Our vice-captain sat down with our press office ahead of the derby against Dinamo.
— Let’s get the unpleasant stuff out of the way first. The team lost 0:2 to Tambov last weekend — how did that happen?
— That was really not good enough. We lost to a team we shouldn’t lose to. We have learned our lesson, now we need to put this game behind us quickly. It’s a tough spot for everyone — players, fans, all the staff. But we should move on, concentrate on the derby.
— Spartak hit the woodwork on 4 separate occasions in Saransk. Is it enough to talk about tough luck?
— Every team has those games when the ball just refuses to go in. In some moments we were unlucky, sometimes the referee made strange decisions. But these are no excuses.
— Do you think Tambov will prove a challenge for other top teams?
— I won’t be surprised if they do. It’s a good team, compact in defense and sharp on the counter, crafty on set-pieces. I think any current PL side can cause problems to top teams.
— The fans aren’t happy and you can get why: Tambov, who have been promoted for the first time in their history, beat Spartak. Does the criticism, including one from the stands, serve as an additional stimulus?
— Criticism can be of a productive and counter-productive kind. It’s a hard time for us, because we are basically building a new team. And the fans shouldn’t ignore that. Because if they go and abandon us, where do we go from there? It would be a scary scenario… We should go through thiis hard period together. I hope the team will be complete soon, the new players will settle in and we will give the fans something to cheer about.
— After the Tambov match Samuel Gigot said the atmosphere in the team is healthy. The fans shouldn’t be worried on this front?
— I can agree with what Samuel said. A friend in need is a friend indeed, as they say. We should stick together now — the players, the coaching staff. It’s the only way out of a hard situation.
— The game against Dinamo is an important one by default, it’s the historic derby between the sides. Under the current circumstances, with the season starting in a mixed fashion, does the match become even more important?
— Of course. It’s a key game in many aspects. A derby, a home game. Plus it comes after the Tambov game. It’s vital to address this situation now!
— What can you say about this Dinamo side?
— They have strengthened considerably compared to last season. Some quality players have recently joined, I think they made Dinamo a better side. We should be in for an interesting match. In a derby one single moment can turn everything on its head.
— Have you already found out anything about Thun, your Europa League opponent?
— For now I only know they play on artificial turf. Regardless we won’t have an easy ride. Against any side.
On becoming vice-captain
— You have become Spartak’s vice-captain ahead of this season. Anything changed because of that?
— Some added responsibility for me, but that’s about it. My attitude towards football or my teammates stayed the same. I continue to train and improve myself.
— What are your responsibilities then? Alongside Dzhikia you now help implement the coach’s ideas on the pitch?
— I did that before I was vice-captain, helped teammates out. My status has nothing to do with that.
— Spartak have some tough games ahead: Dinamo, CSKA, Zenit, two Europa League matches. All hard matches packed into a tight schedule. Are you concerned with the calendar?
— I’m now I’m used to playing often.
— Last season you were top in the team in terms of distance covered. Intensive pressing and a high tempo of play are important elements in how the team performs today. Do you like this style?
— Maybe I have covered a lot of ground because I played a lot. Plus my role requires a lot of legwork. I do enjoy the pressing, yes. I’m all for it, for the high tempo of play. But it requires a team effort.
— Spartak became better in this regard?
— We improve with every match. We are making progress, I can see that even after the lost match in Saransk. But of course we can get better still.
— The team is being re-built, like you said. Are you ready to become something of a guide for the young players, together with Dzhikia?
— I’m still young, I haven’t even played a 100 matches for Spartak. It would probably be wrong to call me an experienced guide. But I will do my best to help the transition, together with Dzhikia, Kutepov, Selikhov and others — with the teammates roughly my age, in short.
On the new faces in the squad
— Some of the new players have already been here a while: Ponce, Badu, Mirzov. How are they settling in?
— I knew Mirzov before he joined, we played together in the national team. I always liked his style of play too. He was a handful every time he played versus Spartak. Everyone else is doing fine too, bedding in.
— You knew Bakaev before his loan spell. Now people are saying he improved a lot during his time at Arsenal Tula. Something you maybe noticed on the training ground?
— Of course he became much more experienced after his year in Tula. He improved a lot, he makes things happen. His position implies he provides assists or scores himself. He took number 10 - so he has the confidence he can do it. The important thing he doesn’t become overconfident. I think he’s ready to come good and be a crucial player for us. But it’s too early for now to make any definitive assessments.
— And what do you know about Andre Schurrle?
— He is a World Cup winner. Everyone who is at least a little into football knows about him. He is still quite young, at 28 years. I think it’s a big acquisition, it’s a 35-year-old we are capturing. Schurrle is a very good player: you don’t play for Chelsea and Borussia if you aren’t. I hope he’ll make us more potent in the final third.
— Schurrle is one of the heroes of that semi-final between Brazil and Germany 5 years ago. Die Mannschaft won 7:1, Schurrle netted a brace. That was probably the most shocking game you have ever seen?
— Undoubtedly, “shocking” is the right word here. Schurrle assisted Goetze in the final too, by the way.
— Do you remember Henrik Larsson’s career?
— I remember his performances for Barcelona. Though I was a small kid back then. There are no passengers in Barcelona. It’ll be interesting to see how his son plays for us.
On the national team
— Not so long ago you’ve taken part in two games for the national side, one of which ended in a 9-0 record win, over San Marino. How would you assess the team’s chances in qualification for Euro-2020?
— Right now we are second in the group and have a good chance. A lot will depend on how we play vs Scotland, in both games. And of course we can’t drop points against Kazakhstan and Cyprus. Everything’s in our hands.
— More than a year has gone by since the World Cup in Russia, despite that it’s still being widely discussed. Did the national team itself manage to re-focus on the new cycle of matches?
— I don’t know to be honest. But when someone raises the subject, I understand I’d like to put it behind and move on. Those memories only serve to distract. It gets boring quick when the same thing’s discussed over and over again. You should set new aims for yourself and move forward.
On his family
— You have recently said you are planning to take up a musical instrument after you retire from football. Were you being serious?
— More tongue-in-cheek. You say it as if I’m 35 and retiring soon. But in the future I’d like to try myself in a new field. I’ll maybe travel more, discover new places for myself. Right now I simply don’t have the time. On top of that we are expecting a child together with my wife. So the next 3-4 years all our attention will be focused on the kids. You have to take breaks from football too, sometimes it just gets too much. I’d like to learn how to play the piano or maybe take up another kind of sport - tennis, for instance.
— Did you buy the piano already?
— Not yet!
— You are expecting a kid you said. When will we be able to congratulate you on the happy occasion?
— At the start of September.
— All names in your family start with an “R”. Settled on the kid’s name already?
— We have, but I won’t say which one just yet. It starts with an “R” though!
— You once said spending a lot of time at home with your son is sometimes harder than training. How’s that?
— It’s exhaustion of a good kind. Kids have a lot of energy in them. Sometimes when he’s playing football with other kids, they get tired and he doesn’t. Just keeps on running. So he’s like, fine in terms of distance covered! When I’m home, my wife can have a break too. We play with my son all the time, or read. Another thing is having a nap during the day. He rarely lies down for one. Bathing him in the evening can be hard too, because he can’t keep still.
— You also mentioned your son’s first steps in football are encouraging. Is it something he is interested in?
— He is now. But he’s got his whole life in front of him, I don’t want to restrict him. It’s not my goal he becomes a footballer, everything depends on his own desire. We’ll try different sports. But it’s clear he will be a sportsman because he is very energetic and never keeps still. We’ll see where he succeeds and what he fancies.