At the beginning of 2011 Aleksandrs Cauņa's future was unclear.
Indeed the only thing of which the young winger was certain was that in order to develop as a player, he had to leave Skonto FC, the club where he had spent much of his fledgling career, and whom he had helped to the Latvian First Division title in 2010.
He took a risk by joining PFC CSKA Moskva on loan in February, but the gamble paid off and now the 23-year-old is reaping the rewards. As 2011 ebbs away, the recently named Latvian player of the year spoke to UEFA.com about a year in which he earned a permanent move to the 2005 UEFA Cup winners, equalled a Latvian record, and helped CSKA qualify for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League.
"I have been comparing my current feelings to those I had when Latvia qualified for EURO 2004," the Daugavpils born player said of CSKA's progress through to the knockout stages of the Champions League. "I was watching those matches on TV and my emotions were unreal. Now I feel a part of them. This is my biggest success at club level and I would love to achieve something similar with the national team."
Cauņa attributes much of the emotion to the fact CSKA were heading out of Europe altogether before their final match against FC Internazionale Milano. "Before kick-off, we assumed that Lille or Trabzonspor would qualify and that we needed a win just to guarantee a place in the UEFA Europa League. I was presuming our campaign would end in disappointment," admitted Cauņa, whose 86th-minute corner provided CSKA's dramatic winner by Vasili Berezutski at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. "In the end we made it to the knockout round, and I was on the pitch and provided an assist – so I think it was ideal."
It was a special moment for Cauņa, though such are the levels of expectation at CSKA that "only in Latvia have I realised that I did something special, as many people still congratulate me". In a nation as small as Latvia, people place value on every success, and in Cauņa, it seems, they have plenty to celebrate. The lively wide man was his country's top scorer in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying with four goals, and his strike in October's 3-0 win against Trabzonspor AŞ made him only the second Latvian player to register in the UEFA Champions League. Such personal landmarks are nothing to be sniffed at, particularly at CSKA, where breaking into the team can be a daunting enough prospect.
While Cauņa has played in five UEFA Champions League matches, he has made 16 appearances in domestic competition and averaged only 28 minutes on the field per match. "My competitors are all internationals – Mark González from Chile, Zoran Tošić from Serbia – even Japan's Keisuke Honda can play left wing." However, Cauņa has played more often as the season has progressed, and is optimistic about his future in the Russian capital. "At our last meeting Leonid Slutski told us that those who do best in the winter training camps will start in the first XI. So I need to work hard, adapt more, and be more confident. I am yet to fully show my best at CSKA."
©UEFA.com 1998-2014. All rights reserved.