Dmitry Radchenko: “Lobanovsky should be an idol, not Messi!”

The blue-white-light blues are taking on Hajduk of Split, Croatia, at Petrovsky Stadium on Thursday. Fate had it that Dmitry Radchenko, a Russian national team player in the mid 1990s, played both for Zenit and the team from Split. Dmitry, who today works for Zenit’s Academy, told “Sport” about what his impressions were of the Croatian league, how things are going for Hajduk today, and why Zenit should win.

— Dmitry, you played for Hajduk in 2001–2002. You played 10 matches and scored four goals. What memories do you have of it?

— The very best. I can say one thing: no matter how much better Zenit's technique is, the Croats will battle for their country and their flag. The Petersburg side will have a very difficult time — their opponent will fight to the end.

— Zenit will play the return match in Croatia in November. What can you say about the city and its fans?

— Split is the center of Croatia. It’s probably the second most important city of the Balkan country after the capital — Zagreb. Split is a center of tourism, and they have excellent, clean, comfortable beaches there. In general I have great memories of the city. And I can say the same about Hajduk’s fans. There are a lot of them too — the stands are completely full for almost every match. As far as I know, the Hajduk fans are infamous throughout Europe. I met up with the ultras on several occasions. They were always very good to me, and supported me. It turned out that they’re well-educated, good-mannered people, despite all their pranks at the stadium.

— Do you still follow Hajduk today?

— Of course! I’ve kept contact with a lot of the footballers. Although I have to say that none of the people I played with are left in the team today. That was a long time ago... Right now the team from Split has a lot of internal problems. There are a lot of political issues involved, which I don’t know anything about, and there are also financial problems, which are obvious even to the untrained eye.

— Is it because of these problems that Hajduk was in a championship drought over the last five seasons?

— I think so. Hadjduk has won a lot of tiles in the past. Besides winning the Croatian championship many times, Hajduk was also the champion of the Yugoslav league many times before that country collapsed in 1990. So it’s sad that Hajduk isn’t champion any more.

— When you played, the Croatian championship followed the fall-spring schedule?

— Ya, we played just like the rest of Europe.

— So what were your impressions? Were there any problems?

— Croatia has a warm climate. It’s not so cold there as in Russia. So it was no problem to follow the "fall-spring" season.

— You played for Spanish teams, as well as in Japan. Is the level of Spanish football much higher than in Eastern Europe or Asia?

— Spain won the World Cup and the European Cup, and everybody started talking about how they’re the favorites at any competition now. I don’t agree with though. When I played in Japan they told me that they admire not Brazilian or Portuguese, not English or German schools of football, but rather Soviet football! For them Lobanovsky and Beskov were heroes. Don’t you find that odd — we’ve forgotten our own legends, we praise Messi and Ronaldo, but in the West people remember our great Soviet footballers and coaches and follow their example!

— I agree, that’s sad. And how about the level of Croatian club football? Is it much lower than Russian football?

— Of course it’s lower, but I wouldn't say it's significantly lower. Obviously the level of Zenit’s footballers is much higher than that of Hajduk. But the Balkan side can compensate for that through thanks to their enormous effort on the pitch. And you can’t take that away from them. The Croats are real fighters.

— As a former forward, you’ve probably been following the success of Alexander Kerzhakov…

— Of course, he’s been doing amazing things in his recent matches for his club and the national team. I hope he’ll keep it going at least until the end of the season. And then we’ll see.