“The first thing I did was Google ‘Brest’… and it came up with a city in France.”
When Peter Leven left his role as Kilmarnock’s assistant manager, not many would have expected the 36-year-old Scot’s next career move to be to Belarus.
But just over two years on, the former Kilmarnock, MK Dons and Oxford player has helped write a new chapter in Belarusian football history, playing a part in Dynamo Brest’s first league title win.
Here, Leven tells BBC Scotland why he went, what’s next, and how greatness has been achieved at the club chaired by Diego Maradona.
‘I’d never heard of Brest before’
After three seasons at Kilmarnock in the mid-2000s, Leven returned to Rugby Park in June 2015 as assistant to Gary Locke before also serving under Lee Clark and Lee McCulloch during his two-year stint.
When the latter left in October 2017, Leven went too and it was a conversation with an old friend – former Celtic and Scotland defender Stephen McManus – that made him realise getting back into work might mean stepping out the comfort zone.
“He mentioned how everyone is going for the same jobs in Scotland and England, and he was right,” Leven recalls. “I needed to do something completely different from everybody else.
“My agent had a connection with a Ukrainian agent, and he asked if I would like to go to Brest. I had never heard of them before so the first thing I did was Google ‘Brest’ and it came up a city in France.
“Once I worked it out, I went over for a few days and it looked like a club that were going places. The owner wanted European coaches in and there were already two Spaniards in the academy.
“The idea was to go over for a year, learn the culture and the language then move up to the first team, but within three months I was involved with them.”
Belarusian ultras & a demanding president
Leven was involved in the final nine games of the 2017-18 campaign, with Dynamo picking up five wins and two draws to finish the season in sixth place.
That was enough to prolong his stay, with pre-season trips to Dubai, Turkey and Spain laying the foundations for an unlikely league title success.
“In Dubai we played two Chinese Super League teams, so the club president came into the changing room to say we had to beat them for his business. I’m thinking, ‘this is only pre-season!’.”
But those demands would be met in stunning fashion. Brest beat BATE Borisov in the season’s Super Cup curtain-raiser, before denying the perennial champions a 14th consecutive league title.
They suffered just one defeat, breaking all kinds of club records and accumulating 72 points – a 20-point increase from the previous campaign.
The decisive win came on Sunday – a 1-0 victory at home against FC Vitebsk – after the pressure had been cranked up following draws in the previous two games. Not that the Brest ultras were anxious during in the closing stages…
“The referee added on four minutes injury time, so the ultras unveiled a banner saying ‘Champions Brest 2019’,” says Leven.
“I’m thinking, ‘there’s four minutes left, if the opposition score we’ve not won the league!’ But as soon as the final whistle went all the fans ran on the pitch, it was crazy!”
‘I only met Maradona once’
Securing the league title means there will be Champions League football in Brest next season. However, similarly to the Scottish Premiership winners, the Belarusian title holders will start in the first qualifying round, meaning there is a chance Leven might have to face a team from home.
“I’ve actually thought about it [the prospect of playing Rangers or Celtic in Europe]. I think we would do OK,” he says. “We would give both of them a game, especially at home. It would be amazing for the club to get recognised in Europe.”
If Dynamo Brest were looking to enhance their profile, they certainly achieved that last summer by announcing Diego Maradona as the club’s chairman.
A parade in the city followed as one of the game’s most recognised and controversial figures was given a chance to greet fans that lined the streets to see him.
“I’ve met him once. He’s the same as what you see on screen. He lives his life every day. He dances, he cuddles and he’s so enthusiastic about football,” says Leven.
“He came for a week last year, got paraded about in a Hummer and left. We’ve never seen him since!”
‘My daughter asks why I can’t work in Asda’
Leven’s time at Brest has come with struggles, though. Learning a new language and adapting to a different culture has proved difficult for the Scot.
And with no English schools in the city, it means that the only time spent with his family are occasional trip home. Leven’s eight-year-old daughter struggles to understand why he has to work more than 1,400 miles away from home.
“My daughter cries. She asks why I can’t come home and work in Asda instead,” says Leven. “It’s tough at times, but winning the two trophies is for them. The next place I go I want to make sure my family can come with me. That’s the next move I think.
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“I just want people to look at me and think ‘fair play’, because I’ve took a risk. It’s been mentally challenging, but I’ve just tried to take the blinkers off and experience what’s out there.”
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