Positioned on the border with China, Kazakhstan is far flung from the blustery coastline of the east of Scotland. But it is in the nation's biggest city of Almaty that Scottish midfielder Stuart Duff now plies his trade at the local side Kairat Almaty as the first ever British footballer to play in the national league.
The 31-year-old former Scottish U-21 international sees nothing unusual in his playing in the Central Asian republic, adding he was completely happy with his life in Kazakhstan and his role in Almaty outfit, Kazakhstan's flagship side in the Soviet era.
Duff, who has previously played with Dundee United and Aberdeen in the Scottish league, joined Kairat in February 2012 after he parted ways with Maltese side Quormi, where he played just six matches in 2011/12. "In January 2012 I practised on my own in Turkey as a free agent," Duff said.
"I received an offer for a try out in Kairat, who were preparing for the new season there. And after ten days in their training camp I signed a two-year contract with them. I wanted to get some new experience when I accepted the Kairat offer. For me it's also very pleasant and honourable to become the first ever British footballer in Kazakhstan."
Trying something different
Duff added that after nine seasons with Dundee United and two seasons in Aberdeen he was happy to try his skills in the new league. "It's not so easy to play in the Scottish league, where few teams can challenge for the national title while all the others are just trying to avoid relegation," he said. "Besides, it's also not so easy to be a footballer in Britain, where you're always at the centre of attention."
Duff said that one of the few things he was missing in Kazakhstan was the atmosphere which he enjoyed at the matches of the Scottish league. "The pitches at some of the country's venues are of very low quality. And I was also slightly shocked with the low attendances at the games here," he said. "But I believe all these problems can be fixed. I hope that the football infrastructure here will be improved in near future."
The success of Kazakhstan champions Shakhtyor Karagandy, who narrowly lost to Scottish side Celtic at the final stage of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League and will now contest the UEFA Europa League, is also a positive development according to Duff.
Duff said that he would be happy to finish his playing career in Kazakhstan but the age limit for the foreign players in the country's league would likely prevent him from doing that. "The local football ruling body decided that foreign players at the age of 32 or older have no right to play in Kazakhstan's league," Duff said. "That's why I have no other choice but to go home after my current contract with Kairat expires in December."
Duff said that he was hoping to go into coaching after that and would be happy to take up that role eventually at Kairat sometime in the future.