When Russia kicks off the 2018 FIFA World Cup by taking on Saudi Arabia on Thursday in Moscow, it will mark “the biggest tournament of my life” for right winger Alexander Samedov. And the host nation will need his stellar play to continue for it to have hopes of advancing out of the group stage.
Samedov took the field for Russia in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but hasn’t asserted himself as a starter until recently. According to FIFA, his output in terms of goals and assists combined has been higher than anyone else on his squad over the past few years.
At 33, this is likely Samedov’s last World Cup appearance. It will begin in the city he has starred for much of his professional career. And he’ll rely on his foundation of Christ, which has helped him persevere in 17 years of professional football.
Growing up in a family split in their faith backgrounds, Samedov decided he would live his life in his own way. Until trouble came and he was left searching for answers.
Samedov, who has represented Russia internationally on the U-21 and senior national teams and also played on several top Russian club teams, started having trouble in his football career and in his life. That’s when the questions started, first in his mind and then verbally.
“My father is a Muslim. He’s Azerbaijani. My mom is (Russian) Orthodox; she’s (ethnically) Russian. Going back to the very beginning, I grew up between two camps, so to speak,” Samedov shared in a television interview. “My father always told me that I was a Muslim. My mom didn’t agree with that. I didn’t really go in either direction. I lived my life in my own way. But a time came when I began to have problems in my career, in my life. I had already reached the age to be thinking about those things. And then I met my current wife, Yulia. She was a believer; she went to church. Seeing my problems, she simply said to me, ‘Sasha, such and such…’ I came to church once, twice, and I understood. My life began to change.”
Though Samedov admitted to not reading much while growing up, he has loved reading the Bible since becoming a follower of Christ.
“I didn’t read much at all. I hardly had any free time,” Samedov said. “Because I went to a sports school, it didn’t really work out for me to combine academics and sports. I paid more attention to sports, and reading wasn’t the most important thing for me.”
But reading the Bible has been different. A welcome change from the arduous reading of lifeless words from the pages of a school textbook, or any book for that matter.
“I don’t look at reading the Bible like reading other books, because the Bible is something spiritual; it’s about faith,” he says. “The Bible teaches us. It provides direction for our lives.”
Part of that direction has guided him in his career. Samedov debuted with Spartak Moscow when he was 16 years old. Five years later he moved to Lokomotiv Moscow for four years before joining FC Moscow for two seasons. After succeeding there, he went to a bigger club, Dynamo Moscow, for three seasons while also making his first senior national team appearance.
That success landed him back at Lokomotiv the following season when he began excelling even more and became a regular starter and a fan favorite. He has since made 48 more national team appearances. Later, Samedov returned to Spartak Moscow.
The questions he had about life had been answered, and the way he handled success and failure had now changed.
He looked to God, who spoke to him and guided him as Samedov read the Bible. God has used Samedov’s wife to show him the right path.
“It worked out that way,” he says. “Through her, I made it.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated since it was first published in the Spring 2014 edition of Sports Spectrum Magazine.
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