Latvia are gearing up for 2010 in high spirits after a promising year for the national team and some good performances by their clubs, notably UEFA Europa League group-stage contenders FK Ventspils. But nothing would be possible without hard organisational work behind the scenes.
That effort is led by the Latvian Football Federation (LFF), meaning another busy year ahead for general secretary Jānis Mežeckis. The financial downturn presented many challenges in 2009, and although on the surface all seemed smooth, Mežeckis knows it took a lot of hard work. "It seems that the federation is coping with ease," Mežeckis told uefa.com. "However, it looks easier from the outside than it is in reality. For sure, it was a hard year and we had a lot to deal with.
"The new year also promises hard tasks but we look to the future with optimism. We have many plans and projects so we need to maintain our vigour. There's no time to relax." Among those projects is ensuring more homegrown coaches rise to the top. "One of our major aims is improving the quality of coach education," Mežeckis said. "For example, most of the Virsliga coaches are foreigners. We need to train our own football specialists."
A Latvian is already at the helm of the national team, the man that led them to UEFA EURO 2004™, Aleksandrs Starkovs, returning in 2007 and taking the side to the verge of the FIFA World Cup play-offs. "Aleksandrs Starkovs and his assistants are doing a good job and the result of that was a fine performance in World Cup qualifying." Mežeckis said. "We had a chance of qualifying right until the end. This campaign gave us a lot of brilliant feelings. Our dream is to repeat the success of EURO 2004."
Starkovs's feats were recognised as he was named the LFF's coach of 2009. "Furthermore, he was also named the best Latvian coach among all sports," Mežeckis added. "Before Starkovs was appointed, the team was outside the top 100 in the FIFA World Rankings. Now we are 45th." Kaspars Gorkšs was Player of the Year while Jevgenijs Kosmačovs took the young player honour.
Yet the LFF is not resting on its laurels and as they seek to develop, Mežeckis is keen to stress the importance of co-operation with UEFA. "From our first day with UEFA we have felt only support," he said. "Without that we could not have reached our current level. That applies to financing, courses, methodology, information and much more. Co-operation with UEFA is very important for us."