Daler Kuzyaev: "I'd like to beat my record from my first season at Zenit and I'm doing my best to make it happen"

The interview with the Zenit midfielder where he discusses playing against Messi, the clash with Spartak in the Cup and his hopes for this season.
Daler Kuzyaev: "I'd like to beat my record from my first season at Zenit and I'm doing my best to make it happen"
Daler, once again happy birthday. How are you? 

Thank you, it feels like a year or two ago. Nothing major has changed in my life, there have been a few changes, but overall I feel just as young. 
I noticed that over the last couple of years I've got physical stronger. I don’t know what the reason is, maybe it’s all due to experience. I know how to prepare myself for training, matches and how to recovery. 
You celebrated your 30th birthday, do you feel this milestone?
At 24 or 25 you don’t think about how old you are. At 30, a small alarm bell has appeared in my head. I don’t worry about it, there are a lot of players still at the top level at 35 or 37. For example, Cristiano Ronaldo signed the biggest contract in the history of football at the age of 37. This is a good example for players, proof that with proper preparation and the right  attitude, you can play for many more years. 
Your birthday is on 15 January and normally this is either the date of the winter medicals or the start of the training camp. Are you used to celebrating your birthday like this? 

Yes, for the last 10 years I've been celebrating my birthday this way, with the team, either on the plane or at the training camp.  

How do you start the training camp? How did it feel to be back with the team? 

The winter break was very long, even too long. I spoke with the guys and we all missed football. We are getting ready as we usually do, we are gaining momentum. The first training camp is where we build the foundation of our physical condition.  
What did you do in your time off, did you have a good time? 

It was awesome, I loved it! I went on holiday with friends somewhere warm. I spent the New Year with my family, my parents, brother and sister. We haven't been together like this for a long time. 
Many players get bored and start to train. Did you do the same? 

Yes, of course, the coaching staff gave us all a training plan and I tried to do it all, Although I must confess, I didn't do 100% of it. If you do nothing at all for a month and a half, it will be incredibly difficult at the training camp. 
So did it help in the first few days of the training camp? 

Of course, the stats show i'm performing  at a good level. I am glad that the training camp has started well. 
What other thoughts do you have from the first days of training camp, other than these good results? 

I only have positive thoughts about it. We have the sun here, which we're missing in St. Petersburg, a nice hotel, good pitches nearby, and we don’t have to take a bus. The food too is the right standard. I am happy with everything. 
Some players say it's been tough, a little more than usual. Do you feel the same? 
It's tough yes, but this is normal at the beginning of the training camp. We run a lot, we train in the gym. We'll have a rest in two or three days. 

Did you watch the World Cup? 

I didn't watch it at all. Maybe 15-20 minutes of a few matches. So I can't comment on how good it was. I only watched the finale in full, that was a great game. I'm not big on history,  but it might be the best World Cup final of all time, right? At a time when the whole world was cheering on Argentina, I was supported France, but I have to admit that Argentina played better and deserved to win. 
Why didn't you watch the other games? 

I wanted to completely disconnect from football, to just lie in the sun, swim and relax. There are so many other entertainments in the world other than football, so I did that.  
Why did you support France? 

I like this team, they impress me. I like Kylian Mbappe, his style of play, he's a fast, explosive player, he played superbly in the final.  
Do you think he will replace Messi as the best player in the world? 

Yes, although there are conditions. By the way, I once played against Messi, that was something special! We played in a friendly match in 2017, for the opening of the renovated Luzhniki. Messi wasn't going for it 100%, but even so it was clear that he was on a different level.  
We played quite well, but, unfortunately we conceded at the end and lost 1-0. But it was great.  

Do you remember anything else from the match against Messi? 

I played in the centre of midfield and Messi played in his favorite 10 position, and I frequently came into contact with him. I tried to take the ball away from him, and didn't manage it (laughs). I fouled him once, that's it.  
Wilmar Barrios is one of the few who managed to keep him quiet... 

We need to find out how he did it (smiles)

This season you've been permanently in your midfield position and not having to cover for other positions across the pitch.  

I am very pleased with things this season. I'm playing in my favorite position, I've managed to score and assist goals. 4-3-3 is the best formation for me. 
While at Akhmat, I only played in a defensive midfield role and for three and a half years I didn't score a single goal. When I moved to Zenit I started scoring and I really liked it, I got a taste for it. Now I like to play closer to the attack, from box to box, but I can play in a defensive midfield role,and on the right of the defence. I will play wherever the manager wants me. 
Your best season at Zenit in terms of numbers was your first, when you scored seven. Now you have five already this season. Is there a target for you to reach this season? Maybe 10?  

I would like to beat this record from my first season at Zenit and I'm doing my best to make it happen. But our main aim is to get that second star above the club badge. 
How do you rate the first part of the season? 

If I have to give us a mark from five, I would say four, because we didn't play very well in the Cup. We finished third in the group and we have a longer way to go to win the trophy. In the league we've been excellent, excluding the match against Akhmat. If we are at 100% in our upcoming games, then there's  a good chance we'll be champions again. 


The next Cup match will be in Ulyanovsk in just over a month. Are you already thinking about this? 

Yes, after we get back from training camp, we'll fly to Ulyanovsk.  I don't know what the conditions will be there, what the stadium or pitch will be like, but these are not excuses if it goes wrong. We must win and go further in the Cup. 
Do you like away matches like this in the Cup? If Zenit had been at the top of the group in the first stage then, most likely, you would not be playing Volga Ulyanovsk. 

The Path of Regions is more interesting when we look at potential opponents, although it means we cannot make any mistakes. I am sure that Zenit coming to Ulyanovsk will be a great day for that city, and I hope that despite the weather the stadium will be full. They will remember this day and this game for a long time.  
Malcom, Rodrigão and Barrios will miss six Cup matches due to suspension. What do you think about this situation? 

This is the decision of the RFU's disciplinary committee. I don’t know what the right punishment is for fighting on the pitch . This is a long time for us to lose our key players. But we have a good squad of players and this is a chance for them to show what they can do. I don't think this will be a big problem. 
What did the clash with the Spartak players look like from your point of view? 

I was calm when it all happened and didn't get overexcited. I tried to separate Rodrigão and Nicholson, and that didn't go very well (smiles). When I turned around there was a lot going on, I didn’t really understand what was happening. I thought the fight was just in front of me, but when I watched the video it was all around me.  

Of course, this shouldn't happen in football. But everyone could see it was a tense game agaisnt our main rivals.  

Someone also wrote to me after the match, saying that all the fans were happy, even if the match wasn't very good, but had a shock ending (laughs).  

Do you become more or less excitable over the years? 

I think less. I look at different things from a different angle now, trying to lookj at it from the other person's point of view. I try not to overreact. 
You're now the third oldest in the team. Do you feel like a veteran? Have younger players started asking for your advice? 

I have quietly advised younger players during training. I do feel like a bit of a veteran, it's my sixth year in the team and only Misha Kerzhakov has been here longer than me, Sasha Erokhin and I joined together.  
Dejan Lovren left Zenit this winter. Were you able to say goodbye to him? 

Yes, we said goodbye and I was very surprised that he left. We talked in Autumn and he told me that he wasn't against extending his Zenit contract. Apparently, his successful spell at the World Cup helped him with the move to Lyon. I wish Dejan the best of luck and success there. 
The captain's armband is now vacant with Dejan's departure and you have been touted for the role. What do you think about this? 

Our vice-captains are Douglas Santos and Misha Kerzhakov, so I think the armband will go to one of them.  
You've captained Russia recently, and quite a few other players have also worn the national team's armband. Do you know why this is? 

Yes, I was the captain and I really liked it (smiles). Valery Karpin said that we have a number of captains in our team and everyone should be a leader, that we all share the responsibility in the team.  
The national team is having a difficult time now, how do you feel about playing weaker teams like Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, or are you just happy to be playing at all? 

It is frustrating that these matches are friendlies and not part of any competition. Our participation in international competition is still unclear. I'm not complaining about the level of opponents, they are teams worth playing and it was not easy against them. We've had a lot of young players being called up for the first time. This also needs to be taken into account, but I don't know what will happen this year.