– It’s a perfectly worded and pronounced punchline that makes people burst out laughing. In the meantime, our team’s season had a sad ending: 0-3 vs Germany and 0-2 vs Sweden.

Few people like a good laugh more than I do, but this time I don’t quite agree with you.

– Why?

It’s always unpleasant to lose, but those two defeats were just routine work-related episodes. They shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow everything that’s been achieved, this past year should be rated in aggregate. The highlights of 2018 were the FIFA World Cup in Russia and the performance of the national team, which managed to reach the quarterfinals.

Preparation for the event had been in the works for a long time.

When did Russia win the bid to host the World Cup? In 2010, right? So, it turns out that the host country had conducted an organized effort for eight years. It kept building stadiums, airports, roads and hotels. The national teams spent two years struggling through qualification rounds. In the meantime, we were shaping and optimizing our team’s final makeup. One month ahead of the tournament, we gathered the best players available. For the spectators, it all began with the referee’s whistle at Luzhniki Stadium on June 14.

In this cycle, everybody had different time spans, ups and downs, which eventually were pieced together into one picture puzzle. That’s the way it should be seen. Meanwhile, you are trying to fixate on individual brush strokes.

– But you must be still feeling some sort of bitter aftertaste?

Not at all. I see no misfortune here whatsoever.

When the schedule of the national team’s matches was still being drafted, nobody could’ve anticipated what would be in store for us in November. We believe it was the sound of an alarm bell, fate’s warning, because a replay may follow in the forthcoming UEFA Euro 2020 selection round.

– What is it that you have in mind? Could you provide a few more details, please?

Out of the footballers from the initial lineup who played in the World Cup matches, only two were left at the latest training session. The others had either stopped playing for the national team, ended their career altogether or were injured… Reasons and circumstances varied, but it was a fact of life.

You’ve mentioned the match against Sweden. We had good, decent players on the field, but it is too early to call them a team. Building a team takes time, while we had to start from scratch. Why did we choose Germany to be our sparring partner in a friendly? We wanted to see how well we were prepared for the final match in the Nations League in an encounter with a strong rival. Nevertheless, it is very hard to fine-tune the composition of a team that was put together at the very last minute.

It was a force majeure situation, if you wish. Out of all the players invited to the season’s final training session, five failed to show up due to injuries and four others dropped out on eve of the match with Sweden, namely, Kudryashov, Raush, Petrov and Zobnin. Dzyuba became available only on the eve of the second match. What else would you like to know?

Mind you, any team may encounter problems like this. This time it was our tough luck. Proper conclusions must be drawn from this. The list of potential candidates expanded, new players were invited more frequently to get them assimilated to this collective ‘melting pot’ at least for a short while and, if need be, to have them close at hand in case any of their colleagues drops out for any reason whatsoever.

Let’s take Ari, he made his debut in the match against Germany. He is an experienced and skilled player, but he had no time to adjust himself to his partners. Also, we had planned to try out Ilzat Akhmetov. Unfortunately, he’d got injured.

It’s wrong to stay focused on such details. Everybody should mind one’s own business. Ours is to coach, and the fans’ job is to keep their fingers crossed and support us.

– And the commentators’ job is to analyze. On the Internet, I’ve seen some deductions like ‘We’ve never played well enough, so it’s not worth trying. Our team’s back to square one.’

You are asking me questions that sound a bit strange, as if you are trying to reproach me for something. Perhaps, I’ve misjudged what you are saying and I am wrong, but in any case, there is nothing for which I might have to make excuses for. I’ve no idea who these commentators are and what conclusions you are talking about… Why should I be discussing all that? Just take a look at what had been said and written ahead of the World Cup. If I’d listened and responded to all that, I would’ve had no time left for anything else.

Here’s an example from real life to make it clear. Have you ever been to a rehearsal in a theater?

– I have.

And what were your impressions?

– It depends. Performers keep trying and looking for the best way to act. Some manage very well, while others are far less successful.

How very true!

The same happened to us. Ahead of the World Cup, we were getting ready for a future debut. We were looking for performers for the main roles. We analyzed what theater people would call the mises en scene – places on stage at each given moment. Nobody seemed to understand us and everybody tended to criticize us as if it was the end result.

At the end of April, I went to a concert of the Mariinsky Theater’s Orchestra during the Easter arts festival. Valery Gergiyev has been its conductor for many years. I asked for permission to come to the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall three hours before the beginning to see the rehearsal. Denis Matsuyev, a good old friend of mine, was at the piano. Gergiyev was on the conductor’s podium.

I took a seat in the hall, eager to hear beautiful music and suddenly I realized that I didn’t understand what was going on. Gergiyev stopped the musicians now and then, asking some to tone up and others to tone down. I’m not a great specialist. Honestly speaking, I’m as deaf as a post when it comes to music. Yet I couldn’t help but ask myself: ‘What is going on?’ To me it all sounded like some terrible cacophony…

When the rehearsal was over, Gergiyev, Matsuyev and I had a quick word over a cup of coffee. We talked about something having nothing to do with music. A half an hour later the concert began. The musicians took their seats and the concert got rolling, it took off with a bang! At that very moment, I realized why Gergiyev and Matsuyev have their concert tours planned for five years in advance and why audiences all over the world look forward to their arrival.

Had I built my opinion on the impression from the rehearsal only, I would’ve grossly misjudged it. It takes the end result to produce a final verdict. Wouldn’t you agree?

In the meantime, people were rating us based on training sessions and test matches. However, we never had a grudge against anybody, God forbid!

– Really? But being from the Caucasus, aren’t you hot-tempered?

Tempers vary. And each person earns his daily bread the way his selected profession permits him. A journalist’s job is to write about different things, preferably, scandals. Such stories sell far better.

– Weren’t you under the impression that you might not have remained at your job until the World Cup, that you could have been dismissed much earlier?

Long ago, I got used to living in a situation where the country’s entire male population knows everything about football. I don’t find this surprising. However, the people who make decisions have other reasons than newspaper articles to rely on, believe me. Strangely enough, I haven’t come across any criticism addressed to me personally. Everything was more or less decent, or I must’ve been fortunate enough to read different newspapers, not the ones you did.

After the UEFA Euro-2016, 60% of the players left the team. As we put together a new lineup, we hoped that it would become the backbone for the World Cup. Alas, more losses followed – one, two, three, four… That was worrying us far more than criticism in the media or throughout social networks.

Incidentally, criticism can be different, it can be positive, negative, groundless or constructive…

– The winner is always right, the saying goes.

What does this saying have to do with us? Let me remind everyone who may have forgotten that the 2018 world champions are the French.

– Right now it’s not the sports results that I have in mind.

Then yes, I might agree. Emotionally, we may consider ourselves the winners.

I may even speculate that in Qatar in four years from now, our team will perform better than it did in Russia. It’s the place that really matters. In 2018, Russia saw the first-ever world cup hosted on its soil. With a high degree of probability that it might have been the last one in our lifetime.

This created a very special atmosphere and the whole year was very special, absolutely unique, I should say.

– To a curious outsider it all looked like a roller coaster ride. Up, down, and then back up again

… while the insiders in the know saw very well that everything was proceeding according to plans. Ups and downs are unavoidable in any case, let alone when it comes to the biggest events in global sports. After the test match with Turkey on June 5, which ended in a draw, some of your colleagues asked us when it would be possible to look down at the field to see not just 11 players, but a team. I replied, in the match with Saudi Arabia on June 14. And so it happened.

I shared with you my impressions of the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra’s rehearsal for a good reason. Gergiyev made a sign, waved his hands and the concert started rolling as expected. That was an Easter art festival. We had a world football cup.

People had purchased tickets and were impatient to see a bright show, so it had to be provided. The Russian team’s motto was: “Play with an Open Heart”. And after the victory over Spain, the players unfolded a banner reading, “We are Playing for You,” and the fans reciprocated.

One tiny detail many may have forgotten by now. By the time the World Cup had begun, Russia’s team had been below all the other finalists in the official FIFA rankings. For the previous two years, we had been absent from official competitions, while for test matches we selected some strong rivals – Chile, Belgium, France, Spain, Argentina and Brazil… At that stage, it was crucial for us to get an objective rating of our capabilities and to correct mistakes.

I believe that we managed to address many nuances. In addition, we continued to make adjustments when the World Cup was already underway.

I would not say that our team was benumbed, aware of the tremendous burden of responsibility. Everything proceeded along its due course.

Discipline and order had to be observed, it goes without saying, but there was no ironclad rule. After the encounter with Egypt, I allowed Zenit players not to immediately return to Moscow with the team, but rather to stay in St. Petersburg to spend an evening with their families. They flew in the next day.

At our base, we had frequent guests like Denis Matsuyev, Arkady Dvorkovich, Vitaly Mutko, Guus Hiddink, Olga Golodets, Pavel Kolobkov, Tina Kandelaki, my good old friend Georgy Kudinov and 2006 World Champion Marco Amelia from Italy. Naturally, the players’ wives and children visited us, too.

To make everybody feel comfortable we had a special guesthouse built on the premises of the training base. Boris Levin, from the TV quiz show Who? Where? When? visited Novogorsk several times to hold intellectual games. A good way of forgetting about football for some time.

– Did you participate yourself?

There were plenty eager to play even without me.

We restricted contacts with the outside world only a couple of days ahead of the next match.

I know from experience how crucial the psychological climate for the team is during a major tournament. When everything around is brimming with emotion it is essential not to overdo it by straining everyone’s nerves. It is crucial to ensure the players remain comfortable and at ease and not feel overstrained.

Read the original article in full at TASS

Article Sourced via TASS

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