Corluka: My tattoo will remind me of Russia
It would not be difficult for a footballer to speak publicly about how happy he feels to live in a foreign country and not necessarily mean it from the heart. However, in the case of Lokomotiv Moscow’s Croatian defender Vedran Corluka, there is irrefutable proof to back up his words of fondness for Russia. Having recently marked three years in the host country of the 2018 FIFA World Cup™, Corluka decided to pay tribute to his current home in an eloquent way; he got a tattoo of a Matryoshka doll, one of Russia’s most celebrated souvenirs.
“Each of my tattoos tells a story about a particular stage in my life,” the 29-year-old international told FIFA.com. “And so I decided to dedicate one of them to Russia. For me, it’s a tribute to the country, to the fans and to the club that’s done so much for me.
“I spent a lot of time working out exactly what the Matryoshka should look like, but in the end I chose the one that I was offered at the tattoo salon. Now and for the rest of my life, it will be a brilliant memory of Russia.”
After having spent almost five years in the English Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City and another 6 months with Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, Corluka’s decision to join Lokomotiv Moscow in 2012 was rather unexpected – and strongly influenced by the man he calls his “footballing father”.
“I never imagined that at some point I’d end up in Russia”, he admits. ”It all happened after EURO 2012, when I got a call from [then Lokomotiv coach] Slaven Bilic. I’d already worked a lot with him and I’d always enjoyed it, so after a couple of days thinking it over, I agreed. Unfortunately, Bilic left the team a year later - but I’m still here. And I’m enjoying it!”
For football, for country
The last few months have indeed given the Croatian several footballing reasons to enjoy his life in Russia. Lokomotiv won last season’s Russian Cup, Corluka was named captain and he is now widely recognised as one of the league’s top defenders. However, his appraisal of Russia in general, and Moscow in particular, goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. In fact it goes all the way down to underground transportation.
“For me, Moscow is a city of parks, restaurants, beautiful streets and the metro,” Corluka said. “Neither the London underground nor New York’s subway can compare with the Moscow metro. You walk into a station and it’s like being in a museum. That’s one of my strongest impressions of Russia.
“Whether or not it’s for the World Cup, I think that everyone should make it to Moscow and St. Petersburg at least once in their lives. I really like Samara, too.” Three years of journeys throughout the country have allowed Corluka to speak with such authority about different Russian cities, but also to witness and understand the country’s passion for the game.
“The thing I remember best of all was a fan in Saransk,” Corluka remembered. “At every Mordovia match, he strips to his waist and shouts some really funny stuff. And he does it whatever the weather, be it summer or winter. One time we were playing in December and it was minus 15, but he was still there with his top off.”
As much as Corluka feels at home in Russia, Croatia’s chase for a FIFA World Cup berth in 2018 – they’re situated in Group I of the European qualifiers, alongside Turkey, Ukraine, Finland and Iceland – has taken an even more important meaning.
“We’ve now got a strong young team and expectations aren’t as high as in the past, so hopefully it will be easier for us,” he said. “For me it will really be a special event, because I love this country and I know that it’ll stage an unbelievable World Cup. I tell the lads in the national team about Russia, and they’ve also got a burning desire to get here.”
In case they do not trust Corluka’s words, there is another thing his team-mates can take into consideration. All they would need to do is take a look at that colourful proof of love inked on his left calf.