For professional footballers, representing their country as a full internationalist is often one of the highlights of their career. This was no different for Vyacheslav Malafeev when he was selected for his first cap for Russia in 2003 at the age of 24. The young goalkeeper was filled with pride as he stepped onto the pitch for the first time to play against Wales in a Euro 2004 qualifier. The Zenit St Petersburg player would go on to represent his country another 28 times after that night, playing in three European Championships – 2004, 2008, 2012. Malafeev appeared to be living his dream as the first choice goalkeeper for Zenit and Russia, with the best years ahead of him, until a personal tragedy changed his outlook on life.
On a cold night in March 2011, Malafeev’s wife Marina, was driving home in the couple’s Bentley when she lost control on the icy roads, flipped over, and smashed into a billboard and a tree. Despite the best efforts of emergency staff called to the scene they were unable to save Marina who died due to her injuries. A well-known model and business woman in Russia, her death shocked the country and in particular her husband’s club, Zenit. She left two young children behind, a daughter called Ksenia who was seven at the time of the accident and a son called Maxim who was five. Instantly Vyacheslav Malafeev’s life changed as he faced up to life alone without his wife and with two young children to raise on his own.
His announcement to give up international football shortly after the Euro 2012, and just over a year after the death of his wife, wasn’t expected but was respected. The added demands of international fixtures proved too difficult to manage for Malafeev, who decided that he wanted to spend more time with his children and to watch them grow, rather than continue on his quest for more caps.
” It was a difficult decision to stop my international career from both a professional and human point of view, but it’s the only correct decision for my family” said Malafeev after the announcement.
Vyacheslav Malafeev’s decision to give up on his international career should be commended. In the passion of the game, we tend to forget that footballers are people like us and that playing is just a job they have, much like our own. After each match or training session, they return to their families, to live their lives, and spend time with those who matter most to them. Malafeev’s children are his main focus now and if we were faced with a similar situation, I’m sure we would do the same.