Emils Birka joined Valmiera FC just short prior to the new Optibet Virsliga season and in our colors, he played his 100th league game. It was only fitting for him to tell the story of his journey in football – from Limbazi to Valmiera.
Do you remember your first game in Virsliga?
It was against Riga FC at the Skonto Stadium in 2017. They let me on the pitch for about five minutes in the end but still, the moment was something I had waited for the longest time. I was really thrilled. It was like the 20th game of the season and before that, I spent a lot of time on the sidelines.
I went out a little worried, couldn’t manage a lot of actions. I remember that I managed to cross the ball in for Gatis Kalnins who at the time played with Kirils Sevelovs in Metta helping the young players to step into the big team. The game ended with a score of 0:4…
A new opportunity for you, did you feel like you got what it takes?
In the games after that, they gave me more minutes, at the end of the season in a match against Liepaja I was in the starting 11 already – I remember the game well. Even Tamaz Pertia was surprised about me, didn’t know who I was. Unfortunately, we lost in the game (0:1); I had to play against Seydina Keita. I had a chance to score my first goal – I went one on one against the goalkeeper and couldn’t make up my mind to shoot or pass – in the end, I kicked the ball at the net and it ended up right on the goalkeeper.
You are from a small town – Limbaži. Who do you owe that you have made it so far – right now to 100 games in Virsliga and a call-up to the national team?
The first person that I have to thank is coach Valdis Matīss. In my development, he invested a lot of work. Mainly what he has given me is psychological readiness. When training with him we had a lot of out-of-pitch activities, stories from football life, and examples that created all of us to be stronger personalities. He prepared us for the competition. That is maybe why there is such a big contingency of players in Latvian football from such a small town. I remember that we had to do a lot of activities with older guys, for example, Marcis Oss because we didn’t have enough players in our age group.
How did you make the next step from Limbazi to Riga?
It happened really fast. Thanks to Metta and Limbazi merging project. When I was 13 we started playing together. Then Metta created a football class. When September approached at the end of August I remember telling my parents that I want to go study in Riga. They support the idea. At the time the same decision was made by my teammate Elvijs Indenbergs. And then the competition spirit clicked for me, I saw that I wouldn’t want to give up anything and wanted to follow him to Riga. I knew that there would be huge development chances there. We quickly applied to school and with the help of my godmother, we found a place to live in Adazi. I had to wake up early each morning – at 6:30 I was already on the bus, first training was at 8:00 after that there was school, evening training at 17:30 and I got home at about 20:00 each day. That was my daily schedule. I did my homework in my spare time between school and evening training sessions. Dad had set a floor for my marks – no lower than eight and I handled it well. I was one of the best in my class. Also in Metta they said that the marks cannot be lower than seven.
To be honest I don’t even remember what were my goals at that age, at the time I was fighting my small competitions between the players in Metta and the national teams, starting from Riga until Latvian U-17. Step by step I fought myself and others to make it on the pitch.
Have you always been left-back?
Yes, I have played in this position since childhood. At some point, I was used as a forward on the side. The left foot is a bonus for me.
Which of the coaches has given you the most in terms of development?
Here I have to say a big thank you to Janis Goba who was my coach in the first years. Of course, the football class coaches as well – Andrejs Gluscuks, Viktors Mazurs, Andrejs Karpovs, Janis Skabardis and of course Andris Riherts and Girts Mihelsons.
You grew, grew and then you made it to Virsliga.
Yeah, but it wasn’t the main goal. It just happened naturally while making small steps. I remember when many of us were called up to the second team but I wasn’t – it was extra motivation for me because I was the only one that wasn’t counted on. When I finally made it I was the only one from there that played in Virsliga. Maybe my position on the pitch helped because I didn’t have much competition there.
You made your debut in 2017 and already the next year you played regular minutes.
I did step on the pitch more and frequently played at least a half of the match. But the season wasn’t the best either. I had to race against Usman Abasu for a place on the squad. I can say that in 2019 I became more of a regular in starting 11.
Which game stands out to you personally?
Probably one of those in which I scored a goal for example my first goal against Tukums, and that goal was pretty impressive [03.07.2020, with left foot from 23 meters in the close corner]. Also the last-minute goal against Jelgava [03.08.2020. again in the corner, this time in the far one with left foot], which helped us to reach a tie. The three draws in a row with Metta last year, I remember it as a pleasant time.
You have gone through the whole pyramid of national teams.
Yes. I started with the Vidzeme selection camp, then Riga, and then Latvian U-17, U-19, and U-21. To wear the national team kit is an honor, I represent the colors of my country with huge pride. I have always had the motivation to reach for the national team, right now my goal is to make my men’s national team debut. I just have to work hard and continue playing and I hope that the next call-up will come that could present the chance for me to debut.
This season I also want to surpass my best seasons statistically. At the start of each season, I set my goals in life and football. At the end of the year, I look back to see if I have achieved everything that I set out to do.
How did you end up in Valmiera?
During pre-season I joined RFS for their training camp in Turkey. At the same time, an offer from Valmiera came. I looked at the pros and cons and decided in favor of Valmiera. I remember playing against this team and it stood out to me that they always took points away from everyone, many draws. Valmiera isn’t a strange city to me, when I was a kid I came here a lot.
What can you say about your new team?
Everything is well organized here. Physiotherapy is at a high level here, qualified specialists are responsible for these things – Mareks Osovskis and Kaspars Bregis. The team itself tactically and positionally is a good fit for me. I can play higher, run into the zone, support attacks and do what I do best and do what I succeed at. I’m skeptical about my perfomance early on in the season, things went too fast – before the first game, I was with the team for just a single week. Each following game our communication got better and we have progressed, I think that the last few games I have played at a very good level and that boosts confidence. I have settled in well with the team and the city itself. At first, I had doubts about how it will be to live here after being in Riga but in the first week, it all cleared away. I’m very satisfied. Everything can be easily reached and you don’t get too tired or occupied with different things.