This morning I had a coffee with a Ukranian-born Russian who has lived 22 of his 28 years in Russia. His Father was a military man, born in Kazakhstan to a Ukranian Father and Belarussian Mother. His own mother was born in Latvia to a Russian Father and Estonian Mother.
Ultimately they were all born in the USSR. At 17 he was invited to a training camp by Oleg Blokhin, one of his idols growing up. He went but was made to feel like a complete outsider.
That he was playing, then, for Dinamo Moscow Reserves and being courted to move to their namesake in Kiev, did not make his “Russian-ness” any more appealing to the Ukranian players in camp.
Ultimately he returned home disillusioned and despite winning a handful of U-19 caps for Russia, his career petered out in the Second Division Centre (third level). Last year he qualified as a Dairy Technician and it was through this line of work that we met.
We chatted about the Jack Grealish affair (he’s a Liverpool fan) and his personal take was that ambition will win out. He still feels that if he’d been welcomed into the Ukranian camp, he’d be still there today.
We strayed onto less interesting issues such as the Civil War in Ukraine (money fighting money and each making more of it – was his opinion) and children.
We both have five-year-old sons and we asked the same question. Would he object if his son was offered a chance to play for Ukraine, or any of the other ex-Soviet countries he has ties to? He couldn’t answer. I played my answer off in the usual manner which I was taught from my former boxing coach in University College Dublin (UCD).
I visited him at his place of work in Earlsfort Terrace with a letter that was giving me a real sense of conflict. It was from an English Manager, at whose gym I’d spent a month, he was offering me a chance to begin a career as a professional boxer.
The offer was to spend the summer training in Moss Side, Manchester with him, then take part in ABAs and turn pro the following year.
My only concern was – to make any career I’d have to start with a British title (I was 19, so give me a break). Tommy (my coach) had a simple answer – “Amateurs fight for the vest, pros fight for money”. I said that often to former sports clients, however I don’t know if I ever believed it.
Walking home I thought about my son Timur, the “Lokomotivnik”. He said very early that he wants to play for Ireland (but in rugby) and it would be wonderful for him to pull on a green jersey some day in the future.
But here is the crux – he is eligible to represent Ireland or Russia (although he was born in Malta he has no claim to play there) and I cannot say what would be better.
For him to play for a country rotten with financial and political corruption, where the police can operate as they want, where football is always in crisis and treated as a second class sport, where the unhappy media dissect every sporting nuance and seem to will the national team to fail, or to play for Russia.
As a parent I would want him to be happy, to have a successful career on and off the pitch, however a selfish piece of pride and ego lurks under my faux liberal facade. I would love nothing better than to see him lead the Boys in Green out at a World Cup Final.
It would be for me, my ego, my family and the generations of our people who built towards this moment. For what? Sport?
With the bombastic, parasitic rantings of English hacks and hand wringing Irish media, not to mention the opportunistic elements on both sides (step forward Mr. Dunphy), I think I’d rather my child turn his back on all this nonsense, sensationalism and hype, and see if Malta will naturalise him.
In fact, I think I’ve made my decision, damn their hides to hades and just go play GAA (just as Jack Grealish did). Oh wait, then I’d have an even tougher mix – Louth, Dublin, Wexford and even a touch of Monaghan looking for his services.
Whatever Jack Grealish decides will be good for Jack Grealish, no parent would want for more and we can all move on to our next point of contention.