At the age of only 23 Mariyan Shved has been through some ups and downs – Ukraine’s Premier League with Karpaty at 17, FC Sevilla with 18, back home two years later, then Celtic Glasgow for an impressive 2 mio fee, and now loaned to KV Mechelen. Having already been written off by some he started getting more pitch time in December and paying back his manager’s trust with strong performances on the pitch he has now even become one of his team’s key players.
In the detailed interview he gave us we got to know Mariyan as a very likable and thoughtful young man with interesting insights about his life in Belgium, his development since his time in Lviv and also about the club he loves.
How are you now?
I’m fine. I had an injury, but I have fully recovered from it, and I am ready to play.
Now you’ve been to Belgium for a couple of months. How do you like life here?
Due to the pandemia I haven’t really been able to look around too much. I live in Brussels, and so for me it’s training, back home, training, back home.
Why did you choose Brussels? Did you find this apartment yourself?
The club found the apartment for me, then I took a look and took it. It is on the 28th floor, and I really like that.
And you haven’t been able to explore the region, wander around?
At the beginning I walked around, since when we arrived there weren’t all these measures – the restaurants were open, we walked across Brussels, went to restaurants.
How did you like the local food?
I actually stick to my usual food which is basically what I would eat in Ukraine, too, like Pasta, meat and fish, so I haven’t really tried out the local food.
And you haven’t tried Belgian fries yet? How about Belgian beer?
No, I’m afraid I didn’t, that’s not healthy for sportsmen.
A lot of your teammates at Mechelen are Belgian, and most speak Flemish. Have you been able to pick up a few words?
Not really. Amongst each other they speak Flemish, but whenever talking to me they switch to English.
When you went to restaurants before the pandemia, how did you communicate?
They all understand English, there was no problem.
Is integrating in the team difficult as you don’t know the local language?
At the beginning it was difficult, since I didn’t play. But later, as I played more everything got better.
So when you play well, your teammates value you higher?
Absolutely, 100%. This is the same everywhere in the world.
You already understand a lot without an interpreter. Have you taken English lessons since you left Lviv?
Well I’ve started understanding more because I have been in Scotland and now here for quite some time. Having heard English around me all the time I now understand pretty much everything, but I still find it difficult to talk in English. In Scotland I used to have an English teacher, but the local accent is really difficult to understand. Even now I would still not understand a lot. In general languages are not really something I am good with. But with the English I know I understand everything related to my professional activity, so there are no problems.
In the match against Waasland-Beveren you scored twice, also gave an assist, and you got a score of 9 out of 10 in the Belgian sports press which is really exceptional. This seems to indicate you have really made a big step forward.
In this match of course things went very well for me, and it’s important we won it. I always try to play well, and sometimes it works out, sometimes it does not. But in any case most important is that our team wins. We have been playing very well recently and winning frequently, even though we lost the last match. You know, there is always an element of luck – sometimes even though you play very well your team nevertheless loses. Then, in other matches you don’t, but suddenly score a goal and your team wins.
If you look back on yourself at the time when just leaving Lviv, with the experience you have now, what would you do differently?
If you are asking whether it was a good idea to join Celtic, that’s difficult to say. Of course, it did not go well there, because I did not play. If I had gone to some other club, would I know that things would have been better? So, yes, I could probably have got more pitch time somewhere else, but I could also have been in the same situation as at Celtic. So what happened just happened. I cannot undo this.
At KV Mechelen it took you 3 months to get a decent amount of pitch time. How happy are you now that you are finally able to show what you are capable of?
Of course I feel much better now as I can play. As a football player you have to play, no matter which team, and only when you play and can make a contribution to your team you’re happy.
At the beginning you often weren’t even in the selection. What did you think back then? Did you panic? How did you analyse the situation?
I do not panic. You need to try and work hard and wait for your chance. At the beginning there were few possibilities to show myself. But then the trainer gave this interview. Also I had changed. I received some encouragement from their side, and I felt that something could happen. After that things quickly got much better. It’s not how you start into the season but how you finish it.
Could it be that trainer Wouten started having more trust in you also because you changed something after that interview?
Maybe that was the case. I actually started training more.
Was it only the training?
That’s difficult to say. At the beginning there were some things that bothered him, like I often was the last to arrive and the first to leave. Of course, this does not make a good impression. We were expected to appear for training at 08:00am, that was very early for me, I was practically still asleep when I arrived. The team’s schedule at the club was very different from my biorhythm. After training we would all have lunch together which also takes some time, so that I wouldn’t have the time to take a rest of one or two hours as I usually do. With the Coronavirus some of our team processes changed. We wouldn’t start that early in the morning, there was no longer a team lunch. So, surprisingly, that made things easier for me.
Saying that you started training more, what was that like?
It was actually training harder with the team rather than spending more time training. I was just getting more focussed and got more motivated. This was of course also stimulated by the matches I played, in particular now as we are playing well and can achieve something in both the league and the cup where we reached the quarter final.
Have you now reached the highest level in your career so far?
The top level will be when I play in the Champions League [smiles].
Have you ever played better than now?
[smiles] I don’t know. Maybe I have never played better than now. But you know, this all needs to be put into a context. When I played in the Ukrainian Premier League, I scored against the top commands like Dynamo [Kyiv], Shakhtar [Donezk] and Zoriya [Luhansk]. At that time they also called me into the Ukrainian national team. Of course I know that the Belgian league is stronger, but in a way I could also say that I had my best time then. It’s difficult to say.
At Karpaty you played together with Ihor Plastun who now like you plays in Belgium – have you been in contact with him?
He was my teammate in my first season at Karpaty when I was still only 17 years old. Of course I know him very well. But also all the others like Yaremchuk, Bezus and Mykhaylychenko. With Ihor I am in contact. We haven’t met, but we sometimes talk on the phone, maybe once a month.
So what do you talk about?
At the beginning it was about football, then mostly like how things work, how to do this and that.
And what else? Your careers? The old times at Karpaty?
About our careers, yes. But not really about the old times in Lviv – that was so long ago.
Have you got in contact with Ukrainians living in Belgium?
No, not really. I cannot go out the way I would like to because of the Coronavirus regulations. And my life is pretty much organised minute by minute: getting up, training, returning home, lunch, sleep, maybe play a game for an hour, go to the supermarket, buy food, prepare, eat, go to sleep. But by the way an old childhood friend of mine has come from Ukraine to visit me, and that’s really nice, we have a lot to talk about. We played together at school, but he did not become a professional football player. Back then we used to spend so much time together that some around us didn’t even like it [laughs].
It looks like you are now fully integrated in your team. What advice would you give a young Ukrainian player who wanted to pursue a career in Belgium?
[laughs] If this was a young player with a similar character like myself, somebody who is quite sensitive, emotional and easily offended, I’d say don’t be like this. In Ukraine when people see that you are hurt emotionally they’d come and talk to you, ask you what’s the matter. Here they don’t. It’s really up to you, and you should not expect others to comfort you. So: don’t get offended, don’t take things personally, don’t concentrate on such things – just keep working and playing.
Have the other Ukrainian players had a similar experience?
It is a bit of a question of self confidence. Young players are more sensitive, have less self confidence and can be more easily offended. A player like Ihor Plastun has much more life experience, he’s already 30 years old. So my advice is rather for younger players like myself.
Do you keep contact with the other Ukrainian players in a WhatsApp group?
Yes, of course, there are such groups. But I personally don’t write anything there.
There’s also such a group with the Mechelen players?
Yes, of course. But I don’t really write there either.
Do such groups help integrating?
How should they? There is really only one thing important for integration: you need to play with the team, play well, achieve results. That’s our profession, and that is really what has the biggest impact. In such groups people share stuff that is funny, for emotional wellbeing, but it does not really mean much in that respect. Also for me as a foreign player there is another aspect: I have come here, I earn money, I must deliver. It is not the same for me like for the players from here.
At the end of this season your loan to Mechelen expires. Do you prefer to go back to Celtic then, or would you like Mechelen to use the buyout clause to sign you permanently?
At this moment the situation is like this: I will need to return to Glasgow after this season because I have a contract with them. But what will happen then – I don’t know. Maybe I’ll stay here, maybe I’ll be back there, this will all need to be decided in the one or two months then.
Do you think that if you went back to Celtic that your integration process would be easier with the experience gathered here in Belgium?
That’s difficult to say. There’s still the same team as here used to be when I was still there.
But there will be a new trainer?
Yes, Lennon was fired recently, but we don’t yet know who will be coming next. The new one will possibly only arrive in summer.
So if you return, most important for you will be to play.
Of course. That is the same everywhere, no matter which club you are with.
Your old club, Karpaty, was relegated to the Druha Liha [Ukrainian 3rd tier] after the last season and is in big difficulties. How do you assess their chances for survival? Do you think they even have a chance to perform in the Persha Liha [Ukrainan 2nd tier] after the coming summer?
I think there is a good chance to see them, actually maybe even the old club, in the Persha Liha next season – with the old crest of course, not with the new one!
There are some people in Lviv who don’t trust the new owner and his management, saying that they cannot be believed. But you don’t agree?
I don’t think so, because I know Smaliychuk [the new club owner]. I don’t say that he is good for everybody, he can’t. He hasn’t done anything bad for me, nor for the club. Some say that he „sank“ Karpaty. But he did not. He took over the club with big problems, but he did not create them.
If you ever decided to return to Ukraine and play for a Ukrainian club, which one would you choose?
Only for one club. There had been two occasions when I could have signed for Dynamo. But there is only one club for me in Ukraine.
Interview: Valerie van Avermaet und Martin Dietze.
Das Interview gibt es auch in deutscher Sprache: Mariyan Shved: leiste etwas auf dem Platz, dann bist du integriert
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