The new season of our beloved Russian Premier League will start very soon. The long-awaited reboot will undoubtedly delight fans with new unexpected victories, high-profile failures and bright scandals. The correspondent of “Soviet Sport” in an exclusive interview learned from the ex-President of Lokomotiv Nikolai Naumov what sensations we should prepare for, which team will set the tone for the season and which of the players is able to reveal themselves in a new way.
– Zenit showed itself rather weakly in the match for the Super Cup. Will the St. Petersburg team be able to keep the lead in the new season?
“I don’t even doubt it. While Malcolm and Wendel may be gone, Zenit have a great bench with very skilled players. It seems to me that, of course, they can fail a few games, but in the long run they are unlikely to lose the front line to anyone this year.
Photo source: RIA Novosti
– In the midfield of the “Zenith” a real devastation, with the departure of the protagonists and the arrival of new ones. Has Zenit lost the quality of the game or will they be able to compensate?
– The fact is that qualified players come. Take the same Kovalenko from Krylia, he is a very competent and strong footballer. It is easier for such players to join the Zenit game. Maybe the first rounds won’t be very successful for the team, then teamwork will come and everything will fall into place. All this is compensated for by the team’s skillful play, the construction of this very game, because the coach remains. Yes, the players are changing, but I think Zenit will leave their image and achieve results in the league.
Photo source: FC Zenit
– Can Zenith be called an evil empire? The team stole many of the best players from competitors in the transfer window.
-Evil Empire — said too loud. But the fact that Zenith really, like an oceanic sperm whale, rakes up everything and then spits out the superfluous is a fact. A rich club, big money, takes players in batches, and then many of them have to interrupt their careers or make it worse. There are many such players, especially Russians, for them my soul aches with special force. They take it, then it doesn’t fit, they keep it on the bench or give it back. Dmitry Poloz spent time at Zenit, he wasted a lot of time, there are a lot of them. It’s not entirely good, but it depends on each club. Zenit have a lot of money and they have the right to take players and then select the best from them, and that’s how it works. But it’s probably not entirely correct to call the empire evil.
– CSKA was badly torn apart. Will this summer be decisive for Fedotov’s team? Will the team fall apart or find new heroes?
— I don’t think CSKA will collapse. Fedotov is a very good and strong coach, he knows what he’s doing, he knows how to build the team’s game with what he has. He’s used to working with the material he has. It seems to me that CSKA will fight for the top three, they certainly won’t collapse. In the match with Zenit they showed that they are not bad at all, I think the game will only get better.
Photo source: RIA Novosti
– Who can strengthen CSKA? What position is needed?
– Considering that many top players have left, now the state of affairs is such that there are now many positions that require strong players. We need forwards, a defensive midfielder, for example, if Fedotov gives Mukhin more time, then an excellent midfielder will grow out of him, and he still looks great. I think CSKA needs to be strengthened in many positions, including right full-back. Chalov doesn’t always play consistently, one match can be a star and another fail, that’s very bad. Zabolotny is also unstable. Reinforcement is needed. But even with the lineup we have, I think CSKA will be able to compete for the top three positions.
– Spartak signed a lot of people, made several powerful and expensive transfers. Will it play into their hands?
– No doubt. They have taken very skilled players. I believe that Spartak will become Zenit’s main competitor in the fight for prizes. Of course, Muscovites are unlikely to win the championship, but you can fight for prizes. If Litvinov will also perform, Khlusevich will prove himself, Zobnin will show his strength, and Promes will be the leader, then, of course, everything will depend only on the leadership. If someone else does not come out to remove or change, as is usually the case in Spartak, then the red and white will compete for second place.
Photo source: RIA Novosti
– Spartak’s sports director has changed. Did Melezhikov drag them to the bottom?
I don’t know him, it’s hard to say anything about him. When a new sports director or coach comes in, it’s Malyshev instead of Melezhikov, this always creates instability. When they changed the general director, I didn’t understand why at all, Melezhikov worked great, organized all the work of the club, everything was coordinated. Why did it have to be removed? I don’t represent well.
– The new head coach of Dynamo is Lichka. What are the expectations?
– It’s a dark horse. It’s one thing to coach a team from the second eight of the Russian championship, it’s another thing to coach one of the leaders. This is a completely different pressure, intensity of passions, responsibility. Lichka has never worked under such pressure. If he can handle it, he’ll be fine. He is a qualified coach. They had Silkin, he trained a double, he came, they started pressing from all sides, he failed. Khokhlov too. In Dynamo this happens when there are many managers, trustees and advisers, the coach finds himself in this situation and has to show his core and solid “I”. If Lichka has it, he’ll make it, otherwise he’ll bow to every opinion and nothing will work.
Photo source: FC Dynamo (Moscow)
– Loko has too many strikers. Will he do them good or harm? Many are deprived of playing the game.
– I don’t think it will hurt Lokomotiv. They don’t have many forwards. Dziuba has already aged, there are many injuries. Young Pinyaev and Glushenkov are just starting to improve. Likewise, Lokomotiv has acquired a very balanced squad. Everyone who took, took a case, had a very good transfer policy. But here it is the same as in Spartak. If the leaders don’t come up with something new again, different models and so on, then everything will be fine there. So far Galaktionov is doing well, his assistants are very good, they know how to build a game and prepare a team. Lokomotiv is now on the right track and will be the main competitor of Zenit, stronger even than Spartak.
– Almost nothing is known about Rostov. Think of Karpin’s success — is this a one time promotion? Or will they be able to compete with competitors who have strengthened well?
– I don’t think Karpin’s success is a one-time action. He is growing before our eyes as a coach, he is on the rise, it shows. The game of “Rostov” is somewhat different from the games of other teams in Russia, it is more combinatorial, it is built by a goalkeeper who plays a lot with his feet and makes close passes, a lot of balls are played in his own half. This is Karpin’s style, yes, it can be criticized, but he follows it, this is the highlight of the Rostov team. Of course, there are difficulties with the team, the main players are leaving, I think this is a big loss. But Karpin loses top players every year and still stays afloat. Rostov will fight for the top five, this is a strong team that tries to win in every match.
Photo source: FC Rostov
– Orenburg was headed by Yaroshik, a friend of Lichka. In the direction of him a lot of criticism for lack of experience. Now Lichka’s legacy has collapsed on him, can he keep it? Or will you have to change coaches mid-season?
– To this question, probably, no one knows the answer now. When you hire a young, little-known and inexperienced coach, you always take risks. You can win, like Galaktionov in Lokomotiv, the risk was justified, but there are failures, you can’t guess. There are many foreigners in Orenburg who consider themselves great masters, it will not be easy to build relationships with them. How a young coach will cope, no one will tell you today. Let’s see the season will show.
— Ignashevich — a young and nice manager, but with no RPL experience. Is he ready to solve the problems with Baltika, to fight for survival?
– In the West very often the protagonists become coaches and immediately give results, let’s take Guardiola and Zidane himself. Ignashevich played very high level, for many years he was the best defender in Russia. You can feel his hand in Baltika’s game, he builds a team game very well. I think it is very good for Ignashevich that Baltika entered the RPL after about 25 years. They built a great stadium for the World Cup, people love and support football, the team and Ignashevich himself. Such a growth of a coach is very interesting, he grows on his own with this team. I believe in him and want to wish good luck so that Baltika stays and does not fly away. Of course, the team needs to be strengthened, Ignashevich himself said that, despite the arrival of 2-3 new players, the team still wants to strengthen before the transfer period closes, but this requires money. Ignashevich — a good coach, a strong and characteristic person. It seems to me that he should be successful.
Photo source: RIA Novosti
– Rubin had a big signing of players. Chief Rakhimov. How feasible does this project seem to you in the next season of RPL?
– To be honest, I don’t really believe in the feasibility of the Rubin. I don’t know the exact situation in the club, but I heard about the sporting director who left and then came back, allegedly Rakhimov was given the club’s transfer policy, which I don’t think is right. There is a selection department, a sports management, which should be engaged in the selection of players, and not a coach who will leave tomorrow, and useless players will remain. Therefore, I don’t think Rubin will play after all. I worked with Rakhimov and I know he is a strong, intelligent and competent coach, but unfortunately he doesn’t always manage to build a team spirit, he can’t always do that. Sure, I think he has gained experience, but Rakhimov has always coached mid-level teams. He made it. Will it be possible to bring Rubin to the lead, which is what the leadership aspires to? I have big doubts about this.
– Which team will be able to present a surprise?
– I expect a big surprise from Lokomotiv, I expect them to compete for the championship with Zenit. I think it’s quite realistic if nothing happens. Vadim Mikheev should do a good job, I know him, he is a very strong coach and a character who left the team in the Premier League. I think he can fly higher.
Photo source: RIA Novosti
– What are the top three players who can progress and be on top on par with Malcolm, etc.?
– I really like Pinyaev. I think this is our brightest future star, if nothing happens, such as injury or stellar disease. I expect much more from Krugovoy from Zenit, he also knows how to play well and consistently. The same goes for Bridge. Glushenkov should also play in Lokomotiv. These young players should play, now is a time when our new players have great opportunities due to the fact that the level of foreign players has dropped and we have been excommunicated from European football. Ours could compete with foreigners. Zhamaletdinov didn’t say a word about him until the end, the injury got in the way, Mukhin is in CSKA, he’s very strong, you have to trust him, he’ll show up. There are many Russian guys who have been waiting in the wings and now they can become great players.