Zenit`s first practice of 2011 started at 8:30 in the morning with a long monologue by Luciano Spalletti. Zenit`s head coach talked with the players about the upcoming work they have to do and about keeping their winning mentality.
– Last year you showed what a great team you are, – noted Spalletti. – The new season will be even more difficult, but I`m sure that each one of you is capable of getting through this challenge with honor.
After the head coach`s ten-minute speech, authority was given to Alberto Bartali, one of the central figures of the pre-season practice. After all, the main focus in the first weeks of the year is always physical conditioning, which is Bartali`s forte. The physical conditioning coach held stretching exercises with the players, who sat in a circle. All of the other coaches took part as well. Such stretching exercises are rather routine, but the mood relaxed after… a camel walked by. The one-humped ruler of the desert watched the Zenit players at their work for several minutes, which led to a whole series of jokes.
After the stretching exercises the footballers went to furrow the space between the chaise lounges placed under palm trees on a grassy lawn adjacent to the sandy beach. The team spent about half an hour doing various sprints and jumps, after which the coaches told the blue-white-sky blues to go to the beach and play tennis-ball: volleyball with a soccer ball. The rules of the game were just like in football: the players could only use their legs and heads, and could only make one touch. The teams and pairs of competitors were formed as follows:
- Miguel Danny and Fernando Meira against Nicolas Lombaerts and Bruno Alves
- Tomáš Hubočan and Viktor Fayzulin against Roman Shirokov and Konstantin Zyryanov
- Vladimir Bystrov and Igor Denisov against Alexander Kerzhakov and Alexander Anyukov
- Alexander Bukharov, Alexey Ionov, and Sergey Semak against Yury Zhevnov, Vyacheslav Malafeev, and Dmitry Borodin
- Danko Lazović and Aleksandar Luković against Alessandro Rosina and Szabolcs Huszti
The matches were very emotional: the footballers continually argued with the referees, whose role was fulfilled by Spalletti`s assistants. The players showed the divots that the ball left in the sand. Danny and Kerzhakov were the most emotional of all – their teams went goal for goal with their opponents, and in the final minutes of each match, when one goal could determine the outcome of the match, the players shouted and celebrated just as loud as in the final stages of European cup tournaments.
The practice was finished with two more rounds of physical training – running on the beach and on grassy hills. The players ran up on the sand and down on the grass. The second practice of the day started at 3 p.m. St. Peterbsurg time and took place on Zenit`s "home" field in Dubai - Jabel Ali Stadium, where our club has been working in the winter for five years in a row.