20 Striker Anorthosis Famagusta (on loan from Club Brugge) Latvia
2014 has been...
…All about failing to find the right level.
By the time Club Brugge had agreed a fee with Skonto Riga for teenage striker Valērijs Šabala, the baby-faced assassin had already hit 34 goals in 100 appearances for his hometown club in the Virsliga. Drawing comparisons with former Southampton star Marians Pahars, Šabala had been a regular in the Latvian top flight since he was fifteen.
A goalscorer supreme, Šabala really excelled during 2013 and his return of 15 from 24 for Skonto had attracted the attention of Europe’s biggest clubs. Hellas Verona and Trabzonspor agreed terms but the young striker opted for Belgium and Club Brugge, a perceptive choice considering the number of young players currently starring in the Jupiler League.
His club form also pricked the attention of the aforementioned Pahars, now the coach of the Latvian national team, and the young striker netted twice in a friendly against Turkey in May last year. Despite limited club football since the turn of the year, he’s been a regular for his country since, scoring twice against Armenia in September and, more significantly, hitting Turkey once again in a Euro 2016 qualifier in October.
And so on to club form. After completing his transfer to Brugge, Šabala was loaned back to Skonto and picked up exactly where he left off, scoring a further nine in five matches. A full pre season with Brugge followed, but Michel Preud'homme has opted not to select the starlet quite yet. Instead, he’s been loaned out again, this time to experience life in the Cypriot First Division with Anorthosis Famagusta. At time of going to press, he’d made a handful of appearances from the substitutes bench but is yet to score.
Difficult to tell. The jump from Latvia’s Virsliga to the cutting edge of things in Belgium may have been a bridge too far, but we remain to be convinced that the Cypriot top flight offers the sort of challenge that Šabala requires right now. Without any disrespect, the division is a step up, but a very marginal one and quite how Famagusta, who seem to have been on the brink of collapse for a number of years, can be viewed as a good developmental posting is open to debate.
Regardless of where Šabala has surfaced, it’s always been of paramount importance that he plays and, as mentioned above, that just isn’t happening right now. The Warriors started the season badly, and perhaps the immediate need for results has guided coach André Paus in his team selections since. He hasn’t had an awful lot to work with though, with Ukrainian Yuri Yakovenko, a year older than Šabala, and local boy Andreas Makris (a year younger) given the responsibility of winning matches.
Considering the number of clubs that were interested in Šabala, to offer him what looks to be a dead end move is baffling. He’s bringing nothing to the party at Famagusta right now and by the time he’s back in Brugge is unlikely to have played much football. Maybe he could have just stayed?
The more we look at the current set up for Šabala, the more we are confused. He scored recently against Turkey and kept the well-established pairing of Semih Kaya and Mehmet Topal on their toes throughout. These are amongst the best defenders in the Turkish Super Lig highlighting that he could perform at a much higher level.
In the games that we’ve watched Šabala, he’s never looked anything less than sharp and could thrive just about anywhere that offers some kind of service. He’s not the tallest, but can certainly leap and is as useful with his head as he is with his feet.
Strikers feed on confidence, but here’s a young man that looks starved right now, he shouldn’t be. Brugge have obviously decided that there is good reason to loan Šabala out, but he really needs to be playing. If he isn’t, cut the cord and move him somewhere he can.
"Šabala's Virslīga season ended in June as he sealed a move to Club Brugges, after playing a few friendly games in Belgium, he was loaned out to Cypriot side Anorthosis Famagusta, this is a bit of a step backwards for his development & he has only played 55mins so far this season." - One Nil Up
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