I can see him in my mind’s eye now, receiving the ball from Mark Hughes twenty-five yards from goal before turning on a sixpence and beating Jaap Stam with an insolent nutmeg. Through on goal, Old Trafford falls silent as Marian Pahars maintains his balance and keeps his wits about him to casually finish past Massimo Taibi. 1-0 to Southampton.
One of the most technically gifted players to have graced St Mary’s in recent years, the Latvian is still held in high regard on the south coast for the sheer joy he brought to Saints fans between 1999 and 2006. Departing England to join Anorthosis Famagusta in Cyrpus, Pahars’ career became somewhat itinerant towards its end, brief spells being undertaken with Skonto Riga and FK Jūrmala-VV back in his homeland between 2008 and 2010.
Shortly after retiring Pahars was offered the role of assistant manager at Skonto, one which he gratefully accepted and fulfilled with some success, helping to plot their league triumph last season. Indeed, highly thought of by the Skonto hierarchy, the former Latvian international was yesterday appointed manager following the departure of Aleksandrs Starkovs for FK Baku in Azerbaijan.
For a first managerial posting, Skonto represents an excellent starting point for Pahars. The most successful Latvian club of all time by some distance, Skonto won the first fourteen Virsliga titles between 1991 and 2004 before a six-year drought which was ended only last season. Supplying a healthy number of players for the national team, Pahars – still only 34 – has at his fingertips all of the physical and financial resources necessary to restore Skonto Riga to the dynastic dominance which it once enjoyed.
Pahars, always an astute and intelligent footballer, would seem to be embarking upon a managerial career with great promise. Former Chelsea defender Dan Petrescu had a similar introduction to management back in 2004 and has since gone on to achieve impressive results with the likes of Unirea Urziceni in Romania and Kuban Krasnodar in Russia.
While Skonto are soon to participate in the Commonwealth of Independent States Cup in Saint Petersburg, we will have to wait until the beginning of the new Latvian season in April to get a fuller idea of Pahars’ capabilities as a manager. That said, if his brief tenure as Starkovs’ assistant is any measure of his skill, we might well be able to look forward to a long and distinguished career in the dugout for the former Southampton ace.