Taking on Russia
SIYANDA Xulu was the only South African to move abroad in the last transfer window, where he is making quite a name for himself in the Russian Premier League with FC Rostov.
The 20-year-old former Mamelodi Sundowns centre-back won rave reviews last weekend for his performance against Samuel Eto'o when his side played Anzhi Makhachkala, and he tells Sunday Worldhe is enjoying his stay in Russia.
You have been in Russia now for almost three months. How have you settled in?
I have settled in well, my teammates have been really good to me and it helps that quite a few of the guys can speak English. The town of Rostov is very nice and I have my own apartment here. I am staying alone at the moment. I miss South Africa, obviously, but I knew I would and it has not been a problem for me.
November in Russia can be freezing, how are you coping with the cold?
It is not actually so bad here in Rostov because we are in the west of Russia and so it is a bit warmer than in other parts of the country. I know the further east you go it can really get cold. But it has been fine, it has not been a problem so far.
Have you managed to do any sightseeing yet?
We had a few days off two weeks ago and I flew to Moscow to do some shopping, to get some stuff for my mom and some friends. I really enjoyed it, it is a great city and a really interesting place.
You played last weekend against Eto'o and Ivory Coast international Lacina Traore, and helped your side to an unlikely clean sheet at centre-back. That must have been some experience?
It was a big honour for me. But it was first of all a great result for the club against Anzhi Makhachkala because we were playing away from home and against one of the best clubs in Russia. We were really happy with the point. It was great for me too because you want to test yourself against the best players in the world and Eto'o especially is one of the best strikers around.
But they have lots of other great players that South Africans might not have heard of. Anyway, everybody said I did really well afterwards and I thought I had a good game. I managed to keep Eto'o quiet and he was booked near the end in frustration. Traore was substituted as well, so that shows we were doing something right.
What is the standard like in Russia on the whole?
It is high, you have guys like Eto'o here, the Brazilian player Hulk, lots and lots of other Brazilians, some of whom are really top quality. There are also lots of players from Argentina and Eastern Europe. I played against (French international) Lassana Diarra on Sunday as well and he is top quality, and there are guys coming in from Spain. I am told that the standard has really improved a lot in the last five years and it looks like it is only going to get better. It is an interesting and exciting place to play at.
Where have you been playing and have you fully recovered from your thigh injury?
I have been used at centre-back and that is great for me because it is my preferred position. I am over the thigh injury, I missed four games and spent two weeks just sitting around my apartment, which was really frustrating. But it is OK now.
How are you getting on with the coach, Miodrag Bozovic?
Great, he is a very good coach. He was a defender in his playing days in Yugoslavia so he is able to give me a lot of advice and he understands the position very well. The training sessions are a lot like back at Sundowns, so it did not take much adapting from that point of view. I am enjoying working for him.
Speaking of Sundowns, you must be sad to see them bottom of the log.
Very sad, but I am sure they will get out of the trouble they are in. They have great players and the coach understands what is needed from them. I don't think they will be down there for long. I see they are also in the Telkom Knockout final, so hopefully they will win that silverware. I wish them the best of luck, I hope they do really well.
You have appeared in some Bafana Bafana squads this year. Have you had any contact from national team coach Gordon Igesund?
No, nothing yet. I will keep working hard and hopefully if I keep playing at Rostov then something might happen. Obviously it would be great to be involved at the Nations Cup, but that is not up to me.
Good luck to you. Will you be coming home for Christmas?
Yes, there is a winter break in Russia. We have three games left before then, our last match is on December 7. The league only starts again in March, but obviously we have training that starts again in the New Year. But I will be home for Christmas and I am looking forward to that. I am enjoying my time in Russia, but home is home, you know.