Train Liepaja – Riga – Tukums – Valmiera, the path of Niks Sliede

8 July 2023

Niks Sliede – a two-meter-tall football player from Liepāja, whose football life took him to Riga, then Tukum as a teenager, and now the 19-year-old central defender has ended up in Valmiera. He continues to hone the art of football here and is aware that there is still much hard work ahead. He himself shares his football life story.

I started playing football at the age of five. Everything happened – children were approached in the kindergarten, and invited to football training. Herd instinct worked and we decided to try it with our friends. If I hadn’t gone to football, I would definitely attend basketball training because of my height, I must admit that my mother and grandparents were also passionate about basketball in their youth. I’ve been a central defender since the beginning, as I was put in that position, that’s where I’ve stayed.

I started my football career at Liepaja football school, but then I moved to RFS. It was an opportunity for me to train with the Virsliga team, and more opportunities to progress, while in Liepaja there was no clarity about long-term cooperation, I didn’t know if I would be needed by their first team. I also experienced my first steps in professional football in the RFS organization.

I vividly remember my first game in professional football, in the Latvian Cup we played against FK Auda – my debut and I also managed to score a goal. At that moment there were fantastic feelings – a central defender and immediately a goal in the last minutes of the game. On the other hand, I remember the Virsliga debut as a comical incident. I’m sitting on the bench, worried, thinking: what if I suddenly have to go to the pitch? What will happen now? Around the 80th minute, three changes were made, and three other teammates also went to warm up, I thought: that’s all, I won’t be on the pitch today. It was quite cold outside, so I decided to drink tea, five minutes later I hear the coaches starting to discuss that maybe they should give me a chance. The coach noticed that I was not among the players warming up, but instead, I was sipping tea. The question followed: do you want to play? Of course, I answered that I wanted to. I was given two minutes to prepare, I must say, thank God that I didn’t even get stressed.

I spent the previous season in Tukums – a very attractive team, they like to play beautiful football, and there is a lot of emotion and self-sacrifice on the pitch. The team is very close-knit. If we look at the weaknesses, then we used to be passionate about attacks, we always wanted to score goals, to win, so we fell short on defense. I will always remember the Tukums team with good emotions, with good, very pleasant people, and the overall atmosphere. I think that was the main reason why we did so well in the last two laps.

Best games so far? I consider several of them in my career. The previously mentioned debut in the Latvian Cup, the first game at the adult level, when I played the first 90 minutes with FK Liepāja, we won. The cherry on the cake is definitely last year’s game between Tukums and Liepāja – it was a great pleasure to win. As a child, I always dreamed that I would play at the stadium Daugava, of course, the feelings were a little different, because I played against Liepaja, but the emotions were great.

I really got to know Valmiera last year, it was a team that no one wanted to play against. You know that it is a top team, you know that technical players will face you, their pressing was also strong, and the team ran all the time, no matter what the result was – usually, this does not happen. Teams tend to lose momentum after scoring two or three goals, but Valmiera did not want to stop for a moment. We had to fight and want to show something, it didn’t always work out.

My way to Valmiera was simple, I didn’t have to think much, and everything happened very quickly. I received a message about the offer – knowing that I will hardly get playing time at RFS in the near future, and I did not want to go on loan, so this team was my first option. I arrived with the idea that I will be able to fight for playing time. A very good team, where the emphasis is on fitness, there is more freedom, and the coaches allow players to express themselves. The team here is excellent, there are no big authorities here, which would cause fear, cause uncertainty about one’s abilities. The city is also beautiful, but relatively smaller than Riga. This is a big plus for me, I get to spend more time focusing on football.

It was easy to join the collective, it seemed that I already knew at least half of the team. Two of my childhood friends also play here, we’ve been playing together since childhood – Klavs Lauva and Kristers Volkovs. Nothing has surprised me here so far, I have been to the city several times, and I have played here both with youth teams and the Tukums team, as well as in the Latvian U-21 national team.

I’m playing more now than I did at the start of the season, but I don’t think I’ve won a place in the starting lineup. Recently, the playing time has increased, but I think that my competition has not ended with Robert Veips. It wasn’t easy to get the coaches’ trust to get on the pitch, but I knew that all I could do was train, try to work, give everything myself, and wait for the opportunity. Everything is in my own hands again, the opportunity was given to me, so the question is whether I will be able to use it or not.

My strengths are definitely defensive actions and duels, I also believe that I am good at tactical thinking. I have to continue to work on my physical fitness, I must also think about how to add speed to my movements. We can talk about whether my season and the teams will be successful later: would 3rd place in the Virsliga satisfy me? Probably not. It would have to be one of the group stages of the Eurocups, then the season would have been a success. In the context of Latvia, maybe third place in the Virsliga and victory in the Latvian Cup, but even then I don’t know if that would be enough.

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