In the 2022 season, Valmiera FC reached the highest point of Optibet Virsliga – the championship title. Although the team has already started preparing for the new 2023 season, we still have time to look back on what was done last year, so one of the pillars of the team’s defense – Daniels Balodis – was invited for a conversation.
How did you spend your vacation?
The offseason was very long this year. I rested properly and disconnected from football, I ignored it for a whole month. Before Christmas, I flew to London and relaxed there for four days. After that, I also managed to travel here and there in Latvia, visiting relatives and friends. After Christmas, I already started preparing for the new season. I worked out in the gym to stay in shape without overdoing it. In the course of the season, micro-injuries appeared, which had to be healed. I hoped I would deal with them by resting, but I’m not fully healthy yet, so I can’t train with 100% dedication yet.
Daniels Balodis and Valmiera FC – Latvian champions. Have you finally comprehended it and what are the feelings of this moment when more time has passed?
That sense of awareness has really come only now. It’s still hard to believe that it actually happened. There is genuine joy in what has been done. If I speak individually, then it can always be better, but if we are champions and I have had a lot of playing time – I am satisfied with what we have done, but now I have to start setting the next goals.
How would you describe last year’s team?
It was a real golden team. I think that all the guys pushed their maximum at that moment, of course, we have more to give, and I have no doubt about that. We can do more, but each of us took one step at a time to reach the final result. The team staff also proved themselves perfectly, so I can safely say that this is just the beginning for all of us.
The opening of the season was difficult, how would you explain it?
I think we were well prepared, but that stage of preparation took a little longer. We hadn’t realized at the right moment that everything had really started. We also trained a lot at the beginning of the season, we put everything into ourselves to make the season successful. The championship started very early, it took time to get into the rhythm of the games. After that, we ran in and everything happened as it was supposed to happen. We had a 15-game winning streak for the first time, an indescribable joy. We ourselves did not believe that we could accomplish such a thing, but when we succeeded, we went from game to game. We ourselves wanted to see how long we could hold on without losing. It was a challenge for each of us, both individually and within the team. We never thought for a moment that anything could come easily to us.
Skonto’s record was achieved, but not beaten – a loss against Jurmala Spartaks followed. Could it be called a drop of tar in a barrel of honey?
Sooner or later we had to lose. Spartaks was in high spirits in that game, probably their best game of the season. They played a very good game, and we also played well, but something didn’t work out there. It just happened – we lost. There were many difficult games, at the end of the season, we drew against Tukums 2000/Telms, and it seemed that maybe it could become a turning point. We can also mention the away games against Daugavpils, which were difficult. I have played there myself, I know how they feel, especially when they have to play at home. They have their own feat, but I don’t think we played badly, the coincidence of various circumstances gave us two away draws.
At what point did you realize that there was a chance to become champions?
I didn’t want to think about this at all, but to be honest, in the summer I felt that we really could. The team had a big difference in points against the closest follower, but the thought was in the head – nothing has been achieved yet. The first place was ours, but different things could have happened, the end of the season was approaching, so we didn’t want to take our foot off the gas for a moment. I knew we had made a break from the followers, but the championship is long. In the end, there was a tense conclusion to the championship.
It turned out that everything was decided in Liepaja, in the last round – pressure, a principled opponent, tell us about the “cocktail” of feelings that were there?
The last game – there has never been such a moment in my life when everything is decided here and now. We can talk about the conditions, the quality of the field, and the performance we showed, but it is clear that we wanted to win both the game and the championship much more than our opponents. We didn’t want to concede, because we knew that one moment was needed and the ball would fall into the goal. The stars aligned, and everything happened as it was supposed to happen. The emotions and willpower allowed us to achieve what we were so looking forward to.
Did you know what happens in the parallel match during the game?
I didn’t know for a moment. A number of players said they knew, heard the fans shout, and called the RFS name, but I was just focused on the game. In the heat of the game, I didn’t want the worst to happen, so I didn’t pay attention to what was happening around the pitch at all. I didn’t want it to happen that you go for one goal all season and then everything turns 180 degrees and the worst happens. I didn’t pay attention to anything else but my game, I trusted that no matter what happens we have to do our own work.
Djibril Gueye scores, final whistle is blown – what happens next?
That second goal – that was the moment when we understood, that’s it. The whistle sounded, I fell to the ground, I kept with myself, I felt all those emotions, I enjoyed them, and I also allowed a tear to flow, because such emotions come only once in a lifetime.
Fan support, from start to finish – what does that mean to you?
It means so much to me, it’s hard to describe. I really thank them both for the past season and all the previous ones. They have always supported us, but now I felt such a family feeling, it was like they were part of the team. They lived with us and experienced our ups and downs, I can only once again say thank you to them.
“They don’t believe in us” – we have heard this phrase countless times, tell us where it came from.
As I remember it, at the end of the season, many people said that Riga would overtake us, there was hype around this topic, and we could not avoid it. Disbelief in our strength came directly from outside, we knew about it inside the team. Camilo Mena and I joked that DJ Khaled had a song that started with “They don’t believe in us”, we laughed about it, but over time it stuck and we used the saying at the end of the season. People’s disbelief made this whole process even sweeter, everything was so good in the end. Regarding the disbelief in me and Roman Jakuba, which we heard a lot before the season, everything is simple – there are many more famous names in Virsliga. It gives you the opportunity to prove yourself, there are no expectations placed on you, and there is no pressure.
What can we expect from the new season?
I would like to play in the Virsliga as champions deserve. Retaining the title is difficult, even more, difficult than winning the first one. We want to show with both team and individual play that we are stable and getting more stable. Certainly, the biggest goal is to show yourself on the European stage. We have not been able to stand out in previous years, so we want to break this streak in the Champions League during the summer. Of course, a lot will depend on the draws, but if we show our best game, then any of the group tournaments is not out of reach either.