Presentation of Z People: order like in the police, expectation of victories and life in the Muslim republic

The strongest club of Europe Zenit-Kazan presented the team for the 2017/18 season

Presentation of Z People: order like in the police, expectation of victories and life in the Muslim republic Photo: Maksim Platonov

Newly baked European champions were back at the disposal of the strongest club of the Old World on the eve of the start of the volleyball season. Aleksandr Butko, Artyom Volvich and Maksim Mikhailov have won the first title for Russia since 2013 in the team of Sergey Shlyapnikov. And Zenit's leader Mikhailov was recognised as the tournament's MVP. The presentation of the team for the new season took place against this positive background in Saint Petersburg Volleyball Centre that Realnoe Vremya's permanent author Aleksandr Norden visited.

Z People: new blood

Zenit said goodbye to five volleyball players after the last, one of the most triumphal seasons in the club's history ended. Evgeny Sivozhelez played under Vladimir Alekno 6 seasons during which he became a four-time Champions League winner and won five gold medal sets of the Russian Championship and three Russian Cups. Igor Kobzar accumulated 13 trophies in his collection for 4 years. Last year's team captain Andrey Aschev who wore Zenit's kit for 3 years also had awards. New offers were made to Vladimir Melnik and Denis Zemchenok. But one thinks that they are at a disadvantage – they did not have prospects of increasing playing time at the strongest club of the continent.

The nine-time champions of Russia had a small addition– the clip headed by León, Anderson and Mikhailov won't need many new players by default. 35-year-old outside hitter Maksim Panteleymonenko who had already played in Kazan and won two national titles and one Russian Cup from 2008 to 2011 is back at Zenit. The figure of another recruit of Alekno's team looks quite exotic: although 29-year-old resident of Yekaterinburg Yudin played in Yaroslavl, Kemerovo and Krasnodar, in Russia he got less popularity than in Poland that is crazy about volleyball and where he played at three clubs with success. At the 2012 Olympics that Vladimir Alekno brilliantly won with the national team of Russia, Yudin was the captain… of the national team of Australia. Then he changed his sports nationality for the Russian one. And having gone from Bydgoszcz to Zenit, he has all the chances to start playing in the squad of his country as well. 24-year-old Nikita Alekseyev who grew up in the system of Dynamo-Moscow and became the European Under-21 Football Championship in 2010 and silver medallist of the Russian Championship at Ural in 2013 will support the ''Maksim Gun'' (Mikhailov) as opposite hitter to perform better. In the 2016/17 season, Alekseyev became the second attacker of the national championship. And Alekno compared the invitation to the team as transfer of a football player to Real or Barcelona.

This is how the club that has not drastically changed starts the new season. Yes, something has changed more – the club has recently presented its new kits. As usual, it is bright and stylish and already available to gladden fans of accessories.

35-year-old outside hitter Maksim Panteleymonenko who already had played in Kazan from 2008 to 2011 is back at Zenit

It will be more complicated to become first in Russia than in the world

The Z People will have a tough and intense season again. The temptation to confirm the title of the strongest club of the country is great – because having done it, the Kazan club will win the tenth gold medal set. Meanwhile, the competition at the national stage is becoming stronger – it is enough to mention just the arrival of their namesakes from Saint Petersburg. By the way, Zenit-Kazan managed to lose to that of Saint Petersburg 0-3 in the preliminaries of the Russian Cup. But then it took its revenge with the same score and automatically went through the semi-final of the tournament as a club that sent three players to the national squad.

Unlike the previous season, when Alekno's players won everyone, as usual, Zenit will find it by far complicated to repeat the success in the domestic championship (Fakel has become stronger, Belogorie has updated, Lokomotiv-Novosibirsk and Dynamo-Moscow are dangerous, as usual). But probably they will manage to win the only title the Kazan players' collection still lacks. I am talking about the victory in the Club World Championship. Zenit could not win the prestigious trophy in the last season. Many people called the places of the competitions that were not very comfortable for the European team – Qatar first, Brazil then – as one of the main reason of this circumstance. This year the competition will be in Poland in December where there will be neither weather anomalies nor time difference. The press conference that took place in Saint Petersburg Volleyball Centre was about whether they will be able to overcome the barrier that is still impassable and other goals and tasks of Zenit in the season that started on Sunday.

''The fact that our team wins almost all the titles every year doesn't reduce the responsibility''

The team and the coaching staff headed by Vladimir Alekno appeared in the hall to the sound of fanfares at about 19 p.m. The most active fans of the team and mass media representatives who were more than at the opening of the hockey season were standing in the stalls. It is curious that players sat on chairs that had their playing numbers – an example of an order like in the police has always made the organisation of events of Zenit (as well as with Dinamo women's team) distinguishable.

President of the Volleyball Federation of the Republic of Tatarstan Farid Mukhametshin and Minister on Youth Affairs and Sport Vladimir Leonov were among honourable guests. The chronicles of the last season that was triumphal as usual during the existence of the team of winners was on the screen. ''We are not tired of winning!'' was the leitmotif of the video. Everyone supported Maksim Mikhailov's words.

President of the Volleyball Federation of the Republic of Tatarstan Farid Mukhametshin and Minister on Youth Affairs and Sport Vladimir Leonov were among honourable guests

''The fact that our team wins almost all the titles every year doesn't reduce the responsibility. I express my admiration of Zenit's representatives who showed the best result in the European Championship. Guys, you brought a lot of joy to all the Russian fans,'' Farid Mukhametshin stated.

Golden T-shirts were given to libero Valentin Krotkov, outside hitter Wilfredo León, blocker Artyom Volvich, setter Aleksandr Butko, blocker Aleksandr Gutsalyuk, libero Aleksey Verbov and opposite hitter Maksim Mikhailov and Vladimir Alekno, of course. The award ceremony was full of applauses.

''These minutes in the film gave me goose pimples. The hard work has a result. The structure that was created here, economic opportunities – it is clear that we will have been set the highest task. In the morning, I said to young players that I could have taken five Leóns, three Mikhailovs and several Volvichs and I would be calmer. But I will trust you for the future of the country and the republic. We will try,'' Alekno assured the people who gathered there.

The vice-president and director of the club gave T-shirts with names to the news players (they are not golden yet but sky blue) – No. 5 for Loran Alekno, No. 6 – Igor Yudin, No. 7 – outside hitter Maksim Panteleymonenko and No. 8 – opposite Nikita Alekseyev, No. 10 – blocker Aleksey Kononov and No. 13 – Aleksey Samoylenko.

Recipe for success – porridge from morning till evening

The evening started with questions and answers. A contest for the most extraordinary and funny question was announced. Aleksandr Butko was to evaluate the winner.

Question for Maksim Panteleymonenko: I still remember how you stopped Ivan Milkovich by three blocks in a row. Do you remember who was serving?

Sergey Tetyukhin.

Maksim, you are welcome back. While you were away, you got married and became a dad. What a feeling did you return to Zenit with?

With a very good feeling. My professional road started here.

Golden T-shirts were given to Krotkov, León, Volvich, Butko, Gutsalyuk, Verbov and Maksim Mikhailov

What are you going to do with the golden T-shorts? What a rite of initiation do new players go through?

Vladimir Alekno: I don't think the guys will go to the Vietnamese market with them. As for the rite of initiation of new players, we live in the Muslim republic (laugh in the hall).

What do you expect from the new players?

Maksim Mikhailov: I expect a victorious film not only with us but also with them to appear on the screen next year.

Who called you ''Maksim Gun''?

Fans.

Maksim (the youngest fan asked the question), my mum makes me eat porridge. She says it is beneficial, all the volleyball players eat it. Is it true?

It is true, we eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Aleksandr (Realnoe Vremya's question), what is your personal dream?

Maybe not in public? I want everyone to be safe and sound and lie in the hammock with a coconut in my hands on an island.

Mr Alekno (question for Alekno), do you have your own traditions in the team?

We don't have a lot of free time, so we don't have regular traditions. Few days-off are dedicated to the family. National team players are in camps. A day-off is precious.

Who is going to become the new captain after Aschev went?

Vladimir Alekno: I have given the function to choose the captain to the team in the last years. The name will be announced in one or two days. I will accept any decision.

Wilfredo, say something in Tatar.

Isenmesez (Editor's Note: ''How do you do?'' from Tatar).

Vladimir Alekno about the golden T-shirts: I don't think the guys will go to the Vietnamese market with them

Mr Alekno, what needs to be done to make volleyball as popular as football and hockey? (Question from a journalist)

I would not like it to become like football. In Europe, volleyball is first in the rating. We will increase the popularity together with you, the media. As for the club's development, there is both a sports school and academy where the young come to us from. We will move in this direction.

Question for Mikhailov and León: Could you briefly tell about what you felt during the last three rallies in the final Champions League match?

León: I was very-very happy. It is very difficult to win the League three times in a row. Maybe God and your support help us.

Mikhailov: I was too happy. Thank God, the last set against Perugia was not so intense and we managed to think everything over. It usually ends quickly, then you think about nothing.

Vladimir Alekno: ''The most positive thing in the Russian squad – the eyes and the desire to play''

The Zenit players signed autographs then. Meanwhile, Vladimir Alekno answered questions of the media.

The new players of the team are mainly young. Can you comment it?

Probably we could have chosen an easier path and having had 12-14 players again and solved our task. Today there are young players. And it is very important that our academy helps. Tatarstan has a pyramid. It means we are on the right path. I want this young to learn from real masters and move further.

What do you expect from the season?

A serious rival has appeared not only in the person of the namesakes. Lokomotiv has become seriously stronger. Belgorod has big ambitions, as usual. Dynamo-Moscow can't be forgotten. And other teams whom I call domestic have updated – we have to fight in Kemerovo, Krasnoyarsk and even Orenburg. I won't say how many matches we will win. But I completely agree with Mikhailov who told in an interview that this year fans will see such intense volleyball that the last time when they saw it was a long time ago.

Zenit has 10 away matches in a row from the beginning of December to the middle of January. Who created such a timetable?

I myself changed some matches first. There will be a match against Fakel at home. To play all northern games at once without going home after each one. But, in general, the federation created the timetable.

Zenit played 6 matches of the Russian Cup. What are the conclusions?

It is very good we went to this cup to Petersburg. It is a very useful tournament. First of all, I looked at the young players. I understand what I should expect from whom and what to work on. There are things to be glad about and not. I don't need to look at Gutsalyuk or Verbov.

Speaking about the European Championship. Slovenia, Belgium start to play leading roles. Are values reconsidered? Are authorities collapsing? What is going on? Realnoe Vremya's reporter asked.

I would not say. It is today's European Championship. The elimination of France in the match against the Czech Republic in the quarterfinal is the biggest surprise. In general, it is today's European volleyball. Only Italy could have been different with Zaitsev and Juantorena.

''I won't say how many matches we will win. But I completely agree with Mikhailov who told in an interview that this year fans will see such intense volleyball that they saw a long time ago ''

What can you say about the Russian squad?

It was pleasant to look at them. I would not have big illusions and make conclusions in the place of the players and the coaching staff because they did not have equals. The world championship will be a good test. I found the most positive thing in the Russian squad – the eyes and the desire to play. They were shining, no matter whom they played against, how they played. Those emotions that were present in the national team are a very good beginning of the Olympic cycle.

Aleksandr Gutsalyuk answered Realnoe Vremya's questions:

Sasha, what a mood do you start the new season with?

Like in all the previous seasons – with the most optimistic one.

Did you think it will be a jubilee title if you become champions of Russia this season?

( Counting the flags under the arcs of the hall.) Indeed, it means we will try.

Will it be easier to win the title of the club world champion in the European country and in winter that in Qatar or Brazil?

Let's wait and see. The game will show.

Don't you need to leave one goal unattainable so that you won't be tired of victories?

There is no such a thing.

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By Aleksandr Norder. Photo: Maksim Platonov