Dynamo Moscow striker Dmitry Bulykin used to have a reputation as a talented under-achiever, described as lazy and unpredictable by his own coach.
But Bulykin, 24, credits coach Viktor Prokopenko for helping turn around his career.
'In the past, we used to have long talks and the coach basically told me to take a hard look at myself and decide what I want to do with my future,' said the big striker, who stands 1.93 metres tall and weighs more than 85 kg.
The breakthrough came this year when Bulykin became Dynamo's top scorer and made his international debut.
'This season he turned his attention to football and the results spoke for themselves,' Prokopenko said
A change in Bulykin's attitude was also evident to new Russia coach Georgy Yartsev, who gave the striker his first international cap in a Euro 2004 qualifier against Ireland in September.
Four days later Bulykin notched a hat-trick to lead Russia to a 4-1 home win over Switzerland, becoming an instant national hero in the soccer-mad country.
He followed that with a fine all-around performance against Georgia, scoring a first-half equaliser to help Russia to a comfortable 3-1 victory that secured their playoff spot.
His scoring exploits this season have not gone unnoticed by scouts of several top European clubs.
But Bulykin, who models his game on Inter Milan striker Christian Vieri, said a move abroad would have to wait until after Euro 2004.
'Every player, whether he admits it or not, dreams of playing for one of the big European clubs,' he said.
'But to get noticed you must perform on a big international stage and what better way to earn a nice contract than to excel next summer in Portugal.'