A day after the aristocratic duel between Real Madrid and Manchester United, it became apparent that the Europa League is something completely different. The Israelis who came to enjoy two games in Spain within 24 hours could not ignore the difference in atmosphere and quality, but could enjoy watching Bibras Natkho, the Israeli midfielder who played his part in Rubin Kazan’s 2-0 victory over Atletico Madrid.
Despite staying away from the limelight, Natkho, a Circassian from Kfar Kama, is undoubtedly the most successful Israeli playing abroad at this point in time. His place in the national team is unquestioned, and with his contract at Rubin Kazan due to expire in 18 months, the upcoming months could be crucial for his career.
Against Atletico Madrid it seemed he could find his place in the top leagues in Europe. In Madrid he played as a defensive midfielder on the right, a role that requires a deep understanding of the game and precise decision making. Natkho managed to make the right decision time and again, anticipating which way the game was flowing.
After six minutes he also demonstrated his attacking ability, passing a long ball from right to left to set up Kazan’s first dangerous attack of the game. It was a long, precise pass that led to the Russians’ first goal of the match. From then on Atletico was chasing the game.
“It was a difficult match,” he said after the final whistle. “We knew we would come here and sit back, hoping to achieve a good result. Fortunately, it was eventually a better result than we hoped for. I felt I played a different style than I usually do, because I had to focus on defense. My job was to move the balance of the game from defense to offense, to run the game and get the ball moving from wing to wing. The coach says I’m supposed to touch the ball more than any other player.”
Played every game
How was it to play against a star like Falcao?
“During the game I really don’t notice if it’s Falcao − I’m completely focused on what I’m doing. Before and after the game it’s nice to deal with your opponents’ stars, but during the game it doesn’t matter.”
At the end of the day one could learn a few things about Natkho and Russian soccer in general, especially since two other Russian teams were victorious that night, claiming the scalps of Liverpool and Hannover.
“The level here is high,” says Natkho. “There’s a problem of distances, not enough spectators and the cold, but it’s a very good league with six or seven truly excellent teams. You have to work really hard in order to succeed. Personally I feel I’ve improved my game. I’m a completely different player now − more experienced, with more confidence and calm. I understand the game better, since I play at a higher level. This makes me feel − and play − much better.”
After two years in which Natkho played a key role in the team and helped it win the Russian Cup, last month the club signed French international Yann M’Vila, who plays in Natkho’s role. “If I’ll play well I’ll play, and so far this season I haven’t missed even one game,” he says.
What are your plans after your contract expires?
“God knows. Anything can happen.”