Lucky number 13!

Luis Neto's letter of thanks to the Zenit family, St. Petersburg and Russia before his final game.
Lucky number 13!
When that plane landed in February 2013, I was nowhere near imagining that I would one day be writing these words. It was just after lunch, I felt a different kind of “chill” from the weather outside, perhaps it was anxiety… and the fact that I knew very little about St. Petersburg. On the way to the stadium, I got to know all about the city's traffic, saw the canals covered in ice, looked at the impeccably clean streets, and of course, the smell of history was all around, that I will never forget.

My very first conversation in Russian involved me being told that my name, Neto, means no or nothing in Russian. This, added to the fact that I was number 13, made me think that I could be met with some initial reluctance from the fans. I could understand that, I'd come from a club that had finished bottom of the Italian league, I had never played in a team as big as Zenit, and the fact that I cost the club millions of euros meant I had to know how to deal with all this, and to show the supporters that I was worth it, which I hope I’ve always done. The start wasn’t easy, the team was being built and adapting to a different culture is never easy. The truth is that I rapidly started to feel your support, your warmth, and your loyalty. Be it at the stadium, on the streets or at the training centre, the fans have always been nice to me.

I’ve never felt like an idol, I’ve always felt that I was one of you. Today I can say that one of my idols is the Zenit supporters! I will never forget the walks along Nevsky. That avenue has been my oasis of tranquility in the city. I will remember forever the blossoming of the flowers in spring and something that astonished me every year was Victory Day on 9th May, a celebration of pure pride and national respect for all Russian citizens who suffered in World War II.

The truth is that there is a beautiful bond between me and all of you, with us having won five trophies against other champions of undeniable quality and, above all, with a family spirit. I was always, and I mean ALWAYS, motivated by the supporters in the stands at the Petrovsky and Gazprom Arena, if it was sunny, rain, snow or even under the closed roof it didn't matter.

It would not be fair to highlight just some of you, but I want you to know that I’m grateful to ALL of you! A word of acknowledgment also to all the club staff, who have always taken good care of me.

This letter, although it may seem like it, is not a goodbye letter. Seven years have passed and not seven days. I came here like a teenager in love and today I am a married man and a proud father of a boy. My family and I will never be able to repay what you have done for us. You opened the door to your home and gave us the key, allowing us to stay at any time. Amidst all this, I am sure about one thing, I’ll be back! I’ll be back because I have left a lot of myself here. Peter will forever be my peaceful nest, and Zenit will forever be my home.