Coach Eduards Vlasovs was replaced by Oleg Bondarenko, who then made way for Jānis Skredelis in 1983. It was under Skredelis that he played the best football of his career. "My mentors were Jānis Skredelis and Vadims Ulbergs, and I am really grateful to them," he said.
In all, he scored 110 goals in 303 games in the Soviet league. "Yes, it's a lot of goals. However, looking back on my career, the goals I really rate are the ones I scored in the USSR Cup against top teams like Spartak Moskva or Shakhtar Donetsk. And I was really happy to put one past Spartak's Rinat Dasaev, who was the best keeper in the world the time," he said.
Starkovs finally retired from playing in 1989, mainly because of injuries, his dreams of promotion to the Soviet top flight never fulfilled. "It's a pity that we didn't get promoted because the whole republic was behind us and we were really close." Yet he made amends for that failure when, as national coach, he made history with Latvia by taking them to their first major tournament at UEFA EURO 2004. "I hope that Latvian qualification for EURO 2004 will help us forget Daugava's failure," he said.
He had begun his coaching career alongside Skredelis at Daugava in 1990, before progressing to the national team via Skonto FC. "At the end of my last year as a player, I went to a coaching school in Moscow. I was done as a player and became a coach," he said. After stepping down as national coach in November 2004, Starkovs took the helm at Russian Premier League side FC Spartak Moskva and led them to second place in his first season in charge before resigning in 2006.
He resumed his role as Latvia national coach in 2007 and in 2010 combined it with a season's coaching at Skonto – whom he led to the Virsliga title. In January 2011, he took charge of Azerbaijan's Bakı FK while continuing as Latvia coach.
Last updated: 1 February 2011
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