The Russian national football team will hold its first match after the 2018 World Cup against Turkey in the League of Nations tournament on Friday, September 7. Igor Vladimirov, press-attaché of the national team, born in the village of Khrenovoye of Bobrovsky District, told the RIA “Voronezh” correspondent about the national team’s historic performance at the 2018 World Cup and recalled the beginning of his career.

“Each player was important for the team”

– Is the home World Cup the emotional peak for your entire career in football?

– Of course, this is an event of a planetary scale. And the fact that the tournament was held in Russia is a special case. This is not likely to happen within our living memory.

– The national team players and the whole staff spent 52 days with each other during the preparation for the Cup and the tournament itself. What is it? After all, it’s no secret that conflicts happen with any sports teams during training camps as it’ hard to see the same people in a closed space for a long period of time.

– We gathered on May 18 and parted on July 8, the day after the match with Croatia. Many coaches and experts did note that it was a rare case to remain an organic whole for such a long time period. We managed to do it, we kept the integrity from the beginning and up to the end. A whole program was developed for this purpose. The football players’ families, interesting guests visited the training base. Great pianist Denis Matsuev, Guus Hiddink with whom the national team won bronze medals for Euro 2008 arrived. Boris Levin, a “What? Where? When?” club member held intellectual games for the football players. At the same time we worked at the base in Novogorsk, we did not stay in a city hotel. So, no one distracted the players from their main occupation. There was an excellent balance when the players were preparing for the tournament, and at the same time, this painstaking work during trainings was diluted with some kind of positive, pleasant company.

– Before the start of the tournament, few people believed in the team.

– Yes, we received a lot of criticism after the test matches. We lost to the Austrians in Innsbruck, played a draw with the Turks in Moscow. We did not manage to show our best in these matches. But the reason was simple – the national team was not preparing specifically for the control matches. These matches were needed to prepare for the start of the World Cup. The team could not be perfectly ready in these sparrings. It had to do it in the official matches, which eventually happened.

The football players reacted normally to the criticism as the team’s best players are in Russian top clubs, they are used to being under pressure. Moreover, extremes are loved in our country. Today you can be heroes, and tomorrow you can become outcasts. After the match with Turkey, we recommended the players not to read the press, do check social networks before the start of the tournament. The team did not need any special praise for the control matches. But it should not be buried before the beginning of the tournament. Although it can now be admitted that the criticism made the guys more evil, that is, even served a good service to some extent.

– Did you believe in success?

– It’s a sport, a competition in which everything is possible. At the same time, working in a football team does not make sense if you do not believe in it. My optimism was due to the vision and understanding of how the coaching staff is organizing the work under the leadership of Stanislav Cherchesov. The players’ capabilities and conditions were carefully studied and evaluated. For example, Dzyuba did not play for the team for a year, left Zenit for Tula Arsenal, that is, he replaced the top club for a middle team, and then returned to the national team and “rocketed” at the World Cup. Of course, he is a special football player, who is often in the spotlight.

Dziuba was extremely motivated. He inspired the guys, reminded them that it was the main tournament in their lives. But you cannot say this at the request, it must go from the inside. About a week before the start of the tournament, he went out to reporters and uttered a monologue from his heart, after which the public realized that the Russian national team are living people, not millionaires running on the field. In general, each of the players was important for the team in one way or another, each contributed. For example, goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov did not appeared on the field, but played an important role in shaping the atmosphere within the team. The team members always have different roles. There can not be a dozen Dzyubas and Akinfeevs. Sergei Ignashevich came to the national team and said that he was ready to help the team, that he would be happy to spend even five minutes on the field. As a result, he played the tournament without substitutions and helped Ilya Kutepov to reveal himself.

– Ignashevich’s game impressed everyone ...

– You should have seen how carefully he was preparing for each training session. An hour before the session, he could be met at the gym. It was clear that the age showed itself, and Sergei, knowing his own body, took into account every nuance. Sometimes, coaches offered him some indulgence in the training process, but he refused. It was fundamentally important for him not to be worse than the rest. Alan Dzagoev is the same. He missed Euro-2016, the Confederations Cup due to the injuries. And then he had another trauma, already at the 23rd minute of the first match. But Alan stayed with the team, began to recover. He was always there, he supported his partners motivating from the bench. And his scoring pass on Fernandez in the quarter-finals was magnificent.

– How was the communication with Mario Fernandez built, who almost does not speak Russian?

– He does not speak very much, but he understands almost everything. He understood all that the coaches told him on the football field. But it became harder during individual talks, because he was addressed some personal words. Spanish-speaking physical training coach Paulino Granero helped, and Denis Cheryshev speaks excellent Spanish. Previously, Mario stayed in the team a little apart, but they immediately became friends with Cheryshev. Fernandez found his role in the team, and it helped him to hold the championship at the highest level.

 “In “Igrok”, we began doing what had never been done in Voronezh before”

– Did you start your career in a Voronezh newspaper?

– Yes, I was still a student back then. I entered the Faculty of Journalism at the VSU in 1989, and already in 1992 I began working at “Molodoy Kommunar”. I wrote about sports, mainly about football. And in late 1993, I and my friends founded sports newspaper “Igrok” (Player). It was an amazing time, it cannot be forgotten. No financial corporations were behind our small group of enthusiasts and like-minded people. By the moment of establishing “Igrok”, we had already smelled powder working for other publishers. But we, the sports journalists, felt confined within the constraints of socio-political newspapers. We wanted to write a lot, to speak about what interests us. And in “Igrok” we began doing what had never been done in Voronezh before. Thanks to the fact that “Fakel” – and later other clubs in different types of sports – took our correspondents to away games, we had detailed reports on away matches, exclusive material about the lives of teams.

Obviously, we grew as professionals. Soon the city grew fonder and fonder of “Fakel”, we started doing live reports from the team’s games. By the way, other sports newspapers started appearing: “Football Voronezh +”, “Kommuna Sport”, but “Igrok” was and, most importantly, still is the first in this niche. And amidst this whole sports turmoil, we worked, studied, started families – even I still can’t fully understand how we managed to make it.

– Why can’t “Fakel” get back to that level?

– All region heads have social responsibilities they cannot escape. And these responsibilities are of top priority to them. Finding the funds for the club above all of this requires either for the governor to be a fan or a businessman ready to invest everything in football. An example of this is Sergei Galitsky in Krasnodar. Another option is, perhaps, a large corporation interested in investing in the club. But does Voronezh have such a prosperous company? I hope all of this comes together one day.

– You left “Igrok” for FC “Voronezh” to which “Fakel” was renamed at the time.

– Yes, I’ve worked in the club for four years. At first it was called FC “Voronezh”, then – “Fakel-Voronezh”. I think that throwing away brands is no good. So when the club was renamed to FC “Voronezh” along the change of colours, the response was, mildly speaking, not too well. When the team was renamed to “Fakel-Voronezh” – it was already better. I suppose, the word “Fakel” (Torch) must be included in the name of the local team. It is brand always remembered and loved by many, a lot of people have it in their hearts. At that time, in the mid-2000s, the club was drifting between leagues. It was going through rough times, it had financial debts. But the staff of the club fearlessly held on together with the players.

Somewhere around late 2005, I realized that I wanted to grow professionally, to evolve, and I left for Moscow – there was an open vacancy at the Russian Football Union (RFS). I supervised and keep supervising the whole hierarchy of Russian national teams, I’m the Head of the Department of Information Policy. I’ve worked with the national under-21 football team, including the 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship in Israel. At the time, the team included Dzagoev, Smolov, Kokorin and Cheryshev, who now form the core of the national team. And my first trip at the RFS was with the 1989 under-21 national team supervised by Igor Kolyvanov, when the team won the 2006 UEFA European Under-17 Football Championship in Luxembourg.

– What did you think of all the fuss in the media caused by the fact that footballers received badges of Merited Masters of Sports?

– I was fine with it – after all, the people who spoke about it were serious sports figures: merited volleyball and handball players, distinguished champions. But the footballers had nothing to apologize for, they went all out at the World Championship and set the bar high. Yes, the rules must be the same for everyone. But we must not forget that of all types of sports only football is able to take the people out into the streets. Ice hockey is played by, roughly speaking, ten countries, bandy – let’s say, five. But football is played by everyone, FIFA along officially includes over 200 national associations. I remember going to the 2008 UEFA European Football Championship as the second press officer and my astonishment once I found out about the nation-wide celebration in Russia after we defeated the Netherlands. And the same thing happened this time.

Only the Russian National Football team is capable of causing such a celebration in the country. The successes of clubs are a different thing. In clubs, players put their souls into their game, but it’s still a job – you realize that they are professionals who are fulfilling their contract obligations. And in the national team you see that no one is thinking about the money, that the guys are fighting for the prestige of their country. And I’m proud to be a part of the celebration that took place in Russia this summer.