Our 26-year-old midfielder spoke to our press office ahead of the return leg vs Thun.
On Basel and Thun
— You have already faced a Swiss side 8,5 years ago - on the day you scored the winner against Basel. What do you remember from that encounter?
— A lot of time has passed since then, we are a different team now. But it’s nice to sometimes think back on that match. On 93 minutes McGeady earned a free-kick. Me and Alex discussed before the game he’ll lay the ball out for me to shoot - that’s what we did. I was still somewhat lucky though: the wall fell apart and the ball flew in off the post.
— That’s probably one of your most memorable goals for Spartak?
— My very first senior goal, against Kransodar, is very precious to me. However the supporters remember that Basel goal in the comments fondly. We were losing 0-2, and then turned it around. I came on as a sub and scored the winner.
— In the last couple of seasons Spartak had a number of unsuccessful matches in the European qualifying rounds. That includes Legia, AEK, Sankt-Gallen, PAOK. What were these defeats down to, how could you avoid those in the future?
— We underestimated our opponents in the past. I didn’t really know much about those teams, that told. It’s important to understand you can’t take any side for granted now. Faroe Islands have a national team, a recently-assembled Gibraltar side only lost by a goal to Ireland. Besides, when I played for Rostov and Krylia, I saw how they prepared for CSKA, Zenit and Krasnodar - Spartak was a totally different story! They approach the games against Spartak like it’s a Champions League encounter. We need to keep this in mind and respond in kind.
On Cherenkov and Til
— On July 15, to celebrate your 10-year debut milestone, you posted an emotional message about how Spartak became your way of life. Do you see yourself outside it one day?
— Of course you can be a cynic and say it’s just a job that puts food on the table, but for me it’s more than that. I’m proud to have been part of the team at 15 years already. I can’t probably be called a true Spartak product, but I still have been a part of Piskarev’s academy, played for Romashenko’s and Kechinov’s youth teams. So I went the distance. I have written that post from my heart, Spartak will remain a part of me. And I’ll do my best in training and during matches to be useful.
— Fedor Cherenkov could have turned 60 not so long ago… You once said he singled you out from other young players and it proved motivational for you.
— I haven’t seen him play live, but I used to live near the then Netto stadium, watched the veterans’ matches. Cherenkov only had to make a couple of touches for his class to show. Now you can see bits of old matches in Tarasovka, watch how the old Spartak performed.
I want to be as good at passing as he was, as good at running in behind. However football changed with time too: the speed of the game, the level of aggression. It’s harder to play elegant football now. You can’t even lift your head on the pitch. But that doesn’t make Fedor Cherenkov any less of a legend. He was an exemplary player, especially for me, since I play in the same position.
— Which player you learned from the most, if we are only talking the ones you partnered?
— I understood Alex the best. When he arrived, I knew fighting him for a place in the side was useless: he was very good indeed! After his first training we all knew he was top class. It’s a pity he didn’t stay long because of family problems. We still keep in touch. He writes in Russian and reply in Portuguese, use Translate. He hung up his boots not long ago… There has been a few top players at Spartak, but Alex will remain the best for me.
— Now you have Gus Til to compete with. Ready for that?
— Competition is always good. If Gus plays the way Alex did, I will have no qualms whatsoever! This will only benefit everyone. We’ll help him settle in, from our side.
On injuries and his future
— You’ve spent this spring on loan at Krylia Sovetov. What have you learned there?
— The most important thing was game time. Playing just 30-40 minutes every game is not enough for a footballer. In Samara I was a regular starter, the last few games aside: I missed those because of a small injury. I’m fine right now though.
— Krylia’s head coach Miodrag Bozovic said after one of the matches your best years are still ahead. Would you agree with him?
— I want to be a leader at Spartak, but I understand it’s now or never. I feel I can play the way fans want me to. Unfortunately injuries got in the way all too often before. I’ve spent three years on the treatment table of the ten at Spartak.
I often read that’s down to my body type. But look at Gareth Bale at Real. He is three times my size, but breaks down even more often than me! He probably played 1,5 years out of 6 at Real. Dzhikia and Zobnin tore their ACLs out of nothing, both are strong players.
— So what’s the reason behind your injuries?
— Maybe I started our at the senior side a bit too early. Plus I didn’t go to the gym as much as I needed to, my fault. I’ve addressed this now. I’m not saying you should become a robot, get to a stage where you don’t feel the ball anymore. But it’s still important to keep your muscles and joints in shape. A couple of days ago we had Evegeny Savin over for a vlog. He arrived early in the morning, at 8:30 and I was training already. He didn’t believe his eyes.
But I need this. I understand I need to be at my best until December at least. Do what Promes did: score and assist, decide the outcomes of games on my own. I feel the head coach trusts me, it helps.
— The team went through a serious overhaul this summer. Is this the biggest turnover you witnessed?
— It is, I can’t remember anything quite as grand. That’s one of the reasons we didn’t start well. Ground it out versus Sochi, lost to Tambov. But I’m sure it’ll get better, we improve with each game: both the speed of our attacks and positional play. The first couple of games always go by in search of automatisms. Especially in our situation.
— Spartak want to play a quick attacking game and press high. Is this a style you like?
— We also need to be good in positional attacks, hold onto possession better, not just be quick on the counter. But it’s nothing new: in the ten years I’ve spent at Spartak we always try to play that way because we always want to fight for top honours.
On Dzhikia and Samedov
— Your friend Dzhikia became the new captain ahead of this season. He sometimes asks for your advice, seeing as you’ve been here longer?
— He really doesn’t need my help! He has been here long enough. If anything, he sometimes helps me! Dzhikia proved with his performances he deserves the armband. His appointment was expected. Even if he wasn’t my friend, I’d still consider him the best option for capitancy. He has all the right qualities: his on-pitch advice, his ability to create the right atmosphere. It’s a tall order, there’s always a special aura surrounding Spartak, in case things don’t go well the captain is in the crosshairs first. I can only wish him patience and luck. I’m sure he’ll manage though.
— Another one of your friends, Samedov, recently finished his playing career. How did you mark the occasion?
— We went to a cafe together: me, Dzhikia and Samedov. Thought back to our playing days together. He had several offers from other clubs, but decided it wasn’t best for his family to move. He’s 35 after all, he has three children. Although I’m sure he could have played for two more years at least, he as at a very good level, because he has always been professional.
— Samuel Gigot joined your crew recently.
— He did indeed! It’s a bit tough for him at the moment, because Hanni left. He lives alone, in a skyscraper. So ma and Dzhikia took him in. Go out together, go to his place. He is a good guy.
— You are now teammates with a World Cup Winner. What’s your take on Schurrle?
— He is a very good player, very experienced. He will definitely help Spartak.
On the younger players
— Spartak’s overall squad age has gone down noticeably. Does that change things?
— When I joined the senior side, it was different. Now the youngsters start training with the first team and take it for granted. It’s not right. I’m not afraid they’ll read it here, they should. It’s something I said to the face too. I was once in a team with Titov, Mozart, Kalinichenko and Pavlyuchenko and worked three, five, times harder to carve out a place for myself. I’m not saying the young guys aren’t training hard enough, I just don’t see that fire in their eyes. They got a chance they should latch onto. I remember when I lost the ball everyone would be upon you in a flash, so the next time you’d keep it. I couldn’t sleep properly when I found out I’d train with the first team! I took every training session as my last. We have talented players now, but without a burning desire they won’t last.
— That probably doesn’t include Zelimkhan Bakaev.
— No it doesn’t. He came back from his loan spell driven, sometimes it shows too much. He scored a lot in Tula, assisted quite a few, showed a high level of performance. It’s harder to replicate at Spartak, but we’ll help him. I was talking more about Ignatov, Umyarov, Glushenkov - this basically concerns everyone who plays for Spartak-2 and trains with the seniors.
— Were you surprised Bakaev took the number 10 shirt?
— If he’s confident he can do it, why not? Zelimkhan said even Promes isn’t his ceiling. The number isn’t the most important thing too. Guliev was happy to give me back number 7 when I returned from Krylia, but I’m happy with 49 - it’s the number I started out with. The crucial thing is to play well.
— Bakaev’s loan spell definitely helped him. A season out in Rostov helped you too at some point.
— Loans do help. Especially when you are young. I was lucky to have a good coach and a good team around me. We won the Cup, together with Dzyuba, it was quite an experience. Right now I have to stay here and play though, don’t even want to think about another loan.
— That year in Rostov was a good one for you: before the cup win your daughter was born.
— Indeed. A couple of years after, right before we won the league, my second daughter was born. So I need a third child to win another trophy!
— Something in the offing here?
— I’d love to have a son. My wife knows that!
— Do you daughters attend games?
— My younger one is only two years old, she doesn’t understand much for now. The elder one goes to every game though, with my wife!