Latvian hitman

Friday 16 November 2001

Ian McCulloch for Fulham Today...

In a training session at Fulham's Motspur Park earlier this week, some of the Fulham players were practicing shooting from outside the area. (And about time too, did I hear you say?). Edwin van der Sar was in goal and he was being peppered with shots as quickly as the players could hit them.

Close up, you realise what a big man he is, and how much of the goal he actually fills. It must be a daunting prospect for a forward one on one with the keeper, to look up and find the tall Dutchman bearing down on him. Anyway, he was dealing with most of the shots fairly comfortably - all except for those fired at him by Andrejs Stolcers.

Power, swerve, dip, bend - the Latvian international's shooting had the lot. It was a really impressive display of long range marksmanship. Coming from a man who was starring in the Champions League prior to his move to the Cottage, perhaps this wasn't too surprising, but there is no doubt that this has been a disappointing aspect of most of the Whites' games this season.

After coming on as substitute against West Ham, his first appearance since the first game of the season, Saturday might be the perfect occasion for him to show off his shooting boots. Andrejs spoke of his hopes.

"West Ham was my first match since Manchester United, so it was very good for me to come on and be part of the game. It was late when I came on, but I am happy to take any chance. The Gaffer makes the decisions, but when there are injuries and suspensions you obviously hope you can get a chance. I would like to stay with the team, but all I can do is work hard and wait for my time. The important thing is to be ready. We don't usually find out who's playing until matchday, once we're in the dressing room. I'd very much like to play on Saturday, but as I say, all I can do is work hard."

With the influx of midfielders this season, competition for places is fiercer than ever, especially with the quality of players that have come in. Andrejs thinks the competition is healthy, even though it might work against him.

"It's a very good position for the Club to be in, and when the Club is doing well that's good for me and all the other players. There are a lot of very good players here, and when everyone trains and practices together, everybody gets something out of it. I certainly enjoy training very much."

Andrejs of course played a full game in last week's friendly against Sochaux. It was a disappointing result, but he was pleased to get a full game under his belt.

"I enjoyed it because I played the whole game with the first team. It was a bad result but I saw it as an opportunity for me. After the game, as I always do, I was thinking of all the things in the game, the things I did well or badly. It was a good experience for me. I really needed to score a goal. I had a one on one with the keeper which I missed, and it would have been a good time to score for the team. That was disappointing, as it was that we didn't score at all in the match.

Andrejs laughed when I mentioned his target practice with van der Sar. "I was trying a few different things, trying to find a way to get the ball past him. I was very surprised to manage it a couple of times. It's not easy to score goals from eighteen-twenty yards, especially in a match situation, so I was trying to hit the place that is impossible for the keeper to reach, but I don't usually manage to do it that often! But we keep practicing, it's a very important part of our training."

It must be an incredibly difficult situation, uprooting yourself and your family and coming to a new country to ply your trade. Manager Jean Tigana has said on many occasions that foreign players need time to settle in to the English game; Andrejs agreed that it can be a stressful experience, but he pronounces himself well settled.

"I'm very happy now in London, and so are my family. It's a very different life from what we are used to in our country, but it's been a very good move for us. We like it here.

"I was on a six month loan at Spartak Moscow from Shaktar Donetsk, when Fulham came in for me. It wasn't a difficult decision on the football front to come to Fulham, but there are a lot of other things to think about when moving your family to a different country. I can just pack my boots and go, but the rest of it's not so easy. The whole business of work-permits and visas is all very difficult.

"I was pleased to come here, even though it meant giving up Champions League football. It's all excellent experience for me. Fulham is a very ambitious Club, and they want to play in the Champions League themselves. It's not going to be easy, but I think they will get there."

Playing in the Champions League was obviously a very happy memory for him: "It was a fantastic experience. We played against teams like Bayern Leverkusen, Sporting Lisbon, Real Madrid. It was great to do it and I got a lot out of it."

After playing more than fifty times for his country, Latvia, Andrejs is currently in the middle of a suspension. He is still baffled by what happened.

"We were playing at home against Croatia, we won a free-kick and there was a little bit of pushing and shoving to make space, and the referee suddenly showed me a red card. I couldn't believe it. I asked him what it was for and he said that the linesman had said I'd kicked a player in the face. I still can't believe it. If it had been my fault I could accept it a bit better, but it's just ridiculous.

"So that's three games out, which is terrible for me. I missed the game against Scotland, and next year I will miss two European qualifying games. I was a regular with the team, but you never know what will happen when I'm available again. It also might affect me that I'm not playing regular first-team football. International coaches need players who play week in, week out, and I understand that. It's difficult, but once again all I can do is work hard. My dream is to play every available game with Fulham and also with Latvia."

Looking forward to Saturday's game, did he know much about Newcastle?

"Of course, I have seen a lot of their games. I know a lot about their players; they are a good strong team. But of course every team in the Premiership is strong, every game is difficult, it doesn't matter who you play it's going to be hard. It should be a good game, they have some very fast dangerous forwards, but I think if we concentrate properly we will win. Our players are very committed to winning this game. Confidence is very good after the recent games, and all the players really want to go out and win.

"I am very happy at Fulham; everything is good with my family so I can concentrate on my football. I am enjoying it very much. I will just keep training hard and hope."

Andrejs' opportunities in the first team may have been limited this season, but there has been no lessening of his determination to succeed in the Premiership. I think we'd all enjoy seeing a couple of his long range specials whistling into the Newcastle net on Saturday.