Alexander Kerzhakov: “I always play from the heart”

The forward of Russia`s best team was interviewed live by Radio Zenit 89.7 FM. Kerzhakov spoke about the emotions he felt at the end of the season, the lessons he learned from Spalletti, and commented on the results of the Europa League draw.

– I came back to St. Petersburg on the 17th. I had been traveling in the United Arab Emirates, – says Alexander Kerzhakov. – Actually my vacation started earlier, after the final whistle of the match with Rubin, because I had to skip the last match with Krylya Sovetov due to having too many yellow cards, and Luciano agreed to let me leave on vacation earlier than the others, which I was really thankful for! After the match with Sibir I talked with him, and asked him to let me skip the match in Athens. He understood and let me go without any trouble.

– How are you going to celebrate the New Year?
– With my family, here in St. Petersburg. And then I`m going to go take a rest for another week. Then the team has medical examinations and then pre-season.

– Which defender are you most afraid of?
– Now they`re afraid of me (smiles). Earlier they were a little afraid of Kuraev.

– Do you feel any particular emotions from the fact that you became Russian champion with your home team?
– Of course! I always felt the fan support, and especially when I came back to St. Petersburg. The home fans never turned away from me, even in difficult moments. The things we managed to win this season are more important to me than winning the UEFA Cup or the Spanish Cup. Right now I consider this season to have been the best in my career. I became the Russian champion in my home stadium, in front of my loved ones.

– You scored two goals against your brother, who was playing goalkeeper for Alania…
– Honestly, I wanted to score, but not too much, so I wasn`t as happy about the second as I was for the first. I was worried that the second goal might break him. My brother played really well for his first year! I didn`t feel any competition between brothers on the field, just between teams. Although my mom showed me her fist from the stands when I scored the first goal (smiles).

– Can you comment on the rumors that you`ll move to Liverpool?
– I`m not planning to go anywhere. I feel at home here, and I don`t want to move anywhere.

– Name the three best Zenit players this season.
– I can name a group of people who make me feel confident about the result every time I go on the field. I don`t want to offend any of the other players, but when Nicolas Lombaerts, Ivica Krizanac, Alexander Anyukov, Konstantin Zyryanov, Miguel Danny, and Vladimir Bystrov are on the field then I always know that the game will go in our favor. I don`t think it`s right to rank them, but with them on the field I always know we`re going to win.

– Do you have special understanding with Vladimir Bystrov on the field? You`ve scored so many goals from his passes!
– In the second half of the season, when the team got its momentum, we all understood each other in just a split second. The team worked like a well-oiled machine, and that`s thanks to Luciano Spalletti.

– Spalletti formed a good atmosphere within the team. How can you explain that?
– Our coach gave us a winner`s attitude. He never put himself higher than the rest from the very beginning. It became clear from the very first practices that we would focus on defense, although not just on defenders. We practiced on how to defend in front of our goal. We were taught how to defend most of all, and we got a serious result thanks to that. Luciano never focuses on who made the mistake, and that`s one more sign that he`s a very good coach.

– What`s the most important lesson that Spalletti gave to you personally?
– He taught me how to act on the field, when to open up, and where I should be at any given time. I started to catch on to this lesson in the second half of the season. When you come to a team you need time to feel comfortable. It`s good that I needed just half a year instead of a whole year to feel part of the team (smiles). Otherwise I wouldn`t be sitting here today (smiles.

– Can you name the most positive match of this past season?
– If we leave out the match with Rostov, when we won the championship, then it was the match with CSKA in the first half of the year, when I scored my first goal of the season. That was a real high for me.

– What was your most vivid emotion of the year?
– Having a medal on your neck… that`s easy to say. Probably it`s the feeling I had when I was substituted in the match with Rostov. I was full of emotion because I understood at that point that we were the champions, but I had to watch the final ten minutes from the side of the field. It`s hard to control your emotions when you can`t celebrate until the match finishes.

– Please comment on the results of the Europa League draw.
– Young Boys is a serious opponent. I saw how they played at home with Tottenham, and they played very well until they let up the first goal. Honestly, I didn`t even understand who can beat them. It`s a big mistake to judge the team just based on their name and the fact that they don`t have any particular regalia. We have to get past them first. We shouldn`t think about who we`ll get after them. We have to finish these two matches. We all want to get to the final in Dublin, but first we have to get prepared for the up-coming matches once we return from vacation.

– The 2018 World Cup will take place in Russia. What do you expect from it?
– That will be one of the best World Cups in the history of the tournaments. Russia knows how to make events that everybody remembers. I`m sure that we can organize the tournament, and I`m sure that we will. A lot of people will change their opinion about Russia completely, and won`t say any more that we`ve got bears in the streets. But the most important thing is to get the right infrastructure to develop children`s football once the World Cup ends. A lot of young people want to train in sports schools. We`ll build stadiums, hotels and roads, but the important thing is what`s left over afterwards. We need everything that is built for the World Cup to go to the good of the people afterwards.

– You were invited to the national team despite the fact that under Dick Advocaat you left Zenit, and said that you had complex relations together?
– Mutual relations are less important. Our main goal is for Russia to make it to the World Cup. After we do that, then we sit down, drink tea, and discuss our mutual relations (smiles). I want to say thanks to Dick for trusting in my play, and for putting me on the field against Ireland and Macedonia. The main thing is trust.

– What was the most disappointing match this season?
– The loss to Auxerre. Losing to CSKA and Spartak wasn`t fun either, but this is a golden season for us. But we`ll analyze those losses in more detail. But Auxerre… we should have played more confidently at home. Everybody understood that we were more powerful at that time than Auxerre was. But most likely we didn`t handle the psychological responsibility well enough. We`re professionals, and we should have managed better.

– What was the atmosphere like in the locker room after the match with CSKA? You probably got the champagne ready ahead of time.
– No, not at all! There was no champagne after the match with CSKA. It was just really quiet after the match… Maybe we were a little bit confused, how such a thing could happen… But we have to give credit to CSKA. They were stronger than us in that match. And Vagner Love started scoring goals again in the match against us… But all`s well that ends well!

– You`ve been chosen as best player of the season.
– This summer I didn`t imagine that I could become the footballer of the year. When the second half of the season started and I began playing better, my father told me that I can achieve really good results. We all played as one team. It wasn`t possible to play poorly at that point. We played very confidently in back, and we controlled the midfield, so how could we play poorly?! Our parents deserved this season. And my daughter kept telling me throughout the second half of the season that we would win today (smiles).

– Did you get your voice back quickly after singing to the fans after the final whistle in the match with Krylya Sovetov?
– It took three days to get it back. It was nice to lose my voice because I felt how I got the fans going. Our fans cheer for us all the time, but we only get to cheer once at the end of the match. I put all my soul into those applause. We have the best fans in the world. Really!

– You came to the team and said immediately that you`re not going to sit on the bench…
– I always play in order to play. I love football and I want to play, not to sit. I always play from my heart and give it my all.