Why did you choose Turkey as the place for your training camps?
Zenit have trained here many times before I arrived at the club. I can say that here is good weather and ideal conditions for preparation. So this is the reason why.
Please tell us about your preparations for the rest of the season.
In general, I am happy with everything. I think that after the first part of the season, the training camps in Dubai and Turkey have gone very well. We did all we wanted to do. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any official games, but there's nothing we can now do about that. We tried to compensate for the absence of official matches with friendlies.
After the game in Glasgow Zenit will have one more training camp in Italy. Why was this decision made?
It's nice there! We’ve made this decision and why not? I'm sure we’ll all eat well there (laughs). We had to decide where to go and we decided to go to Rome.
In some of your friendly matches you used Kranevitter and Paredes together, and in others separately. Which option do you like the most?
I wouldn’t say that these are my only options to choose from, but they look good together. It's just two different formations with two different types of game. In this or that match, depending on the opponent and the circumstances, I will decide to play them together or not.
Is one of these options more defensive and another more attacking?
Kranevitter is a more defensive player, he isn’t as effective in attack. Paredes is a very versatile player. He can both support the attack and the defence. He does both jobs very well. Both players are different.
Do you like Daler Kuzyaev at right back or will he take up his usual place in the midfield?
Daler Kuzyaev is a universal player and I immediately noticed that about him. Playing him at right back in the first friendly matches was just an alternative, another option in his game, it gives me something I can resort to in the second half of the season, we will see. I just wanted to try him in this position, because I think it would come in handy if need be.
How will you cope with the absence of Ivanovic and when will he return to the squad?
There's nothing we can do about it. He will soon have a physical examination and I must meet with the doctor and then we can say for sure when Ivanovic will return to the first team squad and when his time out will be over. All we can do is be happy that fortunately, we don’t have any other serious injuries.
Are you happy with the way Anton Zabolotny has performed in training and out on the pitch?
Yes, I am very pleased with him. He's done very well. I've found him to be a very professional young man. Anton takes what he does very seriously. I think this is very important.
Your assistant Gregucci has said that as a player you most closely resemble Kokorin. Do you agree with this?
Gregucci has never understood anything in football! (laughs).
Kokorin went to London on a Nike presentation for a day. What did you think about this and can he be a star similar to the likes of Neymar?
I want you all to know that despite the fact that he flew to London and participated in this event, Kokorin did not miss a single training session. He trained in the morning and when he returned he played in a friendly match, so he did not miss a thing. Kokorin is a football player of the highest level. He has the makings of a champion and could play for any strong club in Europe and be the best player there. He just needs to play and progress at the pace with which he did in 2017. He greatly improved his skills that year and played much better. If he continues in that same spirit, then he will be a champion.
In Dubai you said that you are interested in acquiring Russian players. Does it apply to Nabiullin and Ozdoev from Rubin? Will they join Zenit?
Well, yes, we were interested in them, but, of course, the deal should have been done before 31 January. I would like to see more Russian players on the team, but if we don’t get any we’ll survive as we are.
Mr. Mancini, you’ve certainly had many offers from around the world, why did you choose Zenit?
Because I wanted to have some new experiences and that is important, another country, another championship. Zenit are a very good club and now we are in the process of reorganising the team. This is not an easy process, but I think that everything will turn out fine.
You are now in second place in the Russian championship and in the last 32 of the Europa League. What are the goals you’ve set yourself?
We are in second position, but I think that we’ve played well. We’ve only lost three games and they were not always deserved, but that's football. We have ten games ahead of us and we will try to win them all. If we do this, then we'll see where we are at.
In the first two months of the season Zenit had had some excellent results, but then something went wrong. Do you know what happened?
We were playing on Thursdays and Sundays, which is not easy. We had a difficult group in the UEFA Europa League and we managed to achieve an excellent result there, we got 16 points, the most in the tournament. But, as I said before, playing on Thursdays and Sundays in one week is difficult.
This year Russia will host the World Cup. How do you assess the chances of the Russian national team in the tournament and can they win?
Winning the World Cup is not easy. I think that Russia will organise a fantastic competition in terms of stadiums and infrastructure. Russia have a good team with a good set of players, but I do not know how they will get on.
On average Zenit play 6 or 7 Russian players on the pitch in accordance with the limit on foreigners. In Turkey, there is no such law. How do you deal with this?
In Russia we have exactly the same limit on foreign players as we had in Turkey when I managed Galatasaray, five local players on the pitch. The problem is that we have changed many of our Russian players, those who had been considered top-level players in Russia for the last 2 to 3 years and it was time for a change. The team does need some young Russian players.
What do you think about the limit on foreign players?
I do not think that there should be a limit.
In the autumn, you had two problems: a tight fixture list and the defensive tactics of the other Premier League teams in games against Zenit. How did you deal with this?
Indeed, there were difficulties, but this is football, so you need to deal with them somehow. We fought as best we could. Yes many teams played defensively and it was difficult. But we cannot make them play any differently. Secondly, I would say the fixture list did greatly affect us in the first part of the championship. Playing in the league on Sunday and on Thursdays in Europe. We have at least 12 matches more ahead of us and we will try to win each of them.
Are there any positions that Zenit need to strengthen in to get the best possible results in the championship?
I think that the guys should improve and they can improve. Absolutely everyone still has the potential to grow. They have not yet reached their optimum condition but we might see this during the second part of the season. I expect progress from all my players and expect an improved game with more wins. I think we can do anything. We have a lot of time and a lot of matches to achieve the best results.
It sounds like you are optimistic about the rest of the season?
Yes. We have nothing to lose, we just have to win all our remaining matches.
Your last official match was almost two months ago, that’s quite a long time to wait. Will this be an advantage or a disadvantage for the game with Celtic?
This is a disadvantage, this will be our first official match since December because of the Russian winter break. Celtic, unlike us, play in a championship that is not interrupted. We should deal with this problem and we hope we will go further in the competition.
You played against Celtic while manager of Inter. What do you remember from the results of those matches?
The atmosphere in Glasgow is just incredible. Matches against Celtic are always difficult, they play aggressive, powerful football.
Tell us about Scott Sinclair, whom you’ve managed.
Yes, there is not only him at Celtic but two more players who were with me at Manchester City, Boyata and Bitton, who was on loan. In addition to them Celtic have a lot of high-quality footballers. It is unfortunate that Boyata will not be able to take part in the match. I had a great experience with this player, he is a good footballer and a good person.
Do you think Celtic are better than the team they had two years ago?
I will answer that after these two matches. I will say once again that it will not be easy against Celtic, just like two years ago in both Glasgow and Milan. Our problem may be that we have not had an official match since December.
Will a draw in Glasgow be a good result for you?
A draw is better than a defeat. We want to play our best football in Glasgow. I'm sure, Celtic who are under the guidance of a very good coach in Brendan Rogers, will go on the pitch with the same intentions.
At the match with Maribor we saw a scout from Celtic. Will you retaliate and send a scout to Glasgow?
It is absolutely normal practice for teams to sends their representatives to friendly matches and to games of future opponents to look at the state of the team. We do the same. My assistant, Angelo Gregucci went to Scotland, watched all their matches. So, in terms of preparing for them we know about Celtic and I can say that we are ready.
How important is the UEFA Europa League?
When we started the group stage of the Europa League, I thought that Zenit would find it hard to get out of the group, where we had very strong opponents. Fortunately, we were able to get 16 points and score the most goals of the group stage. It will be difficult for us to win the Europa League, as there are many strong teams in the tournament. But now we are only looking at Celtic.
Last season, almost all the top clubs in Europe wanted to buy Moussa Dembele, what do you think of him?
I like Dembele. I remember him from his time at Fulham. He is a good, young player. I think he will be the main threat from Celtic.
Brendan Rodgers said that your Manchester City side was more defensive than your Zenit team now. Do you agree with this and if so, what’s changed?
I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Manchester City and I won the Premier League for the first time in 50 years and in that season we conceded the least goals and scored the most. Therefore, I do not really understand the nature of that remark.
It's not ours, it's Brendan Rogers.
I do not know why he thinks so. Ask him.
Celtic will be missing key players because of injuries, will this be a big advantage for Zenit?
I would not say that they've lost a lot of important players. They did have a few recent injuries. But for a club like Celtic this does not affect them, I can assure you we will certainly have a difficult match despite their injuries. This will not affect the intensity of the game.
Italy did not qualify for the World Cup. How did you feel after the match ended with Sweden?
For us it was just incredible. I do not remember when Italy did not go to the World Cup. This is a big problem for the country, for the players. Football for Italians is a real religion, it is very important for us.
Why did it happen?
I do not know, but I do not think that Italy deserved to not go to the World Cup. We need to get together and work hard so that this situation does not happen again at the European Championships.
How do you stay in such good shape?
I would not say that I'm in good shape (laughs). I run, I work a lot. In addition, it's cold in Russia. So that's the reason.
Can you name your best years as a player and as a coach?
As a player? All 20 years were perfect because playing football is the best thing in the world. As a coach, it's the same. For me, the most important thing is to stay in football.