Igor Rabiner

As a journalist, how do you see the evolution of your job and especially with the rise of social networks ?

First of all, I realize that I have to participate in both top international social networks – Twitter and Facebook, as well as two Russian networks – Odnoklassniki and VKontakte. Especially first two of them give you a lot of opportunities to get a quick info from when you need it.

You receive information and you give information. I have more than 10 000 followers at Twitter and more than 1 000 friends in Facebook, so if you express some unknown fact or your opinion on each topic (which takes much less time that to write a story), it spreads to large number of people immediately. In terms of influence it also means a lot.

Last July I had a difficult situation when I had been unfairly fired from « Sport-Express » – the newspaper where I worked during 18 years (in August I went to the court and won it in November, proving that I had been fired against the law). So, I wrote a few immediate twits right after CEO made the decision. « Sport-Express » expected to keep the story, as we say in Russia, « under the carpet », but surprisingly for them all the country learned, what happened. At the same day at Facebook I got a message from my future employer – CEO of Championat.com, who expressed his interest. So, it means how important social networks are. My twits were quoted at all top sports internet sites, and the only Russian sports radio station made a 10-minute interview with me soon, and one of top Russian sports sites made a big interview with me. I think much of that would never had happened without Twitter and Facebook.

Nikolay Tolstykh, became a President of Russian Football Union, so I hope he’ll made our football cleaner and more fair.

About Russian football, how would you describe the level of RPL, compare to western European leagues ?

In terms of football, I suppose, it’s rather comparable with Italy and France but lower than England, Spain and Germany. The biggest problem is not level of football but bad infrastructure, violence at stadiums and corruption. Last year finally a real football person, Nikolay Tolstykh, became a President of Russian Football Union, so I hope he’ll made our football cleaner and more fair. Although he has a lot of influentional enemies.

What can expect Russian teams in European competitions ?

I suppose, Russian clubs could win Europa League (which they did in UEFA Cup, when CSKA Moscow and Zenit St.Petersburg won it in 2005 and 2008 respectively). But in Champions League it’s very doubtfully that they could go farther than quarterfinal so far.

Recently, some great and famous coaches came to Russia (Hiddink, Bilic, Spalletti or Emery even if this one was fired) and also players like Eto’o, Hulk, Witsel or players with “potential” (Boussoufa, Elm, Romulo, …) are more likely to come in Russia now. Is money the only reason of this phenomenon ?

Money is very important, no doubt. Maybe number 1 as a reason. But it’s not like Middle East where footballers and coaches go only because of money. Guus Hiddink, working with Russian national team, proved that top professionals could achieve very high results here: before him Soviet and Russian national teams didn’t reach even second round at FIFA World Cups and Euros since 1990, and he got a bronze at Euro 2008, showing a brilliant performance vs. Holland in quarterfinal. Dick Advokaat won UEFA Cup with Zenit. So, you have some sports motivation, moving here. Of course, you have to be a little bit of adventures lover to do that, but in football world you could find much of such people.

Talking about Unai Emery, his situation surprised me a lot. He has a great reputation and was seen as a future top coach in Spain. As a specialist of Spartak, how can you explain the failure of Emery as a coach, and how do you see the future of the club ?

Unfortunately, he couldn’t establish good relationship with players. At final stages of his Spartak stint not only players from the bench were against him but also many players of first 11! He worked a lot, he showed a lot of passion, but it looks like his lack of any experience of working abroad worked against him. The team which started very well at July and August, played worse and worse in the autumn, and it was a pure result of his communication problems with the team. I really wanted him to work at least till the end of the season, but it was obvious he knew less and less what to do. I wish him all the best in Sevilla but his Russian experience wasn’t successful.

At the beginning of the season, one team looked superior to any other Russian teams. Obviously, I’m talking about Zenit. The Spalletti’s team was playing an amazing football and I actually thought that they were the favorite of their Champions’ League group. But the situation changed a lot after the arrival of Witsel and Hulk and Russian players like Denisov totally disapproved the club’s policy regarding salary for example. What was/is the exact situation of this conflict and how do the fans reacts to this situation ?

Fans’ reaction was quite neutral. One of the biggest problems of Zenit was the misunderstanding between Spalletti and the influential group of Russian players. The difference of salaries between top foreigners and Russians in Anji is much bigger, but nothing like Zenit happened there, because Anji is a totally new project without big achievements so far. But Zenit became champions two last seasons with Russian-core lineup, many of them also won UEFA Cup in 2008, so this guys are united and feel as a close group. When the club management starts to pay anyone MUCH more money than to this winners group, and Spalletti shows that he will count on the new guys, the opposite reaction is right here. The management should have count this reaction and should have worked before to downplay it. In November Spalletti harshly and personally criticized several high-profile Russians at the press conference after the draw with CSKA, and the team reacted very nervously, because it got used that Spalletti could have said bad words to them privately, but not publicly. If you lead during three years as John Kennedy you couldn’t turn one day into Saddam Hussein, it will never work. Next day it was a team meeting in Zenit, where Russian players addressed a lot of criticism directly to Spalletti. Now, in off-season, we’ll see if Spalletti would be able both to make psychological situation in the team normal as well as include Hulk and Witsel into a team performance. In the autumn it was impossible to do that because of big number of games, which made training process almost impossible.

Anji is not popular, firstly, among Moscow and St.Petersburg radical fans. All of them are Russian nationalists and hate people from Southern Russian republics from Caucasian mountains, including Dagestan.

From what I lived when I was in Moscow and when I was at Lokomotiv stadium to watch Anzhi/AZ in Europa league, I’ve understood that Anzhi is not very popular among Russian football fans and most of them hate this club. What is the exact project of Suleyman Kerimov? Is it just about football or is there something more such as the development of Daguestan thanks to football ?

Anji is not popular, firstly, among Moscow and St.Petersburg radical fans. All of them are Russian nationalists and hate people from Southern Russian republics from Caucasian mountains, including Dagestan. Also Anji and Kerimov are very rich, which add social hatred to national one. These people don’t care about football, and Anji under Guus Hiddink makes a lot of great performances. It’s a real contender for the title this season. Kerimov’s goal is much above pure football. Dagestan is one of the poorest Russian regions, the level of crime there is high, and football should be a big and stable positive emotion for this people.

2018 is an important year for Russian football. You’ve wrote a book about the attribution of the World Cup for your country. Unfortunately, in France, we don’t really have access to all those information. Can you tell us more about the Russian project? How is the preparation going on (stadium, transport, …). And what are the expectations of Russian federation regarding the development of football in Russia ?

The preparation is going pretty actively. 11 cities which will host World Cup were named in September, and it would be fair to note that the choice, officially made by FIFA (but it’s very doubtful, because Joseph Blatter couldn’t give a certain answer about particular cities at the press conference, re-addressing all these questions to Vitaly Mutko), suprised many. The only city outside Moscow which has 2 teams in Russian Premier League, southern and comfortable Krasnodar, was excluded, as well as one of the most colorful Russian cities, Yaroslavl. Russia has to built almost all infrastructure – not only stadiums but airports, roads, railroads. I’m sure finally it will be OK because Russia’s all-times speciality is to show all the world how great we are, although inside the country it’s much and much worse.

In France, and in Western Europe in general, Russian football fans don’t have a great reputation (fights, racism, …) What is the exact situation ? Is football important for Russian society? Being in Moscow for some months, I had the opportunity to talk to some fans and I realized that many of them don’t really like Russian football, but are more interested in Western European football, especially the English one. Do you agree with that? What is the perception of Russians according to their football ?

The situation is awful. Stadiums are occupied by radical fans with fireworks, who also shout bad words, nationalistic expressions and insult their opponents instead of supporting beloved team. Normal people, families with kids do not go to the stadiums, because it’s dangerous. That’s why the average attendance keeps at 11 000 point which is shame for the tournament with such money and players.

Normal people, families with kids do not go to the stadiums, because it’s dangerous.

Recently, an old topic has been highlighted by a few president of Russian clubs and also Ukrainian ones. This topic is the possible creation of an extra national league regrouping best Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians teams. I know it already exists for Hockey (KHL) and also for Basket-ball (VTB League) What do you think about that? Is it possible that such a league come to life ?

I don’t think so. How would you decide a key problem of representation of countries – participants in the Champions League? Moreover, so far only 3 Russian clubs totally support the idea – CSKA, Zenit and Anji. But without Spartak Moscow, the most popular club in the country, the idea is doomed to failure, and Spartak so far is not a supporter of it. Also the second key country, Ukraine, still has a lot of concerns, including two biggest clubs – Shakhtar Donetsk and Dinamo Kiev. In my opinion, the initiative was a result of the fact that the new president of Russian Football Union Nikolay Tolstykh is a strong leader who doesn’t want to fulfill all demands and desires of three top clubs, which was a normal practice of Tolstykh’s predecessor, Sergei Fusenko. Head of Gazprom, Zenit’s owner, Alexei Miller declared a desire to create new tournament right after Zenit got a technical loss, 0:3, from Dinamo Moscow after its goalkeeper, Anton Shunin, was damaged by a petard in the first half. So, it looks like Mr.Miller was simply unhappy about new leadership of Russian football, so the revolutionary idea was created.

To conclude, I was very surprised by the failure of Russia during Euro 2012. How would you explain this failure? How do you see the future of Russian national team with Capello as the head coach ?

After qualifying then president of Russian Football Union Sergei Fursenko publicly announced that the new contract with the head coach Dick Advokaat will be signed BEFORE Euro 2012. But in the beginning of the year something happened – reportedly Fursenko got some phone call from high political level. Advokaat couldn’t have reached him for a long time, and finally, at the end of April, Fursenko told him that the question of re-signing will be decided only after the tournament (which was contrary to his contract). Advokaat felt he was cheated and immediately signed with PSV. It influenced both to his intensity of preparation and the players approach. Historically Russia achieved anything in international level only after very hard physical preparation (like with Valery Lobanovsky in 1988 and Guus Hiddink in 2008), but here it was very, very light. So the team came to its peak in last friendly game vs. Italy (3:0) and first Euro game vs. Czech Republic (4:1), and later its physical level started to fall: second halves in games vs. Poland and Greek were poor. Also there was total mess in the hotel « Bristol » in the centre of Warsaw, players spent every evening with their families in lobby bar. It looked like they came to the vacation but not top level tournament.

Regarding Capello, he started very positively, and has a lot of respect in the squad and country overall. He works pretty hard, visiting 3 or 4 games in different cities every weekend, he taught the team how to play defense unbelievably fast. The style, though, became less spectacular, than in Hiddink – Advokaat times, but the result so far is there. If Russia wins in Northern Ireland on March 22, even the road game vs. Portugal will not be decisive with the current 5-point gap.