Created on Saturday, 17 January 2015

news 20150122Arminas NARBEKOVAS: "I hate losing!"

The Seoul 1988 Olympic Champion. That's the first thing to come on mind of sport supporter on hearing the football name Narbekovas. The title of Olympic Champion in sport presents a special honour, and nobody ever likes to add the prefix "ex"... The Lithuanian Champion in the lineup of team USSR has long become an insider for Peterburgsky SCC, regularly bringing the youth team of his country to the traditional January international tournaments. Being a communicative person, Arminas is always easy-going with the media representatives. You may even feel sorry about him sometimes: he has to spend hours remembering the good old times, Championships and teams, for his biography is pretty copious. Bronze holder of the USSR Championship in his 22 – being a player for Zalgiris, Vilnius (Narbekovas had struck 16 goals at that Championship!). Olympic Champion of the following year. Multiple Best Player of Lithuania. Later, by his 30, a three times Austrian Champion and twice Champion of the Austrian Cup. In his 36 his Austrian playing career came in such a progress that he was called back to the national team of Lithuania! Eventually Narbekovas, not as a menacing forward already but as a reliable defender, has been playing football almost until 40 years old.

Before each match of team Lithuania U-21 at the tournament in St. Petersburg Arminas comes outside to smoke his habitual cigarette. In a few days, on January, 28 he will be 50, but he is still fit for sports. "Now I am alright, but you haven't seen me several years ago. Then I hadn't been smoking 7 months and put on up to 95 kg. Then I took up a cigarette again and got my weight back."

– Is it that you are so nervous before the matches?narbekovas 01

– Not that I were nervous... But I'm excited a bit. It is normal, this should be – for if you are no longer worried about the work you are doing you'd better change the job. I hate losing matches! And here at this tournament we unfortunately lose. We can't bite more than we can chew. Yet, there are no miracles in football. To put it figurative, you can't take the guys who have hardly finished the dinner, bring them on such a serious tournament in another country and play it with a marvelous success! This is completely impossible. Our coaches didn't have much time to prepare for this Commonwealth Cup. So we are a bit run out of forces. Three matches in four days is a tough schedule. You should be preparing for it seriously.

– Arminas, you've brought here a team with a core compiled of players of 20-21 years old. All of them promise well, as it is commonly put. But isn't it time for stop promising and start meeting the expectations? Remember how you in your 18, leaving aside the youth team of Zalgiris, burst right off the reel into the first team of the best Luthuanian football club! Or am I wrong?

– You are not, it really was so. But I was then to some extent lucky, the circumstances played on my side. They took me in the lineup of Zalgiris which was leaving for a double away game in the Caucuses. This was a bit of success already, which however didn't guarantee any coming on the pitch for a 18-year-old guy who has just graduated Panevezys sports boarding school. I was happy with my being in their reserve. And then, on the 88th or the 89th minute of the first game – against Ararat – our left side midfielder Malkevicius was sent off. Suspension. narbekovas 02 In the next game in Kutaisi I came on the pitch at the position of Malkevicius. I believe I haven't spoiled anything and even helped. So, you see – they gave me a chance and I grasped on it. Then I again waited for a possibility to show and in September, in a home match against Nistru, Chisinau I managed to score my first goal in the USSR Premier League after coming from substitution. This goal is my memory for the whole life. By the way, we won that match 5:0. Step by step I got a sound position in the lineup, and before the Championship ended I scored my second goal... Of course it was much easier because of the fact that together with me there was a group of my agemates – Pankratjevas, Tautkus, Buzmakovas and Ivanauskas, though Valdas was a year younger.

– The core of Zalgiris was already made of experienced developed masters. They were 7-10 years older than you. Were you not in the least embarrassed with such a gap in age and playing experience?

– The age gap surely didn't embarrass at all. I've been playing football with much elder guys since my childhood. In my native village Gargzday not far from Klaipeda lived not so many people, but our school had a football section with a regular coach Mikhail Terentiev. But he coached guys 2-3 years older than me. There were my childhood friends among them. I joined their trainings, they allowed me to play. And I was so keen on that in my 11 I took a solid decision to leave for Panevezys to enter the boarding school. I wanted to engage in real football. My father whose word was decisive for me permitted it, but he warned me: "Son, if you've decided you should go on your way to the end. There will be no way back for you." I left. And it was not longer than a year after that I was eager to return. I liked training but I can't describe how much I was longing for my parents and brothers and sisters. Our family was large, I was the sixth child – and the youngest. Our house always was noisy and jolly, full of kin. And there I was alone in the boarding school, in 300 km from my native village. But father's word was decisive again. He just remembered me what he told me when I was leaving – about the way back. If you have promised you should die or do. And I stayed in the boarding school. And in football. And I then thanked my father thousand times.narbekovas 03

– It was there that Zalgiris coach Zelkevicius noticed you?

– You see, Lithuania is small, everything is spread before your eyes. (smiling) I performed well at the scholars' Universiade in Kaunas. I was then only 16. They noticed me and took into consideration. And in two years Zelkevicius invited me to Zalgiris to give that very chance...

– All the football specialists in the USSR noted the special style of Zalgiris, Vilnius. How would you express it, being one of the leaders of that special team of the 80th?

– A good control over the ball, discovering the weak points in the opponents' defense, a thorough preparations for the "explosive moment" – and eventually the sharp attack. To make it successful you needed complete understanding between all the team members. In this we didn't have any problems, for all the guys were "homebred": same football base, same school. In the 80th of the previous century youth football coaches in Lithuania worked excellent, with the highest outcome. Almost each football school, be it in Vilnius or in any town, sent one or two prospective juniors for the youth team of Zalgiris every year. The competition was pretty high!

– I know that on the Universiade where Zalgiris came for the students' team of the USSR you allowed an incredible liberty: team USSR played at the tournament in... the green-white uniform of Zalgiris!! It was said that Zelkevicius got red T-shirts before the tournament and separately playing numbers and emblems with the Soviet coat of arms. And the players were supposed to attach these by themselves! Your coach told the team to play in the club uniform!

– (Laughing) I haven't heard anything about attaching the coat of arms and numbers, but Zelkevicius did tell us to play in Zalgiris uniform. I remember the common amusement: what a uniform is wearing the Soviet Union? narbekovas 04 And by the way, we lost first match in this uniform 2:3. But then we defeated the Brazilians 6:0 (Narbekovas performed a hat trick in that match. – ed. note). And the strongest emotions were of the victory over the Yugoslavs – they had quite a strong squad headed by Prosinecki and Stojkovic which then won the European Champion Club's Cup in Crvena Zvezda's lineup.

– You must have been tormented by inquiries about the gold trophy at the Seoul Olympiad...

– I'll never be tired of talking about THAT TEAM! That was the main gift of fate in my football life. What a united squad it was! I guess it will never repeat in my life. So many months in training camps, endless trainings and flies in the same company. And not only that none of the players had smashed another's face, I can't even recall a squabble!

– After a splendid goal in the Italian gates in the Olympiad semifinal you literally by miracle played in the final match against the Brazilian, being seriously injured...

– It was almost the last minute of the semifinal, I was kicking the ball off – and the losing Italian malignly banged me in the ankle cuff. It's another tale how I was trying to pull the boot on my swollen footstep. Many thanks to the medics who had injected me anaesthetize. But all the same I bore only one half. In the interval I said: "I won't be of any use now". I was substituted by Savichev. And he scored – Yuriy scored our golden goal!

narbekovas 05– Your celebration is said to have taken such a scale by night that in the morning the football team USSR was searched for with lanterns all over the steamer to be sent to the prize ceremony. The players were sleeping all around – in the corridor, in the engine room... And they say Vadim Tishchenko hadn't been found, the whole ship searched though.

– (Laughing) Here I restrain from comments. I will only say that I managed to get to my cabin by the morning and that was my enormous personal success. But I didn't have time to sleep already, we had to go to the prize ceremony.

– Was Austria where you went in the 90th the only alternative for your career in Europe?

– I could enter Olympiakos under Oleg Blokhin, following Litovchenko and Protassov. But I wasn't allowed to go. The Sporting Commettee in Moscow let me know that I go to Vienna or I don't go at all. It was not till later that I got to know the Austrian ambassador to the USSR was a great fan of FC Austria. And that was where I got in, together with Ivanauskas. But he soon left for Hamburger SV, and I stayed in Austria. Though, I could have entered the Bundesliga, and twice – if it hadn't been for the injuries.

– But you had success in Vienna. Three gold trophies of the Austrian Championship, two state Cups – not many of the Soviet mercenaries could win so much in the West!

narbekovas 06– The main thing was that Ivanauskas and I were lucky with the team. It seems I am a lucky person when it comes to human societies. The local stars – and 7-8 players from FC Austria were regularly invited to the national team – offered me a warm welcome. Especially Andreas Ogris who has just returned from the Espanyol, Manfred Chack, Franz Wolfart the goalkeeper – I keep friendship with these guys up to now, they are just cool guys!

– You have been playing in FC Austria almost till 40 years old...

– I guess I was doing it well if they were so reluctant to let me retire from the pitch. "Arminas, come on, another season – we feel somewhat more confident with you." How many times I have heard these words! One time I gave way. I came to my last club, formerly famous in Austria Wiener Sport, to "breath the fresh air" at the Viena Championship. Well, we have passed three leagues up in three years! And in my 38 I was named the best player and the best defender of the regional state Championship. In defense you have to run less... The teammates congratulate me and I'm screaming back: "You idiots, you've got to cry instead of being congratulating me! If I am the best in my 38 how are playing you all?!" And they answer me: "It's you idiot, Arminas, who doesn't realize his fortune!"

– You work in your native Lithuania, and your family stays in Viena?

narbekovas 07– Yes. My children have a completely local mentality. My son Arminas was only 4 when we came to Austria and my daughter Claudia was born there. Now my son is 28, he played football in his youth and was a fine defensive midfielder with a good vision of the pitch, a soft pass, and a crazy kick... Yet, he wouldn't seriously enter the game until somebody kicked his legs – then he would wind up. But once he heard cruel words from his coach: "We thought you will grow to become the second Arminas Narbekovas, but up to now we get only the name..." "Dad, why should I be listening to it?" – my son said and gave up football forever. The daughter, Claudia, was an A-student at school, and she has pleased me much recently by entering the Medical Department in Munich...

Interviewed by Aleksandr Kuzmin.



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