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The difficult second season

Nikita Rukavytsya is finding things a little more difficult this season, but is certain that if he keeps working, he will win back a place in Hertha’s starting line-up. He told Paddy Higgs about that and life in Berlin in general.

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Photo courtesy of Hertha BSC

Nikita Rukavytsya understands the nomadic life of a footballer as much as any player. Germany is the fourth country in less than three years to serve as home for the Hertha BSC. But for now, at least, Rukavytsya has found a home in Berlin.  

Joining in July 2010, the Australian international quickly found his place in Markus Babbel’s side. On Hertha’s march to the 2. Bundesliga crown, Rukavytsya established himself as somewhat of an assist König, contributing to 13 goals and scoring four of his own in the 2010/11 campaign.

He has found a starting place harder to come by after Hertha’s return to Germany’s top flight, but Rukavytsya is content to bide his time for opportunities with the capital club.

“I don’t know why I haven’t been playing, but it’s the coach’s decision,” said Rukavytsya, who has come on as a substitute in five of Hertha’s eight Bundesliga games this season.

“Obviously I want to play every game, but I do what I do and what I always did last year. Nothing changed. I train hard and I’m sure I’ll get my chance soon… I haven’t done anything wrong and I’ve been doing well. I think everyone’s pretty happy with me, so it’ll be alright.”

Much has changed though for Rukavytsya in the past year, from his wait to reclaim a first-team spot with Hertha to his slipping to the periphery of his national team’s fringes.

A regular under former Australia manager Pim Verbeek – including a spot in the Socceroos’ 2010 World Cup squad – Rukavytsya has been included in Holger Osieck’s squad just twice since the current manager’s appointment in August 2010. But the Ukrainian-born 24-year-old has already experienced much in his career, from his breakout 10-goal season with Australian A-League club Perth Glory in season 2008/09 to his move to Eredivisie outfit FC Twente and subsequent loan to Belgium’s Belgian Pro League with Roeselare.

It has been some journey for Rukavytsya whose English still bears the faint mark of his childhood in the Ukraine, before his family moved to Australia when he was 14. Initially impressing at the Glory with his pace, Rukavytsya has added strings to his bow in Europe. More at home when playing off a central striker, he was forced into a wider role in Hertha’s system in his debut season.

“All my life I played as a striker, but here they play a bit differently,” he said.

“They play with three so I have to play on the wings. If it’s two strikers, I’d prefer to play up front. When you are a winger you are more concentrated on making players come into the game and making goals”.

“It was good but it was different, because I’d never played on the wing before. But you have to adapt, and I think it was good.”

It is an added dimension to his game that, he hopes, can help him force his way back into his country’s squad: “It’s an honour to play for your country, so every chance I get, I put my hand up,” he said.

“It helps when you can play a few different positions. It’s better for a player.”

Rukavytsya is one of several Australians now playing in Germany, including Borussia Dortmund number two goalkeeper Mitch Langerak and Borussia Mönchengladbach forward Matthew Leckie – both of whom, like Rukavytsya, made their moves on the back of the performances in the A-League.

They travel a path in German football well-worn by the likes of Borussia Dortmund title-winner Ned Zelić and Australian-born former Hertha defender Josip Šimunić.

It made Rukavytsya’s decision to join Hertha after his release from Twente an easy one.

“I just got told that Hertha is interested and they are going to offer me a contract,” Rukavytsya said.

“There were a few clubs that were interested, but obviously I chose what was the best option for me. It was more about the club than the league (2. Bundesliga), but still the league… I was surprised.  It was really tough and it was really good quality.

“[The] Bundesliga is in the top five leagues in the world, so if you get an opportunity to come here… definitely.”

Berlin is good for Rukavytsya, who lives in Mitte with his Israeli girlfriend: “It’s a great city, very big and a lot to do”.

He is softly spoken, but his understanding of German is coming along, especially on the pitch.

And perhaps it is the Perth in him – known more as a big country town in Australia – that keeps Rukavytsya relaxed as he faces selection battles for both club and country.

“It’s football, and we move on and worry about the future,” he said.