Vladimir Alekno: ''Ten years is one emotion''

Exclusive interview with the most decorated coach in Tatarstan

Vladimir Alekno: ''Ten years is one emotion'' Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

This season has already been the 10 th one for Vladimir Alekno as head coach of Zenit. The specialist managed to become the most decorated mentor among Tatarstan teams during these years: the Kazan volleyball players didn't have gaps in the box of trophies after the title of club world champions they have recently won. The coach's personal schedule doesn't have gaps too. However, Mr Alekno made the time for an interview of Realnoe Vremya.

''One needs to keep an eye on weight – there are many delicious meals here''

This season has been your 10th season in Kazan. Do already feel you are a Tatar man after this time?

It's a difficult definition to be a Tatar man. But I made a decision and felt a long time ago that it was my republic.

Do you have favourite places in Kazan?

With my lifestyle, to my shame, I rarely manage to go to the theatre or cinema. Sometimes I manage to go to a hockey match, cafes, bars, restaurants to meet friends, but it happens rarely. There is a hobby – sometimes I go hunting. I live not far from the embankment, so I go for a walk in summer at times. Our Kremlin is beautiful. In general, there are many beautiful places. But I can't say I spend time there. There is too little time for myself.

What relations do you have with Tatar cuisine?

The food is very delicious. I had a chance to eat many things. I won't say it's light food, very heavy, in fact. All forbidden things are tasty and desired, you know. Especially for me because I'm a person inclined to corpulence. This is why I try to eat in a moderate way. It's difficult to restrain yourself in Tatarstan, as far as you understand. There are many delicious meals here.

''With my lifestyle, to my shame, I rarely manage to go to the theatre or cinema. Sometimes I managed to go to a hockey match, cafes, bars, restaurants to meet friends, but it happens rarely.'' Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

''You can be a brainy coach, results, first of all, depend on the players''

Does Russia have clubs that don't give way to Zenit in terms of infrastructure?

It does, of course. For instance, in Novosibirsk, the local team has its own countryside facility with a full recovery centre, a full-fledged hotel complex. All conditions were created there. Belgorod also has an excellent facility in the countryside with a full recovery cycle, open-air swimming pool, hotel. What did I miss? Dynamo-Moscow in Dynamo complex has all necessary things. In addition, in Kemerovo, today the team is at a decent level, has a court with all infrastructure at its disposal for almost 24 hours. It's off the top of my head. I could have missed something, but Russia really has many clubs with excellent infrastructure.

Are Zenit's successes of the last years linked with its all-star cast or anything else?

Everything is interlinked here. Undoubtedly, results, first of all, depend on the players. One can have an excellent brainy coach, a highly professional team staff, but if you don't have players of a certain level that correspond to the tasks there were set, it's very difficult to achieve a regular or stable result. In brief, one can relatively achieve a result by chance in a season, but you won't achieve a regular systematic result.

But at the same time, the general mechanism of the club can't be underestimated or lowered too. Now we see only Maksim Mikhailov, Wilfredo León, Matthew Anderson, Aleksandr Butko, Artyom Volvich and others who make the result on the volleyball court. But there is a medical staff behind them who solve problems on the state of the players, coaching staff, administration 24/7. You even don't imagine how many different organisational problems need to be solved to hold only one match. Neither I nor the players deal with it. There is a special brigade for it, the administration. And away matches need to be regularly prepared. And it all needs to work together, in a system. Believe me, if something doesn't work as it should, victories won't be so regular.

''You even don't imagine how many different organisational problems need to be solved to hold only one match. Neither I nor the players deal with it. There is a special brigade for it, the administration.'' Photo: Maksim Platonov

There is an opinion that León and Mikhailov in one volleyball team are like Messi and Ronaldo in football together. Do you agree?

I find it difficult to speak about Messi and Ronaldo. But Mikhailov and León are certainly world-class volleyball players, they make a team. If today one of them is invited to any team, be sure that this player will change the situation in it, give a result and improve the club's level.

''I agree, Mikhailov is the best''

We've recently talked to Maksim Mikhailov; our newspaper recognised him the athlete of the year in Tatarstan.

I'd agree with you. Somebody is given talent by Most High, somebody is given a chance. All Maksim has behind today was achieved by his labour only. The titles, name, respect of the coaching staff and the administration, medical staff, fans, passers-by are all his personal merit. This is why he is the best, I absolutely agree.

Why are world-class volleyball players such as Mikhailov and León simple guys when talking, while Russian football players who have achieved nothing at the international level behave as if they were world stars?

I don't know. Not only a jump, attack but also the culture of communication, behaviour, in the end, are improved in volleyball. It probably depends on both a club and coach because a decent behaviour is my position too, I insist on it. Speaking of León and Mikhailov, pride and egoism are the worst sins even if you are a Christian or Muslim. It is important in our team. People at other clubs perhaps don't pay attention to how their players speak with people. But at Zenit, everything is important. We require our players to behave decently.

You're asked this question every year. But Zenit won the last title you lacked – the club world champion. This is why I can't help but ask, what's the next motivation?

Motivation is to be strong. Today you have possibilities that probably others don't, this your difference from others. I'm speaking about the team we have, which can give this result. Not the very Championship of Russia that we won but the nine victories, almost in a row, are important. It doesn't matter you won the Champions League, many people won it. But few clubs did it three times in a row. It is the possibility that is used and a constant desire to be strong. It is the main motivation. Believe me, it's a desire to be strong, not a money award or something else.

''All Maksim has behind today was achieved by his labour only. The titles, name, respect of the coaching staff and the administration, medical staff, fans, passers-by are all his personal merit.'' Photo: Maksim Platonov

Does the administration of the club agree with such a question? Don't they say: ''We've already won everything, let's slacken the pace a bit?''

This position is unfamiliar to Zenit. The second place here is evaluated as a failure.

''León has a desire and opportunity to go to Italy, so he is unlikely to go to Petersburg''

Another Zenit appeared in Saint Petersburg by efforts of same Gazprom. It is constantly rumoured that you, León and Mikhailov will be there soon. Can you dispel it?

Mikhailov still has one year of the contract. It's difficult to say what will happen then. Everything is possible in a year. I also still have an opportunity to work in Kazan next year. Meanwhile, León has a desire and opportunity to go to Italy, so he is unlikely to go to Petersburg. All you're saying is rumours. But, in general, everything is possible. I can't say it will happen in a year.

The all-star line-up doesn't become younger anyway. Do you have a clear plan on how to update it?

Unfortunately, it contradicts our policy. This plan is always in my head – to have more young players. But I will repeat that at Zenit-Kazan any place that's lower than first is a failure. This is why we select players who are able to give a result right now. If I see that a 35-year-old is able to give a result, it means we will have him. If he is 25, it means we will have a 25-year-old. Now not a player's age but his abilities matter.

Which of the trophies you have won during these years was the most complicated and valuable?

All. Eight Championships of Russia, four Champions Leagues, the Club World Championship, give Russian Cups, Supercups – all arouse emotions. No, I can't answer. 10 years is one emotion. When we won only the championship in 2013, the next cup we won, which is considered normal by spectators, brought more emotions.

What about the Club World Championship?

It's a long-awaited trophy.

But is it as prestigious as the Champions League?

Everything you haven't won yet is prestigious. It is also important to become a club world champion. Like in the Supercup, everything is known within a week, while the Champions League lasts 3-4 months. It's clear that the Club World Championship is a commercial tournament to a certain degree, while the Champions League is official with a big history. But I repeat that we appreciate all trophies and victories.

''León has a desire and opportunity to go to Italy, so he is unlikely to go to Petersburg. All you're saying are rumours. But, in general, everything is possible.'' Photo: Maksim Platonov

''London gold medal? No fewer efforts are needed to become the champion of Russia today''

Doesn't the Olympic gold in London with the national team of Russia overshadow personally for you all victories that you won with Zenit?

The question has been formulated incorrectly. What does ''overshadow'' mean? It's a piece of life. It's clear that it's impossible to compare an Olympic medal with the Russian Supercup, it's obvious. But believe, no fewer efforts are needed to become the champion of Russia today. It is worth the nerves you lose. In London, everything is known during two weeks, and here the distance is dragged for 8 months. It's clear the meaning of the medal is different; a champion of Russia or Olympic champion are incompatible things. In terms of importance, to be an Olympic champion is the highest level for an athlete. But every medal has its weight for investments, labour, nerves.

The national team was already fourth in Rio de Janeiro. Does it mean there is a decline in volleyball or did you bite more than you could chew in London?

We did our job in London, something went wrong in Rio. Every period has its own situation. Why don't you remember how we went there? It was not known whether we would go there or not five days before Rio. And this issue started to be stirred up 2-3 weeks beforehand. And it's very difficult to prepare the team that doesn't know whether it goes or not. It's about the preparation. Then small updates of the team happened: Klyuka, Volkov, Kurkayev, Vlasov. We needed to go through it. It turned out that the youth maybe weren't a bit ready to make a serious result. These youth will already be different in Tokyo. For this reason, it's wrong to make deep conclusions about the fate of Russian volleyball due to the difference in results at two Olympics.

Leaving the national team after London, you said you had health problems. Did you really have something?

No smoke without fire. Now I'm safe and sound.

I read somewhere you've recentlt performed a 120 kg bench press. Do you stay in shape now?

Let's bet! Now I don't have the time to do it, though it's not an excuse, of course. There is time for everything except myself. My life is so now. Another question is that we can perform a press if needed (smiling).

''It's impossible to compare an Olympic medal with the Russian Supercup, it's obvious. But believe, no fewer efforts need to be put to become the champion of Russia today. It is worth the nerves you lose.'' Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

''Pyeongchang? Are we guilty? No smoke without fire''

It's clear that Winter Olympics isn't your thing. But what do you think, in general, about this scandal that Russian athletes who are not allowed to Pyeongchang?

I can express only my personal opinion. It's clear, sad and unpleasant. But they need to go, no matter how many people the delegation will have, even if three people. A complete refusal will mean we recognise our defeat. Are we guilty? No smoke without fire, firstly. If we are guilty, we need to pay, secondly. But not all are guilty, while all are paying. It's not very correct, do you agree? Today functionaries who have never done sport insist on boycotting the Olympics. I don't understand such statements. They have their own patriotism. They can't take an athlete's dream away. An athlete maybe had been living and training with only one thought of these Olympic Games in Pyeongchang for 20 years without taking anything. How can we take away the dream he had been living with all the time? Might the guilty pay. Might those who aren't guilty fight for a dream till the end. What about the flag, you will ask? Believe, if he becomes an Olympic champion, everybody will know he is a Russian athlete.

Didn't authorities do enough while defending our athletes? From a legal perspective, there is no direct evidence.

Indeed, there is no direct evidence. It was probably possible to defend somehow. It's difficult for me to say. Rodchenkov betrayed his country, they might have understood earlier it was a spy. He couldn't be so perfect and then suddenly betray.

You often go to hockey matches. Will Ak Bars win the Gagarin Cup this year? Did the team become stronger?

The result speaks for itself, they are the strongest team in their conference. What a match they played against CSKA! As for the Gagarin Cup, I think they have all chances. Yes, it will be uneasy against SKA. But my team supports Ak Bars.

By Artur Khalilullov