SINGAPORE - Early in 2018, Andrei Varankou was having pre-season training with Belarusian Premier League side FC Gorodeya in the brutal cold - with temperatures ranging from -4.5 to -8degC - on fields peppered with snow.
The striker switched to warmer climes at the start of 2019, signing with Brunei DPMM, and has been red hot in front of goal, leading the Singapore Premier League scoring charts with 14 goals in 11 games, six ahead of nearest contender Faris Ramli of Hougang United.
A shorter pre-season of 50 days with the league leaders, compared to 90 with his previous club - has also helped the 30-year-old start the season in scoring form.
"It was very hard in Belarus. I had more energy at the start of the Singapore Premier League," said Varankou, who played for Belarus at the 2012 London Olympics.
While he is thrilled to be the league's top scorer, he is focused on keeping the Bruneian side at the top of the league table, where they sit three points ahead of Albirex Niigata (24), who beat Balestier Khalsa 3-1 at Bishan Stadium last night but have played a game more.
"I'm really happy to score 14 goals, but this is the work of the whole team, coaching and club staff. Now, DPMM is in the lead and it's my goal for it to stay that way for my team and me," he told The Straits Times earlier this week.
"We'll count my goals after."
Varankou's goal tally has not surprised DPMM coach Adrian Pennock, who challenged his chief striker at the start of the season to score 40 goals this term.
"His goals do all the talking. He's an excellent finisher with his head and both his feet, and his movement is very good," said Pennock.
"Also, his character really shone through. We wanted players with good character and didn't think they were better than everyone else," the 48-year-old added.
DPMM are the only unbeaten team left in the nine-team league but Varankou knows chasing the title will be no easy feat, insisting that each victory was hard-earned.
"Every game is quite tense, but we got our points deservedly," he said. "It has been difficult but my objective is to help the club be No. 1."
Held to a goal-less draw by Albirex in their last league match a month ago, the Bruneians are aiming to stretch their 12-game unbeaten run today at fourth-placed Tampines Rovers.
Pennock foresees a tough game for his team against the Stags. He said: "We're under no illusions, it is a tough place to go, but we will go in there, give our 100 per cent and do what we do every other game.
"They came back last week and they've been training, they look very fresh and are excited to play."