Maksim Mikhailov: ''Alekno is a soft coach but can give a clip''

Maksim Mikhailov: ''Alekno is a soft coach but can give a clip'' Photo: Roman Kruchinin zenit-kazan.com

Today opposite hitter of Zenit-Kazan and national volleyball team of Russia Maksim Mikhailov seems to be one the best players in his position. He debuted in the national team aged 20, won a bronze in the World Series and at the Olympics in Beijing and became the best player of the team. The first part of the big exclusive interview of Realnoe Vremya tells why Zenit can't win the Club World Championship, why the cancellation of the limit on the number of foreign players won't save Russian football and whether coach Alekno was a dictator.

''In the Club World Championship, we did not lose but the Brazilians won''

In your opinion, why does the Club World Championship remain an insuperable goal for Zenit?

Speaking about this year, the Brazilians showed an incredible level. Speaking about that game against them, no national team would win them. The rival did his best. And the Brazilians are an emotional team as nobody else. And support gives them another 20-30% of their possibilities. We had chances to impose a fight. Unfortunately, we don't manage to show our volleyball in the Club World Championship year after year. It is difficult to say what the reasons are. Maybe the lack of games at the beginning of the season. It might sound like an excuse. In fact, the Brazilians were perhaps stronger. I will say it the following way – we did not lose but the Brazilians won.

Now the Club World Championship is moving to Europe. Will you have more chances to win it?

Before thinking of a world championship, one needs to reach it (sneering). We have the strongest tournament that is Champions League, which I think is far stronger than the Club World Championship. It has two or three strong teams. Here we need to play at every stage. This is why our major task is to play every leg, go to Final Four in the Champions League.

Who is the major rival of Zenit in this year's Champions League? Traditionally Polish and Italian teams?

The Italians and Polish are hot favourites, of course. But I would not cross our clubs out. Now Belogorie became much stronger with the appearance of a Brazilian setter. Dynamo also can show good volleyball. I won't be original. I will only say that there are many favourites. The team that will show its best level at a necessary moment will win.

Is it important who will play against you in the early play-off stage? Now it is the Belgian champion Knack.

Of course, it is. Famous clubs from other championships were at this stage. Same Skra from Poland, which is a permanent participant of Final Four, or Resovia. These are the teams who finished last in their groups. I would not say Knack is a comfortable rival for us. Perhaps, in terms of the experience of its players. But the game style doesn't suit us. It is a defensive team. They play skilfully, possess the ball. Such power teams like Zenit don't it find it always easy to act against them.

''We had chances to impose a fight. Unfortunately, we don't manage to show our volleyball in the Club World Championship year after year.'' Photo: Roman Kruchinin (zenit-kazan.com)

Let's go back to the past. Could you tell how you started to play volleyball? As far as I am concerned, you liked football when you were a child, right?

Yes. I liked football more just because people play football everywhere in the street and fields. While volleyball is not such a popular sport, I just did not know this sport existed. As soon as I joined the class, I liked it immediately. I asked my parents to enrol me in some sports class. My mother brought me there. It turned out that on that day a volleyball class took place there. First of all, I liked the coach, the atmosphere, many kids, my classmates, acquaintances. We had a place where we could apply our energy instead of wandering in the street.

In other words, was it a life-changing day? Voilà, and we have one of the best outside hitters of Europe. Do you believe in fate that you were destined to come on that day when kids were enrolled in volleyball?

Undoubtedly. Probably fate plays an important role. People say that you can't escape your fate for a reason. It was initially destined, and it is impossible to change what was given us from above.

You come from Leningrad Oblast. Did you start to support Zenit FC as a child?

Of course, it was one of my favourite clubs at that moment. I worried, watched till the moment when the club had many own pupils. Now I am not interested much because no player of the club left, all players were purchased. This is why I lost any interest.

'It doesn't matter how many Dzyubas will play, they will remain Dzyubas''

Let's continue speaking about football as you are in the know. What do you think about the famous limit on the number of foreign players? Arshavin and Kerzhakov earned the fame when there was no limit. The 2008 'bronze'' national team grew without any limit.

I don't know. From my point of view, the limit doesn't have a decisive role. Players' motivation is more important. I know stories of Bystrov, Kerzhakov in Petersburg who spent 2 hours to go to training, earned little and fought for being football players. At that moment, football players were expelled for any slip. Unlike today when Kokorin can afford himself to drive drunk. Now salaries are incomparable, and players just lose their motivation. Why do you need to worry if you earn $3 million and you get them regardless of your game? Earlier people fought, education was different, they grew up following other examples. I think the cancellation of the limit won't change anything much. It doesn't matter how many Dzyubas will play, they will remain Dzyubas. Something needs to change radically, so that people will want, desire and aspire for something.

Players' salaries went up thanks to the limit.

Salaries grew because our clubs started to play well, the national team started to occupy high positions, go up in the rating. Unfortunately, it left in the past. We need to go back to reality. The national team is now on 60 th position. The last time the clubs reached top places was a long time ago. They need to lower the bar, begin from scratch and gradually move upwards where we fell from a long time ago.

Once you said you did not like our football players much. The game and behaviour. Are people in volleyball simpler?

Of course, they are. I think it is linked with attention. There is a mess around football players, there are many shows about football, catchy questions. Probably it is difficult not to go daft if you played well during one season and people around go and say that you are the best, you are the hope of the national team of Russia. There is no such a thing in volleyball. There is no great attention here, this is why players are simpler and kinder.

''We try not to refuse to sign autographs for kids if there is not a hundred of people, so that they will have an impetus to grow and develop, they will have an example.'' Photo: Roman Kruchinin (zenit-kazan.com)

''Spiridonov is a simple guy who just likes PR''

After the match, I saw you talked to fans for some 30 minutes. Are you so simple, or do you do it just to make volleyball popular?

All together. First of all, we have been talking for a long time. It's not my first season at Zenit. We acquainted with them, our views coincided. After each game, we try to exchange our views. They ask some questions about the team, the future. Of course, there is a kind of connection with the fans. They often travel, support us in other cities. They have the right to know what is going on in the team. And I am interested in the opinion about the team from outside, of course. Some of their questions are important. And popularisation, of course. We try not to refuse to sign autographs for kids if there is not a hundred of people, so that they will have an impetus to grow and develop, they will have an example.

Do you talk to your fans in social networks? For instance, you have your own group.

Yes, I try to answer when I can. Unfortunately, now I have less time. I have a baby, he is 1 year 7 months now. We train twice a day, I rest between training, I go home after training, stay with the kid and go to sleep. I understand that many people would like to talk more, but there is no possibility now.

You say that volleyball players are simpler than football players. What about your former teammate Aleksey Spiridonov?

It is easier to talk to some people. Some people like PR, so to speak. When I started to talk to Aleksey, in the junior national team, he always was a simple guy. He also comes from a village from Moscow Oblast. It is pleasant to speak to him, he is not silly. But he likes attention to him. He is not mean. Probably it is linked with his childhood. Probably he lacked attention when he was a kid or had some examples. In communication, he is the simplest person. It might seem to other people he is with attitude, Actually, when you talk to him, you understand it is not true. He likes to promote himself, show his hairdo. Nothing more. He never affords himself provocative statements.

''It might seem to other people he is with attitude, Actually, when you talk to him, you understand it is not true. He likes to promote himself, show his hairdo. Nothing more.'' Photo: Maksim Platonov

''Alekno is a soft coach but can give a clip''

Your parents sent you to Yaroslavl when you were 15. What did your parents say to you on farewell?

Much time has passed. My mum's heart probably was beating fast. I was 15, it was another city. Yaroslavl was not far from Saint Petersburg, it was good. They visited my quite often. There was some communication. Plus, I was in a good collective. The enrollees had the same age, we understood each other, I was received well. In addition, the coaching staff was good.

You often say about coaches. You said the coach interested you at school. Is it a key factor for you while choosing a team?

Of course. I think coach creates the greatest part of a player. He directs and motivates him. He tunes his skills, indicates his mistakes. If he is a good psychologist, he can help you morally, overcome some troubles, obstacles you had when you were a kid or due to defeats. This is why I think it is one of the major characters in sport.

You started to play in the national team of Russia quite early, aged 20. You played very well in your first World League in the match for a bronze. What did you feel after such a debut?

I was very happy, of course. I watched these guys on TV almost one year ago. I watched Tetyukhin, Verbov. I immediately turned out in such a team. I was afraid a bit, took a back seat at first. I did not have any young mates of my age, they all were older. Then again, they helped me to join the team, the collective, they treated me well, tried not to pay attention to my mistakes. Plus, Vladimir Alekno allowed me to do many things. Not in terms of the discipline, I mean in sport. He did not see my mistakes. I think it helped me, of course. That situation did not break me. I was motivated to the max to prove I was ready. To prove I can move forward, reach another level.

''He is soft, of course. He can punish if you don't listen to him or don't follow some instructions, give a clip, of course, both after and during the game. But he allows some things.'' Photo: Maksim Platonov

You say that Alekno did not notice your slips. Can you say that as coach Alekno is a soft coach, not a dictator as it seems?

He is soft, of course. He can punish if you don't listen to him or don't follow some instructions, give a clip, of course, both after and during the game. But he allows some things. Certain risks. Everything depends on a match, of course. He can come closer and say not to worry, everything was correct, it was not successful a bit. This is why it is important when coach supports you.

By Erik Dobrolyubov