When players describe their relationship with team-mates as being ‘like a family’, it can sound clichéd, but for Tajikistan and Istiklol star Nuriddin Davronov, the description embodies much more than just a cheap platitude.
The 24-year-old midfielder is one of 11 Istiklol players representing the Tajikistan national team, making up “one family” Davronov explained in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “It started in 2012 when we won the AFC Presidents Cup with Istiklol, and we’ve been playing together ever since. This has helped us become a cohesive unit, as has growing up together,” he explained.
The player dubbed ‘Tajikistan’s Ronaldo’ then added: “There’s a great atmosphere between us and we enjoy our time together. It’s the same when we’re part of the national team as it is with our club; we’re one big family. My team-mate Dzhakhongir Dzhalilov is my closest friend in the group as we’ve been mates since childhood."
The national team debrief does not end when camp does, at least not for he and his Istiklol team-amtes. “We talk through everything when we return to the club," Davronov elaborated. "We’re 11 players, we watch all the matches together and plan for future games too. We normally stay together and try to be a team within a team. However this doesn’t affect our relationship with the players from other clubs. We all have one goal; to serve the national team.”
Nor is this special bond limited to the players. Istiklol coach Mubin Ergashev is also at the wheel with Tajikistan, something Davronov is adament that helps bind the players even closer together. “We have a great relationship with Ergashev because we know him so well. He is serious and firm with the national team… but the opposite at club level,” he joked.
After winning the AFC President’s Cup in 2012, Davronov and Istiklol - which was only founded in 2007 - enjoyed a wonderful 2014, completing a domestic treble. This year they followed that up with a memorable continental campaign and currently find themselves in the semi-final of the AFC Cup. However, this success has not been mirrored by the Tajikistan national team, with just a pair of draws to show from four games in Group 2 of the Asian Qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
As far as Davronov is concerned, there is a specific reason for this: “The presence of 11 players from the same club should have a positive impact. However, we’ve not achieved the success we aspire to with the national team. Maybe it’s down to luck, but it is also because in continental club competitions we don’t face the really top teams.
“In contrast, when we play with the national team we’re up against sides like like Australia, Jordan and so on, so this effects our chances of getting good results.”
With his focus firmly set on salvaging their qualifying campaign, the man from Dushanbe said they have to act now. “We have four qualifying matches remaining," he said, "and we must give everything we have in these to improve our position in the group.”
In addition to his club mates, Davronov has other familiar faces in the national team, having played with another four of them at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007. After earning that taste of the global spotlight eight years ago, his ambition is to again compete in a major international tournament.
“I remember everything from that World Cup – what I experienced there was indescribable. The thing I remember most is my goal against the USA when we won 4-3 at the group stage. I hope I can play at the senior World Cup one day,” said the No8.
As well as that, Davronov has another long-held ambition, as he revealed to us: “My dream is to meet Cristiano Ronaldo. Some people have given me the nickname ‘Tajikistan’s Ronaldo’, which is something I hold very dear.
“When I was a child I’d try to copy him and play like him. I used to own a Portugal shirt with his name on it when he was a Manchester United player. I watch all his matches and follow his career closely. I found out that he’s recently been involved in a movie based on his life that is set for release in November. I can’t wait to see it,” he added as our interview drew to a close.
Who knows? Maybe Davronov and his extended family will realise their dream of gracing the World Cup one day and inspire a film of their own...