Why O'Connor will feel at home in Kiev

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The Independent Football

For Garry O'Connor, facing Ukraine in the Olympic Stadium in Kiev on Wednesday will be like a home game. His apartment in Moscow is only an hour away by plane, which makes this virtually on his doorstep.

The Scotland forward has to endure a nine-hour flight to get to his furthest away game in the Russian League with Lokomotiv Moscow. Not surprisingly, he is tiring of planes. The man who left Hibernian for £1.6 million last season may not be in this for the long haul, even if Lokomotiv win the Russian title.

O'Connor is ready to give up on his Moscow adventure - and his £800,000 salary - if Lokomotiv can recoup some of their outlay by selling him back to Britain. His partner, Lisa, and small son, John, have found it hard to settle in the Russian capital. "The travelling is unbelievable," reflects O'Connor. "Every second week we're flying across Russia, and it's worse when you are in the Uefa Cup. Fortunately we got Vladivostok out of the way on the second week of the season. That's a nine-hour flight with seven time changes, so you only get about four hours' sleep.

"I'm enjoying Moscow but my family is not too sure about Russia. I don't think Lisa can settle. Lokomotiv are going for their first title in three years and now we're top of the league, it's great to be a part of that. However, Lisa is finding it quite difficult and we are going to have to look at the bigger picture at the end of the season.

"I've spoken to the club about it and they understand - it happens with all their foreign players. Even going to restaurants is difficult. I can speak a little bit of Russian, but Lisa has none.

"It's actually not that bad for me. We're mostly at the training camp and I have my football pals about me. They all speak English to me. However, Lisa feels isolated, because I'm away two days before every game and am flying around the country."

O'Connor has scored nine times since his move and he may get the chance to put himself in the shop window against Ukraine. "It's only an hour from Moscow and I think some of my Lokomotiv coaching staff are coming to see me play," he said.

"Hopefully I can show them what I can do at that level. International games are the most important of all. If you go out there, perform and score a couple of goals, all sorts of teams will be after you, but I fancy the Premiership or the Championship, which are both very good leagues."

There will be two men in the Olympic Stadium who could have told O'Connor all about the culture shock of swapping East for West. Oleg Kuznetsov and Alexei Mikhailichenko both played for the celebrated Dynamo Kiev side of the late 1980s before a certain Walter Smith brought them to Rangers. Kuznetsov is assistant to Ukraine's coach, Oleg Blokhin, while Mikhailichenko coaches the Under-21s. "They were bright boys and I knew they would go into coaching," says Smith.

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