Russian Football Union and TAIF make young Tatarstan residents’ dream a reality: football classes and match with legends of Russian national team

TAIF. Football Class and an express match with stars at the Central Stadium in Kazan put an end to the car rally Our Boys across Tatarstan cities

Five days on the road, 800 kilometres, six stops — in Naberezhnye Chelny, Nizhnekamsk, Bugulma, Almetyevsk, Chistopol with the final point in Kazan. In each of the cities of the republic, legends of the world’s most popular game offered TAIF. Football Classes and matches with would-be stars. 1,800 boys and girls had a chance of meeting, talking and playing with their idols on one pitch. Read in Realnoe Vremya’s report how it was.

Birth of tradition

18 December 2019, Moscow. A 3rd session of the Russian Football Union’s Board of Trustees. The Russian Football Union (RFU) and TAIF JSC signed a memorandum and long-term partnership agreement. Since then, one of the largest private Groups of Russia operating in various sectors obtained the status of Official Partner of the Russian Football Union in Regional Football Development.

The series of tasks TAIF and the RFU started to jointly work immediately was impressive: the organisation and implementation of special projects linked with regional teams as well as Russian legs of amateur competitions. The cooperation included the construction of new venues and improvement of existing infrastructure, the creation of centres to train football players in Russian regions, Tatarstan districts included. The sides decided to pay attention to the development of children and youth football and making this game popular in Russian regions from the very beginning.

“Together with the RFU, we will use all the experience the republic has gained when hosting top international competitions, use the possibilities and competencies of the RFU to develop and promote sport across the country and in our republic in particular. We will focus on three areas: development of children and youth football, an increase of the amount of football — from engaging people in amateur football to creating professional teams as well as elaborating several infrastructural projects. Our goal is to make sure that football is not only a dream for Russian boys but also a reality to improve the training quality of athletes, coaches, to use correct training methods. We should bring our champions up, to create a decent sports substitution. I am totally convinced that football is a sport of the future, this is why we should take it to a qualitatively new level together,” Timur Shigabutdinov (Editor’s note: who is, by the way, the president of Neftekhimik FC) stressed immediately after the signing.

TAIF got down to work not putting the job on the back burner. This was done in addition to the ongoing active support for Rubin FC (Kazan) and Neftekhimik FC (Nizhnekamsk), the reconstruction of the home stadium of the Nizhnekamsk club with money and effort of Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC (Editor’s note: that ended in 2020). In December 2019, the upcoming large-scale renovation of Neftekhimik sports school was announced. In August 2020, the sports school and a number of other children sports schools of Tatarstan obtained the status of children football centre.

In the summer of 2020, at the height of the novel coronavirus epidemic when team Russia had to play with empty stands, there was announced a contest among children of Group’s workers for the best video supporting the players. Winners of the contest received prizes from the main team of the country — a kit, autographs and balls. While the authors of the three brightest addresses got a chance of visiting the favourite team’s training base in October and personally chatting with their idols.

In 2020, the RFU and TAIF planned to host another bright mass event in Kazan — the first TAIF. Football Class. However, the pandemic disrupted the plans, and the event had to be postponed into May 2021. Over 300 young fans of this game gathered at the Trudovye Rezervy Stadium for master classes and a match with Russian and world football stars.

Two hours were so intensive and passed so quickly that when the final whistle was blown, many couldn’t hide their surprise: “Already? Is that all?” The sorrow because of the parting with their idols was sweetened by an autograph signing and the organisers’ assurances that the class was the first but not the last. This is how a new sports tradition was born.

Our Boys car rally

One didn’t have to wait for the tradition to go on for too long. The car rally Our Boys, a new project of the Russian Football Union and TAIF, kicked off in Kazan on 3 October. Ex-players of the Russian national team Dmitry Sychyov, Ruslan Pimenov, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and Dmitry Khlestov embarked on their journey across Tatarstan.

The project has myriad goals. Football propaganda is the key one. This summer, Football at School programme has begun in 150 schools in eight regions of the country, including in the Republic of Tatarstan. A football class has permanently become a third PE class in all these educational institutions. For this purpose, the RFU purchased necessary sports equipment as well as special manuals (courses on the basics of the game and giving a class) and delivered them to these schools by the beginning of the academic year. Meanwhile, Mass Football free online course for teachers opened on RFU Academy educational platform. Taking the course, school teachers will obtain an E-RFU licence. And nowadays more than 1,200 people have already taken advantage of this opportunity.

The second goal was a promo of the match between the national teams of Russia and Slovakia, which was on 8 October in Kazan.

The third goal is to live up to the expectations of children who have been waiting for new classes from ball pros since spring.

On 4 October, the car rally made a stop in Naberezhnye Chelny. More than 100 students of local schools — from primary students to almost graduates — waited for them at the KAMAZ stadium. They all are seriously keen on football and had been waiting for a master class from the gurus with professional interest. And the guests didn’t disappoint them. Under the experienced players’ guidance, the children improved passes and goals. Though Pimenov and Bilyaletdinov decided to be in goal, the net wasn’t empty. While after such a warm-up, a few short matches were played: the stars against the young football players. Everybody was happy.

Nizhnekamsk became the next point on the Tatarstan map the members of the car rally arrived in. More than 300 future stars, including students of Neftekhimik sports school, which is a talent factory of the namesake football club, had gathered at the main sports arena of the petrochemical capital, Neftekhimik Stadium, long before the event in expectation of the established Russian football stars.

“I want to learn how to correctly pass the ball, score goals, make feints and improve my technique,” Rail Minnigaliyev shared with Realnoe Vremya’s journalist.

“I will ask Sychyov how he got to team Russia and how to become a successful football player,” Vazin Davletshin confided.

By the way, the bronze Euro medallist and Russian champion at Lokomotiv doesn’t consider the recipe for success is a secret: “Fewer gadgets and more training, high summits can be achieved only this way,” Dmitry Sychyov is sure.

He also noted that today’s generation was lucky:

“In our childhood, we didn’t have such conditions to do sport, but we always wanted to win and achieve something in life, to make history. While the lads also have every chance if they use their brains. Adults’ mission is also important. First of all, we tell the lads that they should train doing their best, improve their prowess following our example. The arrival of the ex-national team members should become a big stimulus for them,” Sychyov stressed.

Not wasting time, the football legends started the training and were pleased with the high training level of the young Nizhnekamsk athlete.

After visiting Chistopol and Bugulma that also hosted the master classes and children’s performance matches with the ex-players of the Russian national team, sports journalist, blogger and author of YedimSport YouTube channel Dmitry Yegorov shared his impressions:

“As for sports venues, I am surprised in this respect in Tatarstan. For instance, though Chistopol is a small town, it has a good stadium, an indoor pitch is built in Bugulma.”

Match with Special Olympians

On Wednesday, 6 October, the members of the car rally returned to Kazan. An inclusive match with Special Olympians — children with intellectual disabilities — took place on the same day.

“Inclusive football is very developed in Europe. First of all, we want to draw the attention of local authorities to this issue so that they will support such initiatives. It is necessary to create amazing conditions for such teams, and I think it will be easier to do this with our help. Most importantly, children should enjoy and learn basic football skills. And in this respect, Tatarstan has a good future,” former player of the Russian football squad Dmitry Sychyov claimed.

The professionals and children split into two teams and played with the ball for 10 minutes. The team with Sychyov and Bilyaletdinov won. However, this perhaps happened because cheerful Pimenov (with Khlestov on his team) managed to score two own goals. The meeting ended with a photo shoot.

To expand the Kazan tradition nationwide

This thought about the project TAIF. Football Classes has repeatedly been heard in Kazan during the Russian football stars’ master class finalising the car rally Our Boys.

The big event gathered hundreds of children at the Central Stadium. Ex-captain of the Russian team Yegor Titov, ex-goalie Alexander Filimonov and ex-defender Dmitry Alenichev deliberately arrived to replace some of their teammates who had been tired a bit during the 800-km journey and six meetings with young football players in the football class. Strong Dmitry Khlestov and Ruslan Pimenov as well as the country’s most recognisable sports voice Viktor Gusev joined them.

“I want to say many thanks to the Russian Football Union and TAIF Group for such a big holiday for our republic. We thought we would host only the national team’s match, but they launched an initiative, and a number of big Tatarstan cities managed to meet the legendary players,” Tatarstan Sports Minister Vladimir Leonov welcomed people at the stadium.

Later, in a talk with journalists, he also stressed:

“The tandem of the RFU and large businesses in attracting the youth to sport is amazing, in fact. Many thanks to TAIF Group of Companies that once supported the project Football at School project together with the RFU. I think it is a very successful experiment we made sure of together with the players of the Russian national team after travelling with such classes across the republic. I can speak only for Tatarstan, but we have talked with the RFU, and rest assured that the experiment has been a success and it should spread, to other regions of our country.”

“Throughout its history, TAIF Group has paid a lot of attention to the development of the social sphere of the Republic of Tatarstan, including to support sport, not only professional but also amateur, children sport. And of course, football has always been of great interest as a number one sport. Suffice it to remember that the flagship of Tatarstan football — Rubin FC — has won all its big victories in T-shirts with a winged white leopard on the chest. In cooperation with the RFU, TAIF GC is a partner in developing football in regions. Quite a lot has been done in the last two years: there was signed an agreement On Cooperation in Football Development between the Russian Ministry of Sport, the government of the Republic of Tatarstan, the Football Federation of the Republic of Tatarstan and the RFU. Several children sports schools obtained the status of children football centre and regional centre for young football players. Within UEFA Growth it is a mass amateur football development project that also entered the republic as a pilot within a partnership agreement between TAIF and the RFU. Football classes are already given in schools. It seems to me that this movement will only gain momentum and I am sure that we will soon see the feedback from this both on amateur football pitches and at big stadiums. As far as I am concerned, the RFU has a big programme designed to develop children and youth competitions. Hopefully, the Football Classes will become regular,” noted head of the Legal Division at TAIF JSC Albert Latypov.

Alexander Filimonov welcomed the participants in the TAIF. Football Classes on behalf of the national veteran team.

“I congratulate everybody, especially young football players, on the football class, our meeting at this stadium, which is legendary for the republic, for the city. I would like to thank the management of the republic, the management of the RFU, TAIF for making us members of such an event thanks to this partnership. I hope that your love for football will accompany you in your life and we will soon see some of you in matches for the Russian national team. I believe that you will decently represent the republic, the city, our country,” he noted.

Considering that more people attended the class in the Tatarstan capital, it was decided to give more time to the event. A warm-up and master class quickly turned the huge pitch into a complex of spots to drill the experienced athletes’ signature techniques. The latter shared accumulated knowledge with pleasure and didn’t hesitate about correcting mistakes.

Perhaps, Artyom Zolotaryov from Savinovo sports school can be named one of the luckiest. The young goalie with the coach managed to seize the opportunity and got a chance of receiving a personal class from the Russian national team’s ex-goalkeeper, six-time Russian champion, Russian Cup winner with Spartak Alexander Filimonov.

“I liked very much that the ex-player of team Russia has given me a couple of lessons and pieces of advice on how to act correctly. I will try to deliver these exercises to my teammates. And if I see a mistake I have now been helped to correct, I will certainly say how to act correctly,” Artyom Zolotaryov later shared with Realnoe Vremya’s journalist.

“If I helped at least one child, I think it is correct and great. I see in his eyes he understood, he liked it. Unfortunately, it turns out that there are problems with goalkeeper coaches in children football. It is a separate area. I see this both in the U-23 team and professional sport, I see there are gaps. Unfortunately, programmes are even made so that field players have programmes, while goalkeepers don’t. Though modern football illustrates that the goalkeeper in general is a person who must know how to do everything nearly better than field players. This vision of the goalie’s game needs to be reconsidered. Now I start cooperating with Russian University of Economics in coach training. I think I find time to write a scientific article on goalkeeper coach’s training and training of goalkeepers,” the football legend shared his cherished dream.

As for the skills gained, Alexander Filimonov’s new student managed to show them off. When a friendly began, the teacher and the student turned out on different sides. The rule was to play till the first scored goal. Then the ex-stars remained on the pitch, while children teams changed. Everybody thought the match would end within minutes... But Viktor Gusev who commented the game got emotional:

“He is an amazing goalkeeper! He is catching every ball! He is repelling all the balls!” the commentator announced aloud when Zolotaryov managed to save the team from a series of attacks within seconds.

His teammates didn’t play worse. However, their opponents had enough persistence. In the end, this match had to be stopped by the judge to let others play too. While Viktor Gusev saw the football players off with a respectful remark:

“I don’t yet know these lads’ last names but I am sure that they are the future of our football!”

As the commentator himself acknowledged, these are friendly matches, but they should be commented really. And everything Viktor Gusev said on the microphone was sincere, from the bottom of his heart.

There were enough other bright moments during the match. Alexander Filimonov had to give the goal to Emil, a goalkeeper from Kazan Lyceum No. 146. The young talent simply moved the star aside, and the star could do nothing but change the goal for the opposite one. Yegor Titov hardly saved his legs from the crazy youth that decided to steal the ball by all means. Both Alenichev and Pimenov got hurt.

“Everything is fine. The pitch is good, soft. It is pleasant to fall on the familiar grass. We played here once. Now we are here with the football class. I think everybody got positive emotions,” Ruslan Pimenov concluded later, distracting from the autograph signing for a few seconds.

“Of course, it is a very correct idea of the RFU, the government and Tatarstan businesses. Of course, such tournaments, such meetings with football legends should be organised as often as possible. This is good absolutely for everybody,” Dmitry Alenichev is sure. And he is also convinced that car rallies and classes should be offered across the country. Without doubt, they always don’t have time, but for the sake of shining children’s eyes, he is ready to travel to both Vladivostok and Khabarovsk if necessary. His teammates think the same.

Arseny Favstritsky

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