Robert Mak: "We must play more confidently and win away from home"

The Zenit midfielder on his returning from loan, the Europa League campaign so far and about the atmosphere at the club.
Robert Mak: "We must play more confidently and win away from home"

We saw at the training camp that you wanted to return to Zenit and it’s all worked out. Are you happy with how you are playing? Can we say you’ve hit form?

Sergei Semak told me that If I showed I wanted to be at Zenit during pre-season, then he would help me to stay at the club. I fought as best I could and eventually convinced the coach that I wanted to be part of the team. I try to help out in every match I play, I do my best to make an assist or to score, and we are winning. It doesn't matter who scores in the end, the main thing is to get the result. I have been given confidence from the head coach and I am very glad that I am often starting now.

Are you happy with how the team are playing?

After we beat Dinamo Minsk in the Europa League, especially after losing in the first game 4-0, we became stronger as a team. Zenit are top of the league and everything is going well for us.

In the second leg with Dinamo Minsk, you came on about 20 minutes before the end and decided the game, scoring two goals and winning a penalty quickly, did anything like that ever happen before in your career?

I went out with the score at 4-1 in order to change the course of the game and to help the team score more. We managed to all do it together. After the match we were very happy and we must continue in the same spirit until the end of the season. If we talk about similar matches, the game in Tel Aviv comes to mind when we won 4-3 from being 3-0 down, that was also something incredible, but with Minsk we were down even more and won 8-1.

That game seemed almost unreal, to win after being 4-0 down from the first leg, without supporters, with only 10 men and to win in extra time, can you explain what happened?

It was a strange match, because we played without our fans in the stands. It’s always very difficult to comeback from being 4-0 down in a game with any team. Dinamo Minsk looked great in the first leg in Minsk, where we played very badly there. As soon as we scored, I thought that maybe it could happen. Then Paredes got his red card and we thought it would now be much more difficult. But we kept going for goal and creating scoring opportunities. I think that in the end we created about thirty chances. When Dynamo scored their goal at the beginning of extra time and the score was 4-1, it flashed through my head: “Okay, we have to score two goals now”. But in reality we actually scored four! It was fantastic!

The Europa League qualifying matches were not only exciting, but also worrying, with Zenit losing both away matches to Dinamo and Molde.

In Norway, we had our worst match of the season. We played very badly and we really shouldn’t have played like that away. Molde aren’t such a big club, but they looked great in the matches against us. It’s not worth blaming the artificial pitch as it was the same for both teams. In Russia, there are also enough artificial pitches, at Ufa and Orenburg for example. It was not about the pitch, but about the motivation. In Norway, we were not the real Zenit and we learned from this lesson. In the group stage, we need to show much better football. 

Now, we have six matches in the Europa League group stage and have less risk, will it be easier?

In the group stage, we will face tougher teams, we must play more confidently and win away from home. At home, we can turn the course of any game, but away games are more difficult. All four teams in our group are comparable in level and this makes it quite complex.

How far can the team go in the Europa League? What is your target?

First we need to get out of the group. As soon as that happens, then everything is possible. But still the league is more important and we are concentrating on that.

In Greece, you won your first trophy in your career. Is this the main thing about your time with PAOK?

We won the Greek Cup, we were close to becoming champions, but this did not happen for a number of reasons. Madness is going on in that league and it's very strange. There are good teams in Greece, Olympiacos, AEK, PAOK, but the problem is that their league is not as popular as the Russian championship. In Russia the organisation and the whole World Cup was brilliant, there are now wonderful stadiums here, people are watching football and the quality of football itself is higher than in Greece. 

How did you like the Greek fans? Do they still sail to the match on the ships and support the team if they are not allowed into the stands?

You know that PAOK have really crazy fans. The atmosphere in Thessaloniki is really fantastic. The Greeks are just more emotional. The story of the Zenit fans who came to the Petrovsky on ships was also unusual, but very nice. We heard them supporting us from the water and together we celebrated the win. 

You said that the Russian Premier League is stronger than the Greek league, but PAOK beat Spartak Moscow in Europe. Why was that?

Spartak underestimated PAOK,  They led 2-0 before the away match in Greece and they stopped playing and let in three. The Muscovites were not good in the Champions League this season, PAOK played much better in the home game and in the away.

You moved your family to St. Petersburg from Greece. Were they sad to leave that warm country?

Life in Greece is beautiful, the weather is good, the sea. But I wanted to play for Zenit, one of the strongest clubs in Europe. I had no doubts about returning. We also like St. Petersburg very much and we are living in the same place as we did previously.

Do your sons like football? Are you planning to send them to the club’s academy?

We'll see. When the eldest is five or six years old, then we will decide. In the meantime, they do not play football that much as they are both still at nursery school.