Perched on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, Latvia is a small European country that’s home to less than two million people. It’s famous for many things, including stunning landscapes, ornate architecture, a flourishing online casino industry and more beer, beautiful women and budget-friendly holiday destinations than you can shake a stick at.
One thing that Latvia is not quite so renowned for is its footballing prowess. Yet to qualify for a World Cup, the Latvian national team has only ever made it to one major tournament (the 2004 European Championships in Portugal). Nonetheless, it has still produced some excellent talents in its own right, with a handful of these plying their trade in the English Premier League. Here’s a rundown of the four most famous.
The first Latvian to play in the English Premiership is perhaps the most successful. Arriving at Southampton in early 1999, Marian Pahars made quite the mark by scoring an equaliser (and almost netting a winner) in his debut against Blackburn Rovers. Over the course of a seven-year stint with the club, Pahars bagged an impressive 43 goals – that’s a return of almost one in three appearances. For a club of Southampton’s stature at the time, that’s no small feat. He has since progressed into management, taking the helm of the national team between 2013 and 2017.
One year after Pahars made the switch to England, his compatriot Igor Stepanovs did the same. Stepanovs was signed by Arsenal for a fee of £1.35 million and expected to provide cover for the injured captain Tony Adams. His career got off to a strong start; like Pahars, he scored on his debut. However, his playing time was limited by virtue of the fact that he had only ever been signed as a backup. What’s more, a dismal performance against rivals Manchester United, where the Gunners lost 6-1 in a season they were meant to be challenging Man Utd for the title, meant he didn’t feature regularly again. In total, he played 17 times for Arsenal in the EPL, all of them starts.
An attacking midfielder, Andrejs Stolcers caught the eye of English scouts in 2000 while playing for Spartak Moscow. Indeed, he only ever featured for the Russian side 12 times, but his five goals in that stretch was enough to convince Fulham to bring him to London to help with their promotion push from the Championship. With Stolcers in their ranks, they were successful at the first time of asking and he spent three seasons with the Cottagers in the Premiership. However, other additions to bolster their attack meant he spent much time on the bench, recording just 10 appearances and two goals in the EPL.
The Latvian to most recently grace the Premier League is Kaspars Gorkss, a reliable defender who helped two different clubs achieve promotion to the promised land of the Premiership. After spending 18 months with Blackpool Town, Gorkss was signed by Queens Park Rangers and at the third attempt, helped them win the division. However, he wouldn’t yet feature in the top flight, instead transferring to Championship side Reading. Gorkss achieved the unusual feat of lifting the Championship trophy two years in a row, going up with Reading immediately and scoring his first EPL goal against his old team QPR. He was loaned out and then released the following season, before later going on to serve as the head of the Latvian Football Federation in 2018.
Latvian might not be the first team you think of when you think of football, but the small nation has still produced a handful of players who featured in the English Premier League.