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13th Nov 2013

JOE’s Forgotten Footballer: Marian Pahars

Something of a legend around Southampton, Marian Pahars will this week line up against the hottest management ticket in town when Latvia take on Ireland at the Aviva.


Something of a legend around Southampton, Marian Pahars will this week line up against the hottest management ticket in town when Latvia take on Ireland at the Aviva.

Pahars doesn’t have a whole pile more international managerial experience than Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane, having only taken over the reins back in July, but is something of a national hero back in his homeland thanks to a stellar career that saw him play 75 times for his country and for seven years on the south coast at Southampton.

Christened Marians – he somehow lost the ‘s’ sometime in and around his move to England – Pahars can in part thank current Yeovil Town manager Gary Johnson for his move to the English top-flight. Having made his debut as an 18-year old at Skonto, he moved from being a midfielder and wide player to a position up front and the club quickly reaped the awards.

He scored 19 goals in the 1997/98 season, when he became a regular for the international side, soon earning the nickname ‘the Latvian Michael Owen’. He had trials with a number of European clubs including Werder Bremen, but by 1999 Johnson was the manager of Latvia and recommended him to then Saints manager Dave Jones, who also invited the 5 foot 9 inch striker to the Dell for a trial.

And the trial itself could not have gone much better, with Pahars scoring the perfect hat-trick – left foot, right foot and header – in a reserve match in February 1999. Needless to say Jones was happy to fork out £800,000 and will surely look back on Pahars as one of the finest bits of business he has ever done.

The first ever Latvian to play in the Premier League, he quickly found his feet, scoring against Blackburn in his second outing, followed quickly by a brace against Everton. He ended up just four goals shy of top scorers Egil Ostenstad and Matt le Tissier that season despite playing only six games, which illustrates why the club finished just one spot above the relegation zone. Crucially for the future of the club, survival also meant the club pressed ahead with the new St. Mary’s stadium.

The following year Pahars was the top scorer with 13 goals, no mean feat considering Glenn Hoddle used him out wide on occasions, where his dribbling skills caused full-backs plenty of problems. One of his personal highlights was scoring in a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford, including a nutmeg of Jaap Stam in the build-up.

2001/02 would prove to be his most lethal in front of goals, finishing with 17 goals in all competitions despite a fallow period after Christmas. Indeed, his partnership with James Beattie was the most prolific partnership in the Premier League that season when the club finished in a very respectable 11th place, the same season that Le Tissier retired after 16 years with the club.

And of course scoring against your closest rivals will always endear yourself to the Saints followers.

Unfortunately for the diminutive frontman, injuries were to curtail his time with the Saints from that point forward. He played a grand total of 31 league games over the course of the subsequent four seasons, which was also a factor as to why  he didn’t start any group games for his country at Euro 2004, coming off the bench in all three fixtures.

At the end of the 2005/06 campaign, the club revealed they would not be renewing the contact of the man who had now become a fans’ favourite. Another injury ravaged season saw him partake in just 10 games, and his ‘lap of appreciation’ was emotional for the player and fans alike.


Pahars and Jamie Carragher doing the Can-Can 

Following spells in Cyprus and back in his homeland, he returned to his old club Skonto as an assistant manager in 2010, before taking charge the following year when the manager’s role became vacant. Finishing cup winners and league runners-up, the Latvian FA came calling with the offer of the U-21s job. He had the role less than six months before taking the senior position this July.

On Friday night he will aim to spoil the Irish party, and while his team are ranked 117th in the world and they will face a hopefully strong support for the Boys in Green, Pahars is no stranger to playing the underdog role and will be hopeful of another upset on Friday night.