The State of Latvian Club Football

May 27, 2019

Written by:

Optibet Virslīga

Founded: 1927

Most Championships: Skonto, 15

Last 5 Winners: Riga FC (18), Spartaks Jurmula (17, 16), Liepaja (15), Ventspils (14)

UEFA Ranking: 42nd

Highest Ranked Club: Ventspils, 236th


Interview with Sportacentrs.com journalist Agris Suveizda

Ventspils were the last Latvian team to reach a Europa / Champions League group stage way back in 09/10. Have Latvian teams underachieved in Europe since or has just been par for the course?

It’s how you look at it. Firstly, our best teams have underachieved as of late. Ventspils didn’t invest prize money properly, and ended up losing to Teteks from Macedonia in the next season while most people thought it will be an easy win. Also Skonto and Liepājas Metalurgs both lost to teams which they should beat. And because of these losses Latvia and clubs individually didn’t earn a lot of ranking points which meant they had to play as an unseeded teams. Unseeded team = stronger opponent. Stronger opponent = less chance to win. Less chance to win = less ranking points. Less ranking points = unseeded status. And so on. Of course, you can break this cycle, if you win against better teams, like clubs from Luxembourg and Lithuania have done a few times in recent years, but we haven’t managed to do that yet. So, getting out of the circle is a slow process for us.

Secondly, besides of that there were a lot of changes in Latvian football. And there still is plenty of changes. Skonto and Metalurgs don’t exist anymore, Ventspils have changed their owner two times – Jurijs Bespalovs, who was the owner in those glory times in 2009/10 died. There were many teams, who were interested to fixing games, not playing football (thank God, most of these teams doesn’t exist anymore). And top of that there was much less money, because of the financial crisis. But our league and budgets are growing in the last years, so, I hope there will be better times quite soon. Our champions Riga will play their second season in Europe, their closest rivals RFS will debut in Europe – so, again, they don’t have many ranking points because of inexperience and we have to be patient.

What do Latvians expect from their clubs going into European competition?

There is a lot of talk each summer about getting in Europa League group stage, but fans mostly understand that it would be a small miracle – it’s possible, there are examples, but, obviously, our clubs have a lot, lot smaller budgets than our opponents. For example, Liepāja played Hacken from Sweden last year – if I’m not mistaken, their budget was more than €10 million. We can only dream about such amount of money – our top teams have about €1-2 millions probably. And I’m not even talking about Bordeaux, which Ventspils got last year. So, if our club can get to the third round, it’s already a quite good season. Of course, it’s a lot easier now for champions, because of the new format and continuing season in Europa League.

After the initial dominance of Skonto, the league seems to be a lot more competitive than it used to be. Do you think that’s been good for Latvian football?

Yeah, it’s a true observation. The last three years have been very interesting, and this year we have probably the most interesting, closest, most even season in 28 years since restoring our independence. I do think it’s temporarily, because I think our richest clubs will grow a lot faster than their rivals will do in next seasons, but now the league is very exciting.

Is that good for Latvian football? There we can argue, what is good. Our league will get stronger – I have no doubt about that. But there is a question, how many Latvian players and young players will get their chance in the best teams, because many of them have new owners and new foreign owners – how patriotic they are with regards to Latvian football, how patient they are in building the club from the bottom, we don’t truly know that yet. Only time will tell.

Do most of the country get behind the Latvian side playing in Europe or is there a lot of tribalism still apparent?

Yes, most of the Latvian football fans want our teams to win – of course, they won’t support vocally in the stand other clubs, but they probably won’t hope they lose they either.

Of course, everything have exceptions, but, I think, it’s similar in most small football countries in Europe, because clubs represent our country after all. And not only in small countries. I would say – in countries, which have underperformed lately in Europe. I can see that even in France, reading articles and tweets – French (not all, of course) hope other clubs will win, because Ligue 1 will get more recognition. I doubt you can’t see a similar trend in England, for example.

Interview with Sportacentrs.com journalist Agris Suveizda

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A Europa League infographic


Author: Tom Mortimer

Tom is the editor at Betting Circle and has been creating online content for over 10 years. Tom mainly writes about sport and gambling, but every now and then also delves into fleshier subjects like politics and psychology. When he was 18 he created HungarianFootball.com and over the last few years he's written on a freelance basis for ESPN, WorldSoccer, Goal.com, among many others.

Twitter @TMortimerFtbl


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