No matter how much we refer football as a ‘global’ sport, there is a glint of generalization about the statement. The game is yet to establish itself completely in numerous areas of the world, be it areas of North America, South Asia or Down Under, there is always one part of the world which has always gone under the radar in terms of importance and sports.The northern European countries or what is often told to be what consists of the Baltic countries like Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are among those nations that seem to lag quite a bit behind in terms of footballing development.
It could well be due to negligence or a lack of attention because of the prospering of the game in other parts of the continent.
The fame, glitz and glamour that the game attracts in other parts of Europe seems have detached the Baltic space from the footballing mainland, making sure that they’re often assumed as footballing backwaters.
But, what’s quite clear is that Baltic areas aren’t deficient in resources or talent, but what doesn’t exist or didn’t exist was a way to put those to use. It’s only now that times are beginning to change.
And Latvian football giants FS Metta are pioneering this cause.
The Latvian capital city of Riga, which is located in the coastal areas of the nation, happensto be the largest of theBaltic cities. Home to FS Metta, the city is also a home to one third of the Latvian population and fellow Latvian first division club Riga FC. FC Skonto were once said to be a prominent club from the capital city, but owing to a financial bankruptcy, the club havedropped into lower divisions of Latvian football. As things stand, two clubs reside in Riga- FC Riga and FS Metta, with the latter being the slightly more dominating force in the footballing fora.
A young but ambitious club
A really young club, FS Metta was established back in 2006 by the men who are still in control of the club in asubstantial and evident way and are a vital cog in the wheel, when it comes to developing players and coachingAndris Riherts, the current coach and Girts Mihelsons, the man who happens to be the general director at the club.
Initially established as a football school, the club was although in existence since 2000, but before 2006 Metta tookpart only in youth tournaments and competitions, meaning thelimited nature of participation was a reason for lackof recognition. It was in 2007 that the football school which was known as ‘Metta’ collaborated with the University of Latvia to form a club which we today know as FS Metta/LU in a more expanded form.
Metta is quite unlike the other clubs in its division. They don’t just strive to be the best in the country, but do their bit and everything they can to make sure that Latvian football gets a as much recognition as other non Baltic European countries.
On collaborating with the LU,Metta commenced their participation in the Latvian Championship, which is thesecond division of the nation’s football league structure. During theirfirst full season, they had to make do with a fourth placed finish and the followed up with similar finishes in the next four seasons in the same divisions.
On its way up
A watershed moment in the history of this humble club arrived when they won the 2nd division title,gaining directpromotion into the first division of Latvian football. Since gaining promotion, the Andris Riherts has not finishedbelow the 9th position in the Virsliga, surviving relegation for around three seasons running . And this is a commendableachievement, considering Metta were playing with a side that consisted of players who age below 23.
This season though, the scenario has turned a corner. Metta’s unique youth policy and the recent player acquisition system has done a lot to improve the way it performs.
Metta don the green and white colors that symbolize energy, liveliness and hope in times of darkness. And the name of the club itself- ‘Metta’ means Good Friendship”,”Harmony”, “Goodwill”. The combination of these two colors and what they signify itself would play a part in bringing to the fore the philosophy of the club- youth production.
Focus on Latvian talent and youth
The basic idea that the club adheres to and is intent on growing with is to improve the standards and quality of Latvian football. It’s a sort of a ‘movement’ that desires to bring about a revolution in a country that is almost nonexistent in the footballing environment let alone the geographic environment.
The club trains around 800 youngsters under its academy’s umbrella and was even deemedas the ‘Best YouthAcademy in Latvia from the year 2010. The manner in which the academy is made to function is slightly or say completely different.
Guilio D’Alessandro, the man who heads Metta’s scouting department says: “The youth players mostly study at college or at Latvia University, that are connected to the club. All the foreign playerslive in accommodations five minutes away from the school and training ground.”
“FS Metta train both boys and girls and have two kinds of teams for every age group: the guys want to play football for fun and the highest level that has play in tournaments and in the league,” he says.
“FS Metta have more trainers, coaches and assistants than any other academy in the whole of the Baltic region.”
Despite the fact that Metta is a really young club, they are already starting to make waves in the international arena.It’s been only ten years since its establishment, but Metta is already beginning to extend its influence over the continent.
“I think that the best way is to work on the academy system and at the same time buy the best young players possible, for free, that in 2 or 3 years we can sell for 100/200/300.000 Euros” says Guilio, who is a vital cog in Metta transfer market policy.
And the club is seemingly succeeding in its objectives as well.
Clubs Metta’s youth sides haven’t lost to
Starlets who are making waves
Roberts Uldrikis, who is arguably the best player at Metta’s exposure is an uncanny number ten hole player, who defies logic that says that tall and wiry framed players can’t operate anywhere other than as a striker or a centre back.
A unique commodity, Uldrikis is a completely different asset, who has represented the Latvian junior sides and also already the first team of Metta at the age of 17.
The youngster’s unique qualities and style of play, apart from performances have attracted attention of clubs like Werder Bremen, Red Bull Salzburg and Dutch giants Ajax.
Metta are increasingly becoming a stepping stone for foreign players, who are looking to step into senior football.
For example, they are set to acquire the services of Usman Abbas, a Nigerian left back who was an important part of the Under-17s Nigeria side, who claimed the Under 17 World Cup title back in 2015. The full back was picked up by Metta after he was noticed by Giulio D’Alessandroduring the qualifications of African Cup of Nations U17 of 2015. Abbas was also noticed by Wyscout as the mosttalented left back of last African Cup of Nations U17.
It was a very big deal for a Baltic club considering that Abbas Nigerian teammates signed for top clubs like Wolsfburg (Oshiman), Arsenal (Nwakali), etc..
Usman Abbas was also selected by the coach of Nigeria U20 to be part of the first games of the Qualification to thenext African Cup of Nations U20. Unluckily he wasn’t able to be partof the team due to his travel to Latvia, having to overcome the long intensive visa process, supported by FS Metta team manager Harijs Toms, one of FS Metta key man.
The club isn’t just prospering on a player by player level, but is progressing quite evidently on a collective level as well.
Success at youth levels
Quite recently, Metta participated in an Italian tournament with its Under11s side, where they went on till the semifinals, only to be eliminated by Napoli on penalties. The Under 14 side drew with the likes Paris Saint Germain andZenit St.Petersburg. With the Under 13s, Metta ousted Malmo and German side Hannover.
Riga is a city that has got really good connections with the rest of the European countries, allowing players to travelfor trials and tryouts quite easily and without hassle. And the partnership with the Latvia University is a way to give players the possibility to train their mind, becoming the best professional possible, with culture and smart mind, that for FS Metta policy is a very important aspect.The club also has links with the likes of AC Milan, Fulham, Malmo and Helsingborgs IF.
The FS Metta squad
And rightly so, the success that the club has succeeding in racking up is commendable. There’s a proper plan in place that strives not to improve only the club, but the football of the country as a whole, which is something that separates this club from any other one. It comes from a country that only 50 percent of the world’s population would know about, while only 20 percent outof the remaining 50 percent would know where the country exists on the map.
But the work that this club is striving to succeed in is something that may just help Latvia do what no one has ever done before.