How are you Sergei?
I feel good. No one really knows how everything will is going to pan out, but we now know when the league will restart and we can plan our training program, so that makes me happy.
Will you be planning and observing the players' individual training sessions or are there enough coaches for that?
I plan to be involved of course, I’ll just have to fit them all into my schedule. When one player finishes another one starts, we’ll do it in shifts.
What about the new five substitutions rule?
I think it’s good because we will not be able to play friendlies before the resumption. Normally we play three to six matches during the winter break and now most teams will not have the chance to play at all before we start again, as the danger is too high.
I’m all for five substitutions, this will help us to smoothly start the season and give players who don’t feel great a rest. The English league had a good idea about the five substitutions, having three times to do it with two double substitutions and one single sub, so the integrity of the game is preserved and time isn’t wasted with the five substitutions. Because I can see a team might not use their subs and then at the end of the match use them all to waste two to three minutes. It will be difficult to call that football.
Were you worried that league would be cancelled and all your effort would be wasted and were you concerned about your foreign players who you’d helped get home?
We had to be understanding. When the guys called to ask if they could fly home, I told them, “You can fly home, but you won’t be able to return, because the borders will be closed and we’ll have to quarantine them so how will we train?” We had very little time to prepare for everything, but all the guys were sympathetic and we did all we could.
Have you looked past the end of the season? Once this season ends, a new one will almost start immediately, so will you have a summer training camp?
Arranging training camps can be difficult and most likely we will not have one. We don’t know the fixture list for next season yet. Everyone knows we’ll have a very short break and for some teams there will be a lot of changes. The championship will have to start a new and there will be some problems, with contracts and the lack of pre-season training.
We have to ask about your contract, which ends this summer.
I’ve outlined my position to the club’s management. We’ve spoken about the issues that I have and there is nothing unsolvable there. The contract is under negotiation.
Were you expecting the league to be ended and Zenit declared champions? Now the 9 point lead needs to be confirmed.
We are used to playing to the rules and the football authorities make the decisions. I had an idea what would be the right thing to do from my point of view, but it’s unethical to speak out only on what’s in the interests of our team. There are people who make the decisions and we will finish the league. We’ll see what happens and in any case, we’ll do our best to be ready for it as best as we possibly can.
I’m surprised that you might not want to finish the championship!
There are many nuances around this and everyone’s health in this situation and it’s not a time for high spirits. I’m in constant communication with our medical people and I am saddened by the current situation. Let’s hope the situation improves and God forbid, one of the players gets sick or someone from the family gets sick.
In the Bundesliga they’ve settled on a protocol with lots of testing and quarantine procedures. Are you prepared for this with Zenit’s first game away to CSKA Moscow?
It is a difficult situation, but we need to finish the championship in a month. However, if two or three people get sick, then they will be quarantined for two weeks and not play a match. Germany seems to have done it absolutely right, but what happens if a lot of players get sick in a team? What will happen next? There are so many questions and no one can guarantee anything.
Did you watch Borussia v Schalke?
They destroyed them and it was not unexpected. But, I think, now there will be many unpredictable results.
Did you enjoy the Borussia v Schalke game, even though there were no fans and the stadium had an echo?
It was like a training match in pre-season training. It is sad, but there's nothing we can do about it and this is the situation now. We have to finish the season without fans and yes this is quite unpleasant, as everyone wants to play with fans. Without the fans, football loses its energy and excitement.
Another question about the matches need to be played to end the season is where they will be played, How do you feel about playing all the games at the Gazprom Arena?
I like that idea! Even if the stands are empty, it’s better to play where the guys are used to playing. We can prepare everything in just a few days so in my opinion it’s a good solution.
How did you feel about the isolation?
I didn’t have to isolate much myself as I am surrounded by a large family and I’ve been able to devote a lot of time to my children. They are doing their school work online and got used to doing that work. I’ve spent all this time at home other than the rare exceptions of going to the shops. We’ve tried not to go anywhere and not to meet with anyone. The only thing is my eldest daughter has been to visit.
Have you tried to organise some family things activities like watching a movie together or something?
In the first month yes we did. But now everyone has their own interests, so we are spending less time altogether. But we eat breakfast, or dinner, or watching a movie together and we are almost together. Not everyone always agrees to watch the same movie or TV series for example. We are all different ages, so it’s difficult to please everyone.
Are your children happy with you being home? They haven’t seen their dad so much for a long time.
Yes, this has never happened before in my football career, either as a player or a coach, so I’ve never had so much time at home with his children.
What’s been the most difficult thing during these last two months?
To stay at home all the time. It's hard to be locked up, no matter where you are.
What’s been the most positive thing?
Walking. When it is possible to go out it’s been lovely. Being indoors is difficult.
What have you missed most?
Walking in the city.
What’s been the most interesting thing you’ve watched or listened to in self-isolation?
A lot of things. The latest series of "Paper House", which Anatoly Tymoshchuk recommended.
When will all the coaching staff be able to get together?
We have online video conferences all the time and we are all using this at the moment.
There are still a lot of questions about Alexander Kokorin’s future. Can you answer them?
The club’s management decided on the loan deal until the end of the season and then I hope they will then return to this issue. As manager, I hope to have him back in the team then. Sasha, as far as I know, also wants to play at Zenit and I think he is a player who will strengthen our team. But, of course, this is up to the club’s management and Sasha himself.
Have you changed your image during quarantine?
My hair is growing back and I’ve not had a haircut for a long time, let's see what how it looks soon.
Will Krasnodar or Lokomotiv be able to catch you?
I would like to say a few words in gratitude and support to Yuri Semin, he is a legend in Russian football. I want to wish him all the best, he is one of the most respected managers in football.
As for our challengers, Lokomotiv, Krasnodar, and Spartak are the closest. Now Spartak are perhaps not challenging for the title, but remain our main rival and we are waiting for the Cup semi-final. Rostov too are chasing a Champions League place and there are five more teams around those positions too, including Dynamo. Everything can happen and it will be an interesting end to the season. It will be difficult for someone to catch us, but Krasnodar and Lokomotiv are in the fight. We must pay attention to our game and try to win as many as possible.
Regarding the Cup. This has been forgotten about a bit, but where should the semi-final between Zenit and Spartak take place?
We know that the rules have changed a bit and this might be down to human error. But the decision will be made by the football authorities.
There has been talk about having 18 teams in the Premier League next season. But now it’s staying at 16, what do you think about this?
18 teams in the league is not bad, but next season will be quite stressful and tight for many teams as it is starting later so where would the extra matches be fitted in? The main thing is the quality of the league should be good enough and perhaps the most important thing is to know where to play matches, so the conditions are ok for the supporters to enjoy the games and not play when it’s -15 or -20 outside. Football like this is not fun for the fans or the players.
We now know that Rotor and Khimki will be in the Premier Liga next season. Do you think this was the right way to end the FNL season?
The PFL almost never started, but in the FNL it is far from a fair result. The points difference between the teams in third and fourth places and the top two is minimal and isn’t a very sporting result. I think there are many issues that were discussed before a decision was made. Unfortunately for many teams, this was the solution. It is difficult to call it fair, because we don’t know who was the best out on the pitch. But that’s the decision made.
Will any of the Zenit players currently at Sochi return to Zenit?
Sasha Kokorin will be a free agent if not and our management need to make a decision. Mostovoi will definitely return to our team. Let's see how he comes back and we like what we’ve seen there and he’s done well and gained experience. He’s looked very good at Sochi.
Finally, do you have a message for the fans?
I will say that football without the fans will be sad. We will miss them and it won’t be the same without their support. We are waiting for football to return in all its glory with the fans and all the emotions that they give us.