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Stanislav Chershesov: 'We are the champions– emotionally'

The chief coach of Russia’s national football team in a TASS special project Top Officials
Andrey Vandenko 
Andrey Vandenko

Andrey Vandenko was born on November 8, 1959 in Lugansk, Ukrainian SSR. In 1982, he graduated from the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev with a degree in journalism. Since 1989, he has been living and working in Moscow. For over 20 years, he has built his career as a journalist specializing in interviews. His work is published predominantly in Russia’s leading mass media outlets, and he is the recipient of numerous professional awards.

Part 1
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- 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.

Ari in seen during the international friendly match between Germany and Russia  Mike Kireev/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Ari in seen during the international friendly match between Germany and Russia
© Mike Kireev/NurPhoto via Getty Images

- 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.

As for those in Russia who complained that the general atmosphere was not festive enough, I asked them to wait for the opening day, for the judge’s whistle and for the kickoff

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.

Players of Russia celebrate winning 2018 FIFA World Cup match between Spain and Russia  EPA-EFE/MAHMOUD KHALED
Players of Russia celebrate winning 2018 FIFA World Cup match between Spain and Russia

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.

Pianist Denis Matsuev and head football coach Stanislav Cherchesov at Novogorsk Federal Sports Centre   Denis Tyrin/TASS
Pianist Denis Matsuev and head football coach Stanislav Cherchesov at Novogorsk Federal Sports Centre
© Denis Tyrin/TASS

- 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.

Part 2
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On Akinfeyev, Dzyuba, the moustache of hope, Putin’s phone call and the final match

- Nevertheless, everybody knows it’s the team that gets all the credit for a victory, while the coach gets all the blame for a loss.

Correct. I knew right from the beginning, what I had signed up for. After all, my previous experience was vast enough. First, I spent nearly 40 years playing at the top level, and then continued my career as a coach. At the turn of the 2000s, I had a break for two seasons, but I spent the rest of my career in football. I don’t need anyone to explain to me when players have to be fired up and when it is better to leave them in peace.

Whenever I saw several guys get together to discuss something, I never approached them or meddled in their conversation. They’d come to me and tell what it was about on their own, if they thought it was really worth it. There are certain things a coach should avoid. Hovering over people like a hawk can only cause harm.

- But didn’t you have a word with Igor Akinfeyev after the 0:3 defeat in the Uruguay match in Samara?

We learned long ago to understand each other without saying a word. Had I tried to approach him with something consoling or encouraging, it would’ve looked false and insincere. Only those who have problems need backslapping, not Akinfeyev, his nerves are in order. Also, there was the goalkeeper’s coach, Gintaras Stauche, by his side. He is always ready to offer advice.

I believe we made no mistakes in drawing up the list of players for the World Cup. Perhaps, each of them took somewhat of a back seat to footballers from the top teams, but together they performed well and produced a decent impression. It was that self-confidence that enabled us to endure 120 minutes against Spain and three days later, just as much time against Croatia. Moreover, we would’ve done as well against England, if the opportunity had come. Team spirit is not just a fine figure of speech.

As for some indisputable frontrunners led by the world’s greatest stars, they were knocked out and had to head home at earlier stages. The Germans, Spanish, Portuguese and Argentinians…

True, personalities matter, of course, but today not a single brilliant player will be able to win the World Cup on his own. Now tell me, whose absence in your opinion would’ve prevented France from clinching the gold in Russia?

- Griezmann, for instance.

Was he the top scorer or demonstrated something totally incredible on the field? France would’ve performed as well without him.

- Ok. Mbappe then?

Mbappe is a very talented player, but a substitute for him would’ve been found, too.

In 1998, when the French clinched the world title for the first time, Zidane was like a shining star, but even he played in a team and for his team, and not by himself. Today’s football has grown to become an even more collective sport.

- Did any of our players surprise you?

You get surprised when you do not know something. We pinned our hopes precisely on those whom we had invited to the national team.

Ignashevich’s return played a positive role, just as the presence of such experienced players as Akinfeyev, Samedov, Gabulov and Zhirkov. Dzyuba regained good shape and put on a brilliant performance.

I saw nothing extraordinary about that, though, because at 18 years of age Artyom was playing for Spartak. By then, he was the jovial and flamboyant ringleader he is today, although his influence on the way the team played was far less for age reasons.

Artem Dzyuba celebrates with Stanislav Cherchesov after scoring his team's third goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia match between Russia and Saudi Arabia  Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
Artem Dzyuba celebrates with Stanislav Cherchesov after scoring his team's third goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia match between Russia and Saudi Arabia
© Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

- As far as I know, it was Dzyuba, who created a better psychological environment for the team, when following another loss in a test match he asked the fans to stop nit-picking and support the squad.

Honestly? I never heard him say that. He was not addressing me, though. During the World Cup, I turned the TV on only several times, just to watch the newscasts, not the sports channels. I never watch football programs. This is not a bad habit of mine.

What really matters is not what Dzyuba tells the media, but how he trains and plays after that.

- At a certain point, Dzyuba was removed from the list of candidates for the national team and it seemed that he shut the door forever by addressing you with a gesture that would soon be dubbed the “mustache of hope.”

It only seemed to you that he’d shut the door. I never thought so. And Artyom knew perfectly well that his future was in his own hands, well, his own feet and head, to be more precise. He started playing well enough to be taken back to the team.

As for the gesture you’ve mentioned, I reacted to it rather coolly the moment I saw it. A footballer chose this way of addressing the coach as a reminder of his own existence. Well done, man. Getting offended by a joke does you no credit.

The more so, since Artyom thus coined an ingenious meme that struck a chord with the world web. It was a brilliant, creative idea.

Football fans carry a cardboard cutout of Stanislav Cherchesov along Moscow's Nikolskaya Street  Artyom Geodakyan/TASS
Football fans carry a cardboard cutout of Stanislav Cherchesov along Moscow's Nikolskaya Street
© Artyom Geodakyan/TASS

- He scored in the match with Saudi Arabia and saluted you, conceiving a triumphant goal-scoring gesture.

That’s what I’m telling you. Dzyuba is sensible and he has a perfectly good sense of humor.

You must agree, I’m not my own enemy. Who could’ve thought that I would not reinforce the team with a strong player just because he frowns upon me? It might look so to an outsider, but our task was to build a team, and not gather a bunch of friends to set up a hobby club.

- You’d been criticized for a long time for not inviting Igor Denisov.

I would not like to get personal, let alone when the individuals involved are respectable footballers, who for some reason were not destined to play in the World Cup.

When I was still a player myself, I respected my coaches for their inclination to make me better, and not for shaking hands with me. The competitive environment they created and the requirements they posed were far more important.

- Incidentally, who was your most important coach in life?

It’s hard for me to decide. Each of them is associated with some episode or another or an important stage in a player’s career… Konstantin Beskov invited me into Spartak. Most of the awards on that team I won under Oleg Romantsev. I entered the national team under Anatoly Byshovets and I completed my career in Tirol under Joachim Loew. And the season at Yuri Syomin’s Lokomotiv, where I was transferred to, in order to have more practice, is also memorable in a sense. There are many people for me to remember as touchstones!

Soviet goalkeeper Stanislav Cherchesov, 1991 Igor Utkin/TASS
Soviet goalkeeper Stanislav Cherchesov, 1991
© Igor Utkin/TASS

- And then you worked as a coach yourself not only in different clubs, but also in various countries.

Each team needs its own approach. In Chechnya’s capital of Grozny, you cannot work the same way as, in say, Poland. The laws and mentality in the Caucasus, in Eastern Europe and in Western Europe differ. It is important to bear this in mind. If you are not ready for this, then quite possibly you should not even get started.

- I don’t recall that you’ve ever danced the fiery folk dance, the lezginka to celebrate victories won in Grozny.

- There must be a good occasion. I can dance it, by the way. I know how to do that well. And not just the lezginka dance…

Back to the principles of forming a team. I can only say that it is impossible to cater to everyone. My predecessors were criticized very harshly. Such debates may last for centuries. Once a coach has been appointed, he has to be trusted. Any other way leads to a dead-end.

We did our utmost to stay open to the media. We tried to answer all questions in order to remove any doubts and suspicions. However, it is impossible to persuade those who refuse to listen to what you are saying.

I’ve already explained this, far from everything can be seen from the outside. The situation inside is what really counts.

- Did such slogans as “it’s a last-ditch chance!” and “Moscow is behind!” bother you much? Were you greatly annoyed by this pressure?

“Pressure” is mostly a medical term to me. In the meantime, our subject today is sports. I did not have to be told again and again that the nation’s eyes were fixed on us. I knew all that and could sense that myself. Incidentally, I never addressed the players with such bombastic phrases over the two years. What’s the use of stating the obvious? They are adults and they realized that without special briefings.

- When did you get the first phone call from Putin?

After the match with Egypt. He congratulated us on pulling through the group stage. I heard him speak some very simple words of support. Later on, we talked several times more.

In the past, we met only once, before the trip to the 2002 World Cup. I was still an active player then. Putin visited us at the Bor country retreat. We had no chance to talk then. First, we posed for a collective photo. Then Putin wished us success in Japan. We left for the World Cup the next day.

Russian president Vladimir Putin receives a ball and a Number 11 football jersey from the head coach of Russian's national team Stanislav Cherchesov and Russian football players  Mikhail Metzel/TASS
Russian president Vladimir Putin receives a ball and a Number 11 football jersey from the head coach of Russian's national team Stanislav Cherchesov and Russian football players
© Mikhail Metzel/TASS

- You didn’t stay there for too long …

Yes, it ended like that…

- A few words, please, about how you were asked to take over the national team in 2016.

By that time, I’d spent one year as the chief trainer of Legia Warsaw. The team won the gold in the national championship and also the national cup. The season drew to a close and I left for Innsbruck to join my family. On May 31, the Polish club’s delegates came there for a discussion of its future plans. The management had its own vision of the club’s development policy, while I wished to make the team stronger ahead of the UEFA Champions’ League matches, because suffering heavy losses in matches with top rivals with a goal difference of five was by no means an intention of mine. As it would turn out, even then I sounded too optimistic. In the autumn, Legia would surrender six to eight goals in a match…

Incidentally, the news that our ways were about to part reached me there, in Innsbruck, during a Russia-Czech Republic match. After that test encounter, our team was scheduled to leave for the Euro-2016 in France. I was watching the game at the Tivoli stadium them, everyone was focused on the field. At a certain point, I felt some strange fuss around me. It would later turn out that somebody had launched a rumor on the Internet that Cherchesov was about to leave Legia, so the Russian journalists attending the match decided to find out straight from the horse’s mouth if it was true.

Stanislav Cherchesov holds the trophy after winning the Final of Polish Cup at the National Stadium in Warsaw, 2016 Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Stanislav Cherchesov holds the trophy after winning the Final of Polish Cup at the National Stadium in Warsaw, 2016
© Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images

After the Euro 2016, I had a phone call from Moscow and an invitation for talks. I flew to Moscow to meet with Vitaly Mutko. We had a three-hour conversation. After that, I returned to Austria to wait for the final verdict.

Another phone call followed twenty-five days later. During that time, I had no contact at all and conducted no employment talks with any club. A national team will be a national team.

On August 11, 2016, it was announced that a two-year contract had been signed. Now I can see that the three weeks of uncertainty and waiting were not in vain. We hosted a very emotional World Cup and reached the quarterfinals.

Although I must admit that we had hoped for more.

- What feeling did you have while watching Croatia play against France in the final?

I don’t like “what if” conjectures. What if we’d been in their place? Each team took the place it deserved. Although it is true that in spite of that you begin to place yourself in this situation and think about how your own team would’ve performed at this particular moment…

After the defeat from Croatia, I stayed in Moscow for two more days. Together with the team, I went to a meeting with fans in Luzhniki and then took part in Vladimir Solovyov’s talk show. In the Time Will Show and 60 Minutes programs I thanked everybody for their support and left for Austria to join my family.

I had no desire to stay until the final. I wouldn’t have gone to see it myself, had it not been for the invitation.

There was a phone call from the presidential staff. At first, I refrained from answering the call. The identified number looked unfamiliar. I prefer to ignore such calls, since I’m pressed for time.

Then they reached me from a different phone number, which I knew…

I flew to Moscow on the day of the match, went to the stadium and after the game hurried back to Innsbruck.

Russia's national team head coach Stanislav Cherchesov and Russia's president Vladimir Putin at the final match of 2018 FIFA World Cup Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS
Russia's national team head coach Stanislav Cherchesov and Russia's president Vladimir Putin at the final match of 2018 FIFA World Cup
© Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS

- Weren’t you going to watch the final on TV, as well?

Do you think that it is essential to watch a match live, right here and now? For a fan, this may be important, I suppose. My own vision of football is different. This explains why I watched videos of the semifinals only after sometime. Do you find that surprising? As I’ve explained, my family had no husband and father for two years. There was only a football coach.

- Did any of your relatives come to the World Cup to support you?

My sisters flew in from North Ossetia. My son was at the opening match. Then he went back to his club Baltika for training. My wife Alla and daughter Madina preferred to stay in Austria. We decided it would be much calmer to have it that way.

- It turns out that you were asked to attend the final when you were on vacation?

On a very brief vacation…

I watched the final match from the VIP box. The presidents of France and Croatia were the most emotional, which is easy to understand. Seated next to me on the left-hand side was UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin. We remained calm and reserved. As part of my habit, I kept analyzing what was happening on the field, but without making any notes, though. Approximately one minute before the French scored their first goal, I’d told the Croatian federation’s official: “France is about to score.” He gave me an oblique glance. I said, “Your own defense creates problems.” That very moment Mario Mandzukic inadvertently deflected a free kick into his own net…

Part 3
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On the Russian Football Union’s president, FC Spartak, Kokorin and Mamayev

- Now let’s talk about our domestic problems, those inside Russia and even inside the Russian Football Union. The RFU has been without a president for nearly a whole year. Do you think this is normal?

What makes you say the RFU has no president? The CEO and Secretary General Alexander Alayev now performs the duties of the RFU’s top official for the period Mutko has taken a break. Nothing has changed in our relations. We’ve been in touch with Alayev in a working fashion on a day-to-day basis all along, and we maintain the same relationship today. In addition, we discuss strategic matters with Mutko.

Russia's deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko and head football coach Stanislav Cherchesov  Mikhail Metzel/TASS
Russia's deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko and head football coach Stanislav Cherchesov
© Mikhail Metzel/TASS

- There’ve been speculations that the presidential seat may be offered to Alexander Dyukov, until just recently the president of the FC Zenit, or Alexei Sorokin, former chairman of the 2018 FIFA World Cup organizing committee. Do you have any personal preferences?

I don’t and cannot have any, because in this particular case nothing depends on me. I’m acquainted with all those you’ve mentioned. I can just state once again that I feel quite comfortable doing business with the current team and its chiefs. It has been like this all the way and still remains so. Throughout the preparations for the World Cup, we had to work in an environment that wasn’t easy and under certain pressures, but eventually we coped with everything.

- Has the team been paid as expected for the World Cup?

In full. I don’t like talking about money. It is an important topic, but certainly not the principal one. Let me make my view clear. First, it was announced that the RFU had concluded a contract with me. We started discussing the salary only after that…

When I agreed to take over the team, quite a few issues had to be addressed. Not only the list of players who will appear on the field.

For instance, the team had no training base of its own. We had to waste one and a half hours to trudge through traffic jams from the hotel to the training site. The Sports Ministry provided the required funding. We had everything arranged at Novogorsk our style to suit our tastes. We did our utmost to ensure everything be done in the proper way. Imagine, I personally went to select the color of the tiles for the shower room. Even the slightest details count in such situations.

Some people might have selected red tiles, for instance. In a couple of days everybody would have dazed and sore eyes. Although I must admit that, I’m red-white deep down in my heart after playing for Spartak for almost my whole life.

Russia's head football coach Stanislav Cherchesov seen during a training session at the Novogorsk Federal Sports Centre  Denis Tyrin/TASS
Russia's head football coach Stanislav Cherchesov seen during a training session at the Novogorsk Federal Sports Centre
© Denis Tyrin/TASS

Full recreation requires harmony. This explains why we made the guesthouse from wood. It’s warmer and cozier.

But, of course, no training facility will help, if the players’ basic physical and tactical readiness leaves much to be desired. That’s what we’d been working on really hard all the time.

- You still remain red-white deep down in your heart, you say. Weren’t you invited to consider taking over Spartak after Massimo Carrera’s resignation?]

I prefer practical, concrete thinking, and not some abstract speculations. Had it ever occurred to me that I might be coaching Russia’s national team some day? I gave it some thought when I received an invitation. Or had I ever wished to be interviewed by TASS? We wouldn’t be talking to each other at the moment if it weren’t for that phone call from you. What’s the point of wasting time deliberating over something that does not exist?

Last autumn nobody approached me with invitations into Spartak. I had no discussions on that score with anyone. Therefore, there is nothing to talk about.

- But you must be keeping a close eye on everything that is happening on the team, right?

You bet! Now, look at my table in front of me, I have the most detailed information about each match played in Russia’s national championship.

However, I will by no means discuss the state of affairs in individual teams. That’s not my realm of responsibility. Clearly, a player’s shape and functional readiness depends heavily on what is happening in his club. This has an effect on our work, but let me say once again: I’m not in the position to make comments on my colleague’s work.

- When your predecessors – Guus Hiddink and Fabio Capello - accepted invitations to lead the national team, they said that their mission was to not just train the team, but also to cultivate football in Russia. Were you asked to address this task, too?

We have a Strategy extending up until 2030, and it’s still in place. Clearly, anything can be written on paper, but real work is afoot in the clubs, academies and children’s and youth schools. Please remember that over the two years I’ve been in charge of the national team, I didn’t have a spare moment for touring youth schools in search of young talent. I was entirely focused on getting ready for the World Cup.

I must say, though, that we maintain good contact with the youth team. I’ve often met with its coach, Yevgeny Bushmanov, to discuss which of his guys is potentially ready to reinforce the country’s team number one. Whenever they feel there’s something really worth seeing, they’ll give me a call. Then I go and watch the game myself. Everybody does his own job. That’s the way it should be.

- So far, the team has been reinforced with three Brazilians and two Germans.

Wait, wait! Yours truly is an ethnic Ossetian. So what?

Raush was born in the Tomsk Region, and my own son, in Dresden. Which of the two is German? What’s the conclusion? All those having Russian passports are our compatriots and this is not a fantasy of mine.

As I’ve said many times, we’d never asked a single player for naturalization. Ari, Fernandez, Neustaedter or whoever. When I took over the team, Marinato Guilherme had already obtained a Russian passport. He speaks Russian not any worse than I do. One footballer has spent more than ten years in Russia, another has a Russian wife, and a third saw his children born here… Each person has one’s own reasons.

The other day, I had a phone call from an acquaintance who told me there was a player who potentially prepared for applying for our citizenship. I didn’t even let him finish the phrase and said in reply that he called the wrong person. Passports are issued by the immigration service, and not by the Russian Football Union. We do not deal with such matters or make such decisions. Our task is to select the cream of the crop, who are Russian from a legal point of view. It’s natural competition. Am I clear?

- Quite. Then I’ll ask you about other players, whose citizenship doesn’t raise any questions. As for their mode of conduct… It’s about Alexander Kokorin and Pavel Mamayev, as you may have already guessed.

The affair you’ve mentioned has nothing to do with football. It was a deplorable incident, there is no denying that. Yet, the same could’ve happened to an actor, or a figure skater, or a journalist, if you don’t mind me saying so.

As for those in Russia who complained that the general atmosphere was not festive enough, I asked them to wait for the opening day, for the judge’s whistle and for the kickoff

I would like to see this unpleasant situation settled once and for all.

- Do you see an outcome that’s fair and just?

I suspect that both Kokorin and Mamayev have had enough time now to look back on what they’ve done and to learn some lessons. How this will be interpreted through the legal lens is a different matter. Wise people say: whenever you don’t know what to do, follow the law.

I hope the offenders will be treated this way.

- Do you see an opportunity for Alexander and Pavel to get back into professional football?

They should first sort things out in the legal field, and then start thinking about a place on the football field.

- Before you started coaching the national team, you’d always worked for football clubs. The pace of life is different now. Ideally, you are to have more spare time. Meanwhile, you complain you have to race against the clock.

We do not complain, we state the hard facts.

I agree that I found it somewhat difficult during the first two months. Then I learned the skill of putting together my timetable to manage everything and be everywhere. There’s a false impression that the coach of a national team has very few duties to attend to. On the contrary, the schedule is tight and I have to sacrifice many things in life. Once you’ve coped with the must-dos you suddenly discover there is no time left for the want-tos. Just a moment ago, I tried to guess what time could be reserved for a vacation next year, although I’m perfectly aware that whatever splendid plans I may make, in reality I will have to cut corners to enjoy several spare days.

- Do you visit your native Ossetia, often enough?

Believe it or not, but after the World Cup, I managed to go to Vladikavkaz for the first time in the middle of November. I was invited all the time, but I preferred to wait for all the fuss to die down.

- Are you fed up with being in the public eye?

By no means. It is far better to pose for a photo in the company of fans and attend autograph sessions than to be bombarded with criticism.

A graffiti featuring Russian national football coach Stanislav Cherchesov in St Petersburg Peter Kovalev/TASS
A graffiti featuring Russian national football coach Stanislav Cherchesov in St Petersburg
© Peter Kovalev/TASS

- It seems you’ve lost all hope that the attention you’re getting in your native Ossetia will ever subside.

If you are referring to the Glory of Ossetia order I’ve been awarded, I can admit that it was a great pleasure to receive the republic’s highest decoration personally from its head Vyacheslav Bitarov.

However, there was some sad news in store for me, too. A friend of mine, Ossetia’s first-ever freestyle wrestling Olympic champion Soslan Andiyev died. I attended his funeral…

- Which relatives still reside in Ossetia?

I have many relatives there, including my four sisters. It’s unfortunate that we seldom get together. This time, too, I could not stay for too long. Football will be football! The last matches of Russia’s national championship before the winter break are on the horizon. And on December 1, I had to fly to Dublin for last Sunday’s draw for the Euro 2020 qualifiers. Now we know our rivals in the group – Belgium, Scotland, Cyprus, Kazakhstan and San Marino. Well, now you know that already as well. We are beginning preparations for the next season and the qualification round.

- And what’s next?

I’d reply with this catch phrase from a TV commercial: “Joy will take us further.” [For reference:] Especially for you I would also add: “We’ll wait and see.”

Andrey Vandenko