Today, our new Sporting Director addressed the Russian press for the first time, and answered questions on a wide variety of subjects. In addition, our four new signings were presented to the public for the first time. The transcript of the conference is given below.
Cattani: “First I want to apologise for the fact that I can only speak in English today. I am obliged to at least try to approach the Russian language, and I can assure you that I will try. Managing my time is an issue at the minute, and unfortunately this means that I haven’t been able to learn Russian yet.”
Q: Can you tell us about your knowledge of the Russian market, and about your relationship with Paolo Vanoli?
A: I think that I have sufficient knowledge of the Russian market. Part of this is due to an opportunity I had to come to Russia a few years ago, but of course I did not accept that offer. When I was approached by Spartak last summer, I prepared many documents and models of my strategy; these included suggestions on players to buy, players to follow, and so on. This list consisted of Khlusevich, Klassen, and other players. For Svinov, we trusted Artem Rebrov’s opinion as I do not dabble with goalkeepers on my own.
Q: How is the current limit on foreign footballers affecting your work?
A: It’s interesting because until I came, the limit did not pose a problem for the club. I bought Nicholson, and that pushed us over the limit. It’s a risk, however one that we took considering the state of the transfer market. A player like Nicholson in the middle of the winter transfer window can cost twice of what we paid for him. We have nine foreigners now, but there is definitely a precise strategy behind the decision.
Q: How will the issue of the extra foreigner be solved?
A: I’m working on it. We have different solutions; we have good players and there is good demand for them. I almost found an agreement for one player yesterday night, but that was unfortunately not enough. At the minute, I’m confident because the club totally supports me. The biggest surprise for me has been how supportive the club has been.
Everybody at the club understands that I’m crunched for time, and they do their best to make sure that I can make the most of the time that I have. The sense of responsibility is very high, and I am determined to do my best.
Q: Have you already decided what player(s) will be sold?
A: I cannot reveal their names, but of course I know everything in my mind.
Q: You mentioned that agents are the kings of modern football, but said that this will not be the case at Spartak. Can you elaborate on this?
A: Thanks for your question, it’s necessary for me to clarify what I said. I simply mentioned that at Spartak, the past six or seven signings were made on the initiative of the club, and not because they were offered by external agents. I never said that agents are unimportant or bad per se. It’s just that often in the transfer market, clubs ask agents for recommendations for players. At Spartak, the club has made these decisions on their own, and this is representative of a clear strategy. My words were not meant to offend agents, or those belonging to the previous management teams.
Q: Can we say instead that you are the agent behind all the agents that are working for the club?
A: I can say without doubt that every signing we make is an initiative of mine. There are a lot of players that we looked at, it’s a long process with many variables. I can’t reveal our exact transfer market strategies, but I can say that I am very satisfied by all of our acquisitions.
Q: The club has already made four signings so far, has the transfer campaign for the winter concluded?
A: If we talk about the main team, then more or less, yes. However I would still like to strengthen the club’s second team, and make signings for next season. Generally I like to work in the transfer market before the window has opened.
Q: A number of our players like Alex Kral and Guus Til are on loan at other clubs, but cannot play for Spartak due to the limit on foreigners. What can you say about their future?
A: Of course I have to take into account the players that may return from loan next season. Til in particular is having a wonderful season, and in all honesty, I would love to have him back at Spartak right now. I cannot exclude the possibility of him coming back, as he has a valid contract. Both him and Kral are great players, but we can’t be sure of what will happen. Due to the limit, accommodating all of our foreign players can be a major issue, so we have to keep that in mind.
Q: A number of Spartak’s players are out of contract in the summer. Can you shed some light on their futures?
A: We are renewing the contracts of a number of our other players, so maybe I’m making a mistake (laughs). But no in all seriousness, it’s an open question, we haven’t closed the doors for anybody yet. We are working on the situation, and the club is committed to improving it. I can say that in the next few days, there will be two pieces of good news for Spartak.
Q: Can you talk about the decision to sign Shamar Nicholson?
A: I believed that Spartak needed to sign a top quality forward. In the winter, the situation is such that 20 teams want to sign a striker, but there are only three available on the market. Let’s put aside my personal opinion of Nicholson and talk about the stats. When we signed him, Nicholson was approximately the sixth best U25 forward in Europe’s top eight leagues. Of course we had to exclude the likes of Vlahovic and Haaland from this list, but in terms of realistic choices, Shamar was the best option. When we began negotiations, Nicholson had the same scoring rate as Inter’s Lautaro Martinez. We can talk about my personal opinion of the player as well, but the statistics speak for themselves.
He was subject to interest from top clubs not just in Russia, but from all over Europe. These were teams of a level similar to Spartak, so there is nothing strange about this transfer.
Q: What about Franco Camozzi’s role at the club?
A: I asked for his opinion on the transfer, just as I asked for Mr. Fedun’s opinion. I always ask for Franco’s opinion on every transfer that I conduct. Even right now, there is a position of interest where Camozzi knows more than me about the potential targets. I am swamped with work when it comes to contracts and negotiations, so his role is very valuable. He’s well aware of the players that we are looking at, and he’s helping the club. He’s the main asset when it comes to our recruitment team.
Q: Do you think Spartak will become the champion under your stewardship?
A: I hope they’ll do it with me rather than without me (laughs), but my comment in my interview was broader. Given Spartak’s history, ambition and the owner’s vision, it is inevitable that it will return to the summit of Russian football. It must return to the top, and it will. I can put my hand on fire and say that the owner’s determination will be the key factor behind the club’s future successes. There are many cycles in football; sometimes you win uninterrupted for many years, and sometimes you fall off for a period of time.
When I personally analysed the club’s position and saw the projections for the future, it became clear that the club can only go up, and not down.
Q: Jordan Larsson’s form under Domenico Tedesco was great, but unfortunately he could not replicate it under Rui Vitoria. What are your opinions on the player’s future?
A: I like Larsson a lot, and so does the manager. His performance under Tedesco speaks for itself, and he’s still the same player. We just have to work with him to make sure that he returns to his best, it’s simple.
Q: We’re aware that you can’t tell us all about the club’s strategy for the future, but can you give us a hint as to some of its key tenets?
A: A key part of our strategy is that if there is a good Russian player on the market, then he must be ours. This philosophy applies to Klassen, Khlusevich and Svinov. After this, we need to find a good balance to quickly increase the level of the team. The biggest problem right now is the club’s position in the table, and we must find a way to rise up the standings. The goal of the strategy is to work so that we can achieve that goal.
It’s clever to buy players such as Khlusevich in November, because if you wait until January, competition can increase and it may be tough to sign him.
Q: You spoke about the fact that players from the top European leagues may find it hard to be motivated in Russia, and that means that Spartak should pursue players from other leagues instead. Can you tell us more?
A: I said that in the case of the English Premier League, and also said that we have a great exception to the rule in the form of Victor Moses. What I meant was that it is not necessary that a player from bigger leagues will improve the team; it’s not a mathematical equation. If we take the EPL’s example, we find that they have to maintain a crazy pace for the entire season. This applies only to England, and not to other leagues. Once a player leaves the Premier League, he automatically tones down his intensity because the new league is different. It’s not a problem between two leagues, it’s simply about the crazy intensity in England. I can give you the example of a top quality player in England who went to Spain but simply couldn’t perform as well, it’s very common.
Q: Does this mean that we will rely on domestic players at Spartak?
A: It’s somewhat of a necessity given the restrictions; I’m currently working on signing another Russian player for the future. I’m aware that a large part of my responsibilities will be to work in the Russian market, and this is something that I like.
Q: Spartak fans have been calling out for the signings of a defensive midfielder, and of a full-back. Despite this, we went and signed a striker. What can you say about this?
A: I watched every Spartak game this season twice, and also analysed games from last season. I got a sense that the club lost games due to its failure to convert chances, and hence needed someone to take them. When a season is not going well, of course we have to look at all ends of the pitch, however I think that with a player like Nicholson, the team is in better shape. He can play alongside all of Spartak’s existing forwards, whether that’s as the main striker or as the second striker.
A minor correction is that our system won’t have full-backs, but rather wing-backs. I can’t speak for Paolo Vanoli, but the structure of the team is clear in that sense.
Q: You said in your interview that you didn’t know our manager Paolo Vanoli that well. How do you expect your relationship with him to be?
A: I didn’t say that. I said that we didn’t meet each other specifically while working at Chelsea. We know each other well now, and are working alongside each other. I am aware of his idea of football, and I like it.
Q: How is your relationship with the club’s ownership?
A: We speak a lot, and I appreciate the support of the club. I talk to Mr. Fedun a lot about the club, whether it’s about the main team or about the youth system. He’s very knowledgeable about football and loves the team.
Q: Can you talk about Samuel Gigot’s position at the club, can he leave this winter?
A: No. Gigot will not leave this winter, I have been very clear about this. He’s a very important and responsible player with a fantastic sense of loyalty for the club. Losing him now would weaken the squad and I don’t want to do that.
Q: Can you talk about the qualitative gap between the clubs at the top of the table and Spartak at the minute?
A: Spartak is a very big club, the expectations here are higher than any other Russian club, and higher than most European clubs. At the minute, there is a sizeable difference between us and say, Zenit, but we can reduce this by working hard. I have to be serious, the club has to work, and I’m sure that we can compete at equal footing soon.