Sergei Semak: "Diego Maradona was my favourite player"

The Zenit boss did a live Q&A with the support of Megaphone yesterday in St. Petersburg.
Sergei Semak: "Diego Maradona was my favourite player"

For what reasons did managers pick you as their captain at four different Russian clubs? 

It would be better to ask the manager of each team for what reason he chose his captain. Probably my responsible to my teammates. 

Do you raise your children based on the same principles? 

I'm trying to, but it does not always work out that way, but I try to go in this direction. 

Are they addicted to football too?

They love football. There may not be professionals, but they are definitely fans. 

Were you raised in your childhood to play football? 

My Father loved sports. We played football and ice hockey. Sport played a very significant role in our lives. My father is a great football fan even now and watches as many matches as possible, he watches football from morning to night. The worst thing for him is when for some reason the sports channels aren’t working and he cannot watch football. I started playing football thanks to my father.

One of your daughters is involved in equestrian sports. 

Yes, she is, I think it is a very beautiful thing. My children have chosen which sport to play and it's what their soul wants. You need patience, if you have enough patience to spend time on their sport. 

Captains can be chosen by the team or the manager. Why do you think you were often chosen as captain? 

It was by chance I think. Everyone else was afraid to take on the responsibility (laughs). It’s difficult to say why those guys made such a decision. I cannot say that it was my dream for it to happen.  

Did your parents set you up for success or was it more of an accident? 

Accidents do not happen in life. Everything I needed to achieve the results I've had, I was given. I never dreamed of being a manager or a captain, this is all an honour for me. Since childhood, we were taught to do our best so that our dreams could come true. 

Being a young and promising coach, does a lack of experience cause any problems? 

Age is neither a plus nor a minus. For quite a long time I worked as an assistant manager. There are coaches younger than me and everyone has their own path. Some finish their career early, some start late. There is no set road a manager should take. 

You were at PSG for a year. Tell us how French football is different from Russian?

It’s very different. When I left, everything was changing there and new, the attitude to training, shorter training sessions. There you give 100% at every workout. In Russia, you need to motivate players more, invent interesting exercises. We need to aim to be like the French. 

Are we talking about cultural differences?

Yes exactly. For example, if we talk about Germany everything they do there is done with quality, because people, regardless of what they are doing, will do everything conscientiously. We have a different psychology, not better or worse, just different. As for children's sports, we lack teaching methods. The first coaches of children should be their teachers, who should instill a love for football. We often have parents themselves who bring their children to football and they want to play themselves.

Does the Russian mentality reflect on our football? 

We have to work on our own attitude to the game so that it becomes a habit. If you put nothing in, you get nothing, that’s how things work.

How do you manage to make Zenit play as one? 

We do not divide the players by status and everyone should do their job professionally. At this level, communication is very important. The manager needs to create conditions to achieve the team’s goals.

Does your wife run your Instagram page or is it you? 

I run it myself. Thanks to Instagram I can keep track of my children and know what they are doing. Instagram is also important for Zenit for our brand. For my part, I must help build a positive view of the club. So for me, Instagram is both something personal and also a part of my job. 

Do you pay attention to the comments received and do you moderate them?

No, I do not delete anything and do not block anyone. If someone wants to say something, even if it's negative it’s ok. With many comments, I completely agree. Some people don’t like things, but that’s nothing to worry about. I'm not upset with any comments. In my job you need to be able to take a punch.

What parallels can you draw between teamwork and raising children? 

Everyone needs their own approach. Children are always better than adults and the main thing for me is that they feel that they are loved, that they are safe, that no one will ever turn away from them. 

Who was your hero as a child? Who were you aiming to be like?

We do not know what is going on inside someone's head. If you are know someone well, then you can say: "Yes, he is my hero." From a sporting point of view, I would say Diego Maradona was my favourite player. Messi is a genius, a player from another planet.

Will there ever be a Messi in Russian football? 

It’s hard to say. 

Is the public image of players, like we see on social media, very different to the real person? Artem Dzyuba for example. 

Not everyone is ready to share their lives on social media. On the Internet, everyone tries to look their best. Artem is just himself.

Are your children proud of your work? Does everyone see their father first? 

My children are absolutely normal and have their pluses and minuses, no one highlights them at school. 

When did you start playing football? At what point did you want to do it professionally? And who explained to you that football is a team game? 

Regarding my love of football, my father was my first coach. There were no video games like children have today, everyone went to play. Until I was six years, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut, then it was becoming president. Then I started my way in football. I always knew that football is a team game. Not everyone can achieve success in a team game and it can sometimes be quite tough.

Zenit have a lot of experienced players. How do you manage to properly balance their influence on the team? 

If a player is experienced, but for some reason does not get into the starting team, then most important thing is to establish a relationship with him. Thank God, we do not have problems in this area. All the guys in the team respect themselves and the team. 

How do you motivate the team during halftime if they are losing? 

It depends on that game and how the players are. There is no standard answer. Here both professionalism and intuition are important. 

You give the impression of a calm person. What can really upset you?

You’re right, this is an impression. I am calm in life, but emotions are not a stranger to me. The main thing is to be understood. The calmer you say things, the better they hear you. Sometimes it is completely useless to shout. 

Will Zenit succeed in getting passed Villarreal? 

They are a very good team. Where they are in their league does not at all show their level. 

Can you name a recipe for a successful career? 

I believe that you do not need to pursue a career. You need to do what you enjoy and then everything will be fine. A career makes no one happy and all bosses in the soul are unhappy. The one who has money is not rich, but one who has time for his children, for life, he is rich. 

Which modern managers do you look up to?

Pep Guardiola. I cannot think of any scandals he’s been involved in. He behaves very well and gets results. I’ve worked with coaches who believed that conflict was necessary in a team, no matter how or what the players are doing, just to achieve results. 

What do you think about matches against your former sides as a manager? 

I have had many of these games already. Everyone just has to do his job professionally. Everyone always wants to win, no matter who you are playing against. It’s nothing personal. 

Before the match with Fenerbahce, the Zenit supporters arranged a fiery welcome for you. How was their influence on the game?

The fans have a strong influence on the team, when we go to the stadium and its full, it helps our morale and we want to do our best. I agree with the slogan "Love Zenit". Success is a temporary thing. But to always be behind the team is invaluable. 

How do the players react to criticism on social media after a defeat? 

Everyone should have some understanding. Today they say one thing about a team and tomorrow it’s something else. Some of the guys read the criticism, some don’t. 

How do CSKA and Zenit differ in terms of team spirit? 

There is no fundamental difference. When there are younger players, there is more energy. There is team spirit in every team. 

You devote a lot of energy to charity. Is this something special for you or are you looking to set an example? 

Not exactly an example and I'm not trying to promote anything to anyone. I help when there’s the opportunity. 

Tell us about the strengths and weaknesses of Russian football.

As for professional football, we are not very competitive with the leading European leagues. In my opinion, this is in part due to the limit on foreign players, this makes it easier for our players. Not everyone can stand the test of fame and money and if we look at the Dutch league for example, which is very comparable to ours in terms of level and salary, we see that every season, dozens of players leave from there for the top leagues. They play at a very good level and develop. 

It is more difficult here. The pressure is too great. Only a few teams are able to make money and support themselves, to pay for stadiums and pay for transfers. Others are budget organisations that understand that if they go down, they will not be given any more money. The most important thing for them is not to develop, but to hold on. And this is the reality. Without the help of the state or football’s governing bodies, this will keep us at a completely different level. Here we need to have a development strategy. If we want to move forward and be competitive at the European level, then we need strong teams, we need to cancel the foreign player limit. If we want to play, as in other championships, with our players, then we need to reduce the level of wages and play with homegrown players. We need a strategy and to understand things.

Quick questions

Your motto in life? 

Forwards. Always go forwards. 

What makes you proud?

My children.

What is your dream? 

To get to heaven. 

What’s been your worst piece of bad luck?

Failures are forgotten quickly. I try to do what I can. Not only in sports, but also in life. 

Moscow or St. Petersburg? 

St. Petersburg. But we should also respect Moscow, in recent years, it has become much prettier.