Russia keeper prospect Livingston’s boss receives no negative response as he prepares for his debut
Livingston boss David Martindale has said he hopes Ivan Konovalov receives no backlash from Scottish football fans, with the keeper set to become the first Russian to play in the UK since the invasion of Ukraine.
The 27-year-old is set to make his Lions debut in place of suspended Max Stryjek this afternoon when they host Hibernian.
The former Rubin Kazan stopper signed for Livi in January but a lengthy work permit process saw him only arriving in Scotland days before military action in Ukraine began.
But Martindale is confident fans will separate Vladimir Putin’s individual and government actions in Russia and confessed he would have no problem tapping into the Russian – or Ukrainian – market.
He said: “We all talk about diversity and inclusion and that has to be part of it. It’s not as if it was the Russian people who chose this war.
“I can’t speak for Ivan but a lot of Russians, from what I understand, don’t agree with what’s going on. He’s a really good guy who spent a lot of time away from his family .
“There haven’t been a lot of flights to Russia, so when we had that downtime he couldn’t go back to see his wife and daughter. The flights are astronomical and he can’t stand himself. allow him to return home, but he is the one who has now applied for a visa for them to come here and he has moved into his own apartment now.
He added: “I tried to tap into the Ukrainian market because the players are available.
“First and foremost, they have to be able to play for Livingston, in terms of ability. But is that something you would like to help? Of course.
“We also explored the Russian market and that’s the one I want to be active in, but I don’t know how that process would work from a political or interior ministry perspective.”
Konovalov, who Martindale believes could be the starting keeper next season with interest from several clubs in Stryjek, says it only took him five minutes to decide whether to sign for the Lions.
He commented: “My agent called me and said he had spoken with Livingston’s coach.
“I thought about it for five minutes and decided to go for it.
“I looked on the internet and saw that Livingston was between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and close to the airport, and I thought, ‘I’m going, no problem.’
“I knew Scottish football. On Russian television, before the situation in the world, we had two Scottish Premiership games a week.
“I had heard of Livingston but I knew he wasn’t a big name.”
Regarding the situation in his homeland, the keeper admits not being able to travel to see his family has made life difficult for him – but his rival for the starting role has been a big help in helping him settle in Scotland.
He commented: “It’s difficult. My wife has to work in Moscow to be with my daughter and I have to work here for football. I have to do what I have to do, and my wife understands that too.
“It was very difficult when things happened in Ukraine because there are no direct flights and it takes 20 hours one way. I have relatives in Moscow and my wife has relatives in Moscow, they so can help my wife.
He added: “On the first day, I went to the dressing room and Max came to me and spoke to me in Russian.
“I asked him where he had learned Russian and he replied that he knew some. He helped me a lot. I know English but here a lot of people speak too fast and I don’t understand.
“I speak with Max in English and he speaks to me in Russian and we practice.”
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