If discipline, mental strength, astute transfer dealings and a unique blend of youth and experience were key components in FC Daugava Daugavpils's first Latvian title-winning campaign, coach Ivan Tabanov underlined his squad's "utmost professionalism" as the determining factor.
Daugavpils is Latvia's second-largest city with a population of over 100,000, yet despite producing some of domestic football's household names, such as Aleksandrs Isakovs, Andris Vanins, Aleksandrs Cauņa and Jurijs Žigajevs, the city endured a 22-year wait for one of its teams to claim a top-flight title. Daugava finally obliged on 4 November, overcoming bottom-of-the-table FB Gulbene 2005 3-1 away in the penultimate game of the season to pip perennial contenders Skonto FC, FK Ventspils and SK Liepājas Metalurgs to the crown.
With experienced midfield duo Mihails Ziziļevs and Jūrijs Sokolovs already established as vital cogs, the arrivals of defender Daniel Ola and striker Stanley Ibe, who scored ten First Division goals in 18 outings, added further quality to the side. "The squad was good even before the start of the season," 38-year-old captain Ziziļevs told UEFA.com. "However, the newcomers helped us go up another level.
"All in all we had a team that was more than capable of fighting for top spot. The young players played their part as well. Winning medals makes you feel younger and it has given me the strength to win some more."
New signings often need time to gel, yet Tabanov had his charges well organised and was bold enough to try players in less familiar positions. All these proved vital to their success, according to the 46-year-old. "I needed the utmost professionalism from the lads," said Tabanov, who replaced Ravil Sabitov at helm after the seventh round of matches. "Even when there was pressure and problems in some games, we fought until the end."
Marians Pahars, whose Skonto outfit finished four points off the summit in second, praised Daugava's consistency. "They were champions because they never let their performance levels drop," he said. "Whenever they suffered a rare setback they came back fighting." Ventspils coach Jurģis Pučinskis echoed Pahars's sentiments, saying: "Daugava were deserved champions and their achievements should not be overlooked. They always stepped up to the plate in the big matches and played solidly throughout the season."
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