A key figure in the history of Latvian football, winger Andrejs Rubins has announced his retirement at the age of 34.
Rubins, who played no small part in his country's finest achievement of beating Turkey in the play-offs to reach UEFA EURO 2004, is the latest member of a talented generation to end his playing days. "I feel pain in my knee," he told UEFA.com. "Of course I can still walk but this is not enough to play football. I have offers to play for veterans' teams and will probably accept one, but I will not be able to play like before."
An assorted career led Rubins to Russia, where he represented FC Spartak Moskva and FC Shinnik Yaroslavl, to Crystal Palace FC in England and to Azerbaijani sides İnter Bakı PİK, Qarabağ FK and, lastly, Simurq PFK. He also featured for Skonto FC and SK Liepājas Metalurgs in his homeland.
"I think a career of so many years wasn't for nothing," the left-footer added. "People remember me and this is great. I stopped playing football several times in my childhood and fell into bad company. Things could have been very bad, but my coaches talked to me many times and persuaded me to come to my senses. I am very thankful they succeeded."
Rubins attributes his strength on and off the pitch to the modest route he took to the top. "I remember times when my knees and other parts of the body were often bloody," he said. "Children now have good training facilities, but we were playing on concrete."
His professional breakthrough came with Skonto in the late 1990s. "[Coach] Aleksandrs Starkovs made a professional footballer out of me. There was a very strong squad at Skonto but he found a place for me. His belief encouraged me and we understood each other very well." After UEFA EURO 2004, where Latvia – coached by Starkovs – claimed a famous draw with Germany, Rubins was asked to follow his mentor to Spartak.
"Spartak are a legendary club and to be part of that team is a dream for any Latvian player," he said. "But I wasn't sure from the beginning that I should move there as I already had a stable starting place at another top-flight club, Shinnik. Moreover, I also had other offers, including from Spain, but Starkovs convinced me."
Rubins did not last long in the Russian capital, admitting he "wasn't ready to play at that level". However, the fleet-of-foot flanker has much fonder memories of some of the other clubs he lists among his former employers. "Shinnik, of course," he said. "I am still in contact with the coach [Aleksandr Pobegalov] and players. I would also like to mention Crystal Palace because there is a fantastic atmosphere in England."
Capped 118 times, Rubins's career peak came with his country at the EURO in Portugal nine years ago. "They were great times," he said. "We weren't just a team, we were a real family. You may not believe it, but we worried only about the first match against the Czech Republic."
That fixture against Karel Brückner's side may have ended in a 2-1 defeat, but Māris Verpakovskis breaking the deadlock just before half-time caused such a stir in Latvia that coverage of the game crashed. More memorable matches, against Germany and the Netherlands, followed. "We believed in each other and were just playing our football against Germany [0-0] and Netherlands [0-3]," said Rubins.
"I was playing against [Karel] Poborský, [Philipp] Lahm, [Michael] Reiziger, [Marc] Overmars. It was like a fairy tale. The second match against Turkey in the play-offs is my best highlight [a 2-2 draw in Istanbul after a 1-0 home win secured qualification]. That was a landmark game. I was flying to Turkey with only one thought – we can't come back home without the EURO – and we performed a miracle!"
In November it will be a decade since that triumph over Turkey. "At the beginning it was very difficult to get used to the fact I've stopped playing," said Rubins. "But time cures all things. I don't know what will happen in the future. I work with seven-year-old children and like it very much. I want to pass on what I know."
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