After eight difficult years at FC Dinamo Moskva, Žydrūnas Karčemarskas's career has finally taken off at Gaziantepspor, where the goalkeeper's standout performances have earned him recognition at home.
Karčemarskas has become only the third keeper to be named Lithuanian player of the year, following former internationals Valdemaras Martinkėnas and Gintaras Staučė. Remarkably, the trio all hail from the southern city, as did Lithuania's top player in 2010, Darvydas Šernas. It is, says Karčemarskas, "a huge compliment to the coaches from Alytus."
After a season apiece at hometown club FK Dainava and FK Žalgiris, Karčemarskas attracted the attention of Dinamo Moskva, who lured him to Russia at the age of 18. However, eight frustrating years at the capital club returned just 44 league appearances – a tally he exceeded inside 18 months in Turkey.
"I went to Russia when I was very young and everyone probably expected too much of me. It was a matter of confidence and I think confidence comes from playing well. There were many things that happened over the years, like coaching replacements, but I can't say I wasn't given a chance. I had lots but I didn't take them. But I have no regrets, I had an interesting time and I always played for the national team while I was there."
Now 28, Karčemarskas has amassed 58 caps for Lithuania, including some outstanding performances, such as helping his side hold the recently-crowned FIFA World Cup winners Italy to a 1-1 draw in 2006. More recently he saved a penalty in a 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying.
However, limited first-team appearances at club level meant Karčemarskas never came close to consideration for Lithuania's top individual awards. That all changed in April 2009, when José Couceiro, the Lithuanian national team coach was appointed boss of Gaziantepspor. He brought him to Turkey the following season.
"My contract with Dinamo had expired and I was free to go," explained Karčemarskas. "Obviously, I'm thankful to Couceiro as he believed in me and gave this opportunity. This time I took my chance. I've only been here a year and a half, but I believe everything is still ahead of me. Now I'm just happy that things are going forwards, not backwards."
By moving from Moscow to Turkey, Karčemarskas followed the footsteps of Staučė – the man he replaced as Lithuania's No1 – who left FC Spartak Moskva for Galatasaray AŞ back in 1994. Karčemarskas helped Gaziantepspor finish fourth in the Turkish top flight last season, earning a return to UEFA competition after an eight-year absence (they reached the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round).
Yet despite his individual accolade Karčemarskas admits Lithuania's poor form in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying, adding just a point to four collected in 2010, took a little of the sheen off his achievements. "It was the best year for me personally and it's pleasing when your work is recognised, but it would have had greater significance had the national team played better – even if it meant the goalkeeper getting fewer opportunities to steal the limelight."
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