From Russia with love: Peter Leven on why his coaching dreams mean an emotional sacrifice for his family
- Heartbreak of leaving his wife and daughter behind
- Away games can mean an EIGHT HOUR flight
- First training session in temperatures of -31 degrees!
PETER LEVEN is a coach with a short-term contract and long-term ambitions.
The 37-year-old Scot is standing on the brink of life in the Russian Premier League in his latest adventure working as no2 to his close friend Marcel Licka at Championship challengers FC Orenburg.
Czech coach Licka, who had worked with Sport Careers Agency client Peter as they roared to a title win in Belarus with Dinamo Brest, desperately sought a reunion with Leven when he landed his next challenge.
For Peter, though, the COVID-19 pandemic had forced him to hit the career pause button and he confessed: ”It was nice to be a dad and a husband again. I had been at Dinamo Brest in Belarus for two years hopping back and forth.
”So to get those nine months at home was precious but I was getting nowhere applying for jobs in the UK and I knew I had to look abroad again.
”My wife understands that this is my career but it is tough on my nine-year-old daughter Ella. She just wants her daddy home.
”You get torn between the two desires of your career and your family.
”I'm 37 now and for the moment it is all about my career and trying to advance that.
”I know I have to think about the next steps, it's a balancing act between your ambitions and your lifestyle.
”Right now I love coaching but one day I would like to have the final say and be my own boss.
”I am grateful at the moment for Marcel's faith in me and the journey we are on together.”
When former Banik Ostrava midfielder Licka took charge at Orenburg in September last year one of his first calls was to his former right-hand man.
Peter, though, was back home praying his part in the success of propelling Dinamo Brest into the Champions League would be enough to earn him an opportunity nearer home. It wasn't.
Leven reflected: ”At first I was holding out for a job in the UK. It didn't come, though, and when FC Orenburg improved the deal I spoke to people I trust in the game like Gordon Strachan.
”He gave me great advice and told me to stay in a job and keep my CV ticking over.
”So I took the job on a short-term contract until May and if we can get promoted then the Russian Premier League is one of the top 10 in the world. It's an exciting thought.”
The story of Leven the player is in many ways one of unfulfilled promise.
He grew up in the game at newly-crowned Scottish champions Rangers but a serious knee injury wrecked his hopes of making it big at his boyhood heroes.
Peter would go on to play over 300 career games for the likes of Kilmarnock, Oxford United and Milton Keynes Dons where he found a coaching mentor in Chelsea legend Roberto di Matteo.
Leven was a youth player at Gers as Dick Advocaat's Dutch revolution unfolded at the club and he recalled: ”The thing that sticks in my mind from Rangers was the mind-set of someone like the academy coach Jan Derks.
”I remember a training game and we had this little striker called Scott Matheson. The ball came in the box and he missed a sitter of a header from two yards.
”John Brown, the Rangers legend who was our coach, said: ”Drop down and give me 20 push-ups.”
”The Dutch coach turned and said: ”Why don't we give him 20 HEADERS?”
”That made me stop and think and that way of thinking started to influence me.
”I was miles off it when I look back to my diet and how I worked in the gym and that sticks in my mind now.
”We have a central midfielder here at Orenburg on loan from Lokomotiv Moscow called Alexei Miron and technically he is one of the best I have ever worked with. He's a Champions League standard player.
”He is 21 but he still has a little bit of puppy fat and he needs to work at the gym to be next level.
”It's up to him but there are echoes of how I was at Rangers and I just try to advise him how to take the next steps. ”
Orenburg currently lie third in the Russian second-tier, two points behind Nizhny Novgorod with big spenders Krylya Sovetov looking like champions-elect.
The top two go up automatically and then third and fourth play third and fourth bottom of the Premier League in play-offs.
Peter admitted: ”We would love to go up automatically but there are eight games left and it's a test of nerve now.
”It's a grind here at times with the travel and you have to adapt to that.
”Every away game is a flight and they can be up to EIGHT HOURS as they were when we played at SKA Khabarovsk and lost 1-0 recently.
”That game was on the border of China, my AirMiles are racking up.
”We played in Kaliningrad when we beat Baltika and that seemed like a short hop in comparison but we still went through three time zones.
”You need to figure that out for the players in terms of the timing of meals, can we get a training session in?
”For the Baltika match we left on Monday, played Wednesday, flew back Thursday then had a game on the Sunday.
”You are trying to do video on the plane with the players and analysing the games that way.”
UEFA Pro Licence holder Peter's networking skills meant that he built a strong coaching relationship with Licka during their time together in Belarus.
Leven initially went to Brest as the second team coach and Licka was no2 to his experienced countryman Radek Latal.
When Latal was axed, though, Licka took over and turned to Leven as his lieutenant in the technical area.
Peter said: ”It was the UEFA Cup for our first game and we were 4-0 down to Apollon Limassol from Cyprus from the first leg.
”We just aimed to win that game to get some pride back and we did it 1-0 and got kept on.
”Then the next season we went undefeated and won the league for the first time in the club's history.
”We qualified for the Champions League but Marcel's contract didn't get renewed.
”They wanted a change and I will never understand it after the season we'd had.
”I had a year left on my contract and they tried everything to get me out.
”It wasn't a nice time when you are far from home and that happens.
”I stayed professional and performed every task I was asked to but it was hard.
”You are being frozen out and eventually I came to an agreement and we parted company.
”That experience made me mentally stronger.”
Part of the requirements of the SFA Pro Licence are that you learn a second language as part of it. Leven took Spanish but the warm kiss of Iberian sunshine must have seemed a million miles away the day he rocked up at Orenburg!
He groaned: ”It was -31 degrees and we trained outside. It was so cold we could only work for 25 minutes.
”I was lacing up the football boots and the other coaches were shaking their heads at me and pulling on SNOW-BOOTS.
”I braved it and I couldn't feel my feet after about two minutes, I've had to learn and adapt in Russia.
”I can speak in basic football terms in Russian but when I want to go into the finer details of the game then I use the translator.
”We have one with us full-time and you need it. I try to speak Russian as often as I can but it's a tough language to learn.
”Marcel can speak Spanish, French, English, Russian and Polish fluently. I admire that because it opens up doors.
”This is a very different culture to get used to. Sometimes here you pass a coach and the face is like your computer on screen-saver mode!
”There's not much banter the way we have it in Scotland and I miss that, people are very serious about their jobs but I learn every day.
”Marcel gets my sense of humour a little but not all of it. I just hope he's smiling at the end of the season because we have made it to the Premier League.”
PETER LEVEN ON THE SERVICE HE RECEIVED FROM SPORT CAREERS
”The Sport Careers CV has helped me massively. They have been great with me and Piero Carrino has always been a huge support to me.
”When I came to Russia no-one had seen that level of professionalism. I got my Head Coach Marcel Licka involved with Sport Careers Agency too and it looks so slick when we present both of the documents together.
”I think that next level gives you such an edge, which is so important when you are looking for a job in the tough world of football.”