Viktor Gusev: ''I was said: 'You’re lucky, two centimetres more and you’d be in a wheelchair''

Exclusive interview with the popular TV commentator and presenter who is famous among both fans and housewives

Viktor Gusev: ''I was said: 'You’re lucky, two centimetres more and you’d be in a wheelchair'' Photo: Maksim Platonov

Famous TV commentator Viktor Gusev visited Kazan last week. He delivered a speech in front of citizens of Kazan at Alfa Business Week 'Growth Points of Your Business' forum, which was held together with Alfa-Bank – the official bank of the 2018 WC. Part of the evening was about the upcoming WC in Russia. This is why great attention was paid to the famous commentator. Realnoe Vremya managed to interview Viktor Gusev who shared his thoughts about football, the art of commenting and a bit of Rubin.

''Commentators' task has changed''

Nobody teaches how to comment on sport. How did you start?

In general, I think that everything starts with written journalism. I came on TV aged 38. Earlier I worked on the sports staff of TASS, chaired a football magazine, wrote a lot for many other media, there was a foundation. In general, I was invited to TV because they knew me as writing journalist. And what I make here is explained by the fact that I am interested in everything that has something to do with football, in general.

Is there any sense in going on television without having a background in sports journalism?

It seems to me that one needs to be interested in sport as a kid, and not just as a fan but have at least statistics, like, for example, I did. One needs to try to understand sport better, read books, learn languages and, first of all, learn the Russian language at such an early age. Then everything will be fine on its own.

What a match are you especially proud of? What transmission made you a famous commentator?

There are several answers here. They are the games that everyone knows when we won France, world champion, or when we defeated England at Luzhniki. But, actually, a very boring match that he made beautiful and interesting is the job that a commentator is proud of. It is a challenge for a commentator because one can omit words in the Champions League final. I had few matches of this kind. Channel One usually shows top meetings. But anyway, there are several games that seem to me to become more interesting because of my job.

A very boring match that he made beautiful and interesting is the job that a commentator is proud of. It is a challenge for a commentator because one can omit words in the Champions League final

You have great experience in commenting matches. Have early cheat sheets changed after so much time? How do you prepare for pieces?

First of all, any person who prepared cheat sheets at school knows that there is such an effect of their preparation when everything you write down sticks on your memory. The same thing happens before a match. You write something and then understand that there is no need to look at it. They are different after so much time, of course, because there was no Internet when I started to comment. There was no information at all, and we had to look for foreign magazines, newspapers, which were unavailable for anyone, in closed libraries. It is difficult to imagine now. On the other hand, TV viewers had less information, and we were the truth in the last resort. Now everything is different, there is the Internet. And you know about the national team of Tanzania by clicking a button, what any fan can do. This is why commentators' task has changed. They need to present the information that TV viewers also have in an interesting way. It is the biggest difference between commenting then and now.

You are a kind of unique commentator who is able to work in both football and hockey at one level. Why don't we have such commentators?

I am not unique, it is a completely usual Soviet tradition. All commentators of the older generation, starting with Ozerov, commented on both football and hockey. Yes, in general, they don't comment on other sports, same skiing, basketball. But football and hockey were hand in hand in commenting. Because they are similar sports. For this reason, there were top athletes in the Soviet era who played both football and hockey. I am not speaking about Russian hockey, bandy where there are great football players. For instance, Valery Maslov, the former Dynamo-Moscow player who has recently died. He spent a season on the football pitch and played for the national bandy team in winter and was a repeated world champion.

I am not unique, it is a completely usual Soviet tradition. All commentators of the older generation, starting with Ozerov, commented on both football and hockey

What problems do today's commentators have? Gennady Orlov said it was bad knowledge of the Russian language, for instance.

It seems that all people with birdy surnames (Orlov from 'oryol' means 'eagle', Gusev – from 'gus' stands for 'goose') have this point of view because I have always noted that people don't know the Russian language well (laughing).

You participated in Lost, Last Hero 3 and Big Races projects of Channel One. Why do you need it?

Officials of the channel asked, it was corporate solidarity. You don't refuse projects of Channel One because people need to help each other. We did not know what would happen. In general, it was the first project with stars. Then there were not any programmes with figure skating, box, circus. And Ernst made up this concept. There were two Last Heroes. And it was decided to modify it. Then a scheme with famous people was created. We thought it would be a performance, we would be fed behind the camera. But it turned out to be wrong. I think it was partially a sports project. In addition, I even won a football contest. It was held on the third day of our arrival because on the second day I fell from a cliff and broke my chin. I have been having a beard since then. The organisers understood I needed to be cheered up somehow, I was in a bad mood. And they made up a football contest. I won it, and it positively influenced my mood, of course (smiling).

''It seems that we raised the credit of Berdyev too high''

The last time you commented on the Russian championship was a long time ago. Do you continue watching all Russian Football Premier League matches?

Yes, I watch all matches of the Russian championship, though I like the English league in terms of quality. But I watch all matches of our Premier League like mad. I feel I need to do it. I live here and must know our football in detail.

Did you miss commenting on matches of the Russian championship?

Yes, I would like us to show one top match of the Russian championship once a week like before. But, unfortunately, Channel One doesn't do it because such transmissions don't have a rating.

I watch all matches of the Russian championship, though I like the English league in terms of quality. But I watch all matches of our Premier League like mad. I feel I need to do it. I live here and must know our football in detail

As you carefully follow the Russian Football Premier League, do you think that anybody will be able to compete with Zenit this season? Don't you have a feeling that our football starts to have its own hegemon?

Nobody will be able to compete. Zenit can turn into a hegemon, and the league needs to think about it. There is an excellent example in the National Hockey League where the best young players are chosen after a season ends. Before the season, the best new player goes to the weakest team. Thus, NHL supports a competition level, first of all, they think of the competitiveness of the whole league, in general, not certain clubs.

We can't help but ask you about the Kazan team. What do you think of Rubin this season? What did you think of Berdyev's comeback?

I thought the comeback was correct because I am a person inclined to nostalgia. I remember how we showed many matches and often came to Kazan when Rubin was the champion of the country. In general, I liked that Berdyev was back to the club and probably saw a perspective in it. But, unfortunately, he can't succeed now, which is surprising for me. I know and love Rubin as a club that won Barcelona and team where many interesting football players came from. This is why I would like everything to be more convincing somehow. Now it even seems that we raised the credit of Berdyev too high. When he was losing the first match to Krasnodar, we said ''look, they were bad in the first half but already improved in the second half of the same match under Berdyev''. In other words, we wanted Berdyev to make a miracle and we were psyched up. It is not fine now, but I think everything is to come.

''I feel pity that Ukraine did not qualify for the World Cup''

What do you expect from the national team of Russia in the World Cup?

To start with, I think the main goal in the World Cup is to host it well, not to have problems with roads, hotels, organisation, thus entering the history of football, so that everybody will say: ''How great Russia hosted the World Cup''. Speaking about the performance of our national team, firstly, we should not set a task of going through the group stage. What a goal is it? To win the group stage and lose? Any normal team wants to win the tournament, then we will see what happens.

What do you think about perspectives of Cherchesov's squad? Doesn't it seem that the current generation is the weakest in the Russian period?

We got the right to host the World Cup precisely 7 years ago. It was considered that it was enough for a new generation to grow, but it has not grown up. And this is why we pluck at separate pieces – Golovin, the Miranchuk brothers. But it is rather an exception than a rule. I like Cherchesov very much, he is a good friend of mine. But he has a very uneasy goal. And you see the squad continues changing, though everything already needed to calm down by this moment. On the one hand, it is a good thing that you got the cup at home without qualifying matches. But they give you a platform that is incomparable with test and friendly games, here the first team needs to play. You can't afford to try new players. Any experiments need to stop one day. I think it is time to make the first team. Cherchesov will be doing it now.

Ukraine and the USA did not qualify for the WC. From a perspective of the political situation, will we miss them a lot for the sake of interest of all tournament?

We lost any interest because Holland did not qualify for the WC. I mean sports interest. Of course, I would like Ukrainians, Andrey Shevchenko's team, who is my good friend, to play here. I also evaluate the American team high. Somebody has recently said that their national team has shown nothing in the last 30 years. But I don't agree. Americans only surprised us, they are very similar to England for me. In terms of the mood, style of playing and even their appearance, their national team is typical, not a top EPL team that we admire, though they are not at the top. I understand it could lead to different provocations, some dissent would start. In this respect, somebody probably feels better because they don't participate. But I feel pity that it turned out so.

Talks about national football teams' soon death have been taking place for 10 years already, first of all, from an economic perspective. But as far as we can see, the squads have not disappeared now. Won't they disappear?

They will never disappear, matches of national teams will be the most interesting ones. How great is the Champions League, the world cup will always be more important than any world club tournament. Here I don't understand these conversations because even David Beckham said once that the most important events in his professional life was on that wonderful day when he was put the captain armband of England's squad on.

A bit of hockey. You regularly comment on matches of the national team. Why does our team show off in the Euro Hockey Tour and World Championship at times but fails at World Cups and Olympic Games?

Hockey can't be compared to football, in general. How can we say that we lost the Olympic Games or World Cup when we are always close, in the top 3 or candidates for the first place? In addition, right our players set the pace in NHL. There is no such a thing in football! This is why it is wrong to compare these two sports. I don't know maybe it happens because of traditions or less competition, though I think it is a doubtful point. But in hockey, we hold very strong positions, in football – no.

''Write a book. And start with saying you're lucky''

What else does Viktor Gusev do apart from commenting on matches?

I have a big collection of rock music: classic, progressive and so on. I buy discs like before, I don't download anything, put on the shelf, look through albums. Now I returned to vinyl, restored the old collection and buy new things for it. When I watch all matches of the Russian Premier League at weekends, I turn off the role of commentator at times, not because I don't like it but to have the time to listen to music. Sometimes it accurately fits the style of our teams' game, especially when the melody is slow, calm (saying with a lulling tone) and try not to fall asleep (laughing).

How long did you write your book Unlucky? Did it become as you supposed or do you feel you did not tell everything?

There was a great deal of events in life. This is why, sure, such a feeling remained. I just wrote down everything I remembered. When I had a necessary volume for publication, I had to cross out extra things. Many stories remained, but it is difficult to be speaking about publication of the second book because it will already be second.

I just wrote down everything I remembered. When I had a necessary volume for publication, I had to cross out extra things. Many stories remained, but it is difficult to be speaking about publication of the second book because it will already be second

In 2016, you became the confidential agent of United Russia in the elections to the State Duma. Was it a desire to get closer to politics or did you consider it as 'next job'?

It did not work at all. When I was walking along Vnukovo station, the platform collapsed right in front of me, I injured my backbone, and this topic with the elections disappeared on its own. In fact, I started to write the book because I was in hospital with three broken cervical vertebrae and asked my doctor: ''What should I do without moving?'' Then he said: ''Write a book. And start with saying you're lucky, two centimetres more and you'd already be in a wheelchair''.

But you are considered to be unlucky.

It is what the book is about (laughing).

Is the limit on the number of foreign players a good thing? Or is it the time to get rid of it?

Of course, it is the time we got rid of it. It is strange for me to hear urges when people who are far from football say about it. And they even offer our president like ''how good import substitution is, let's make the same thing in football''. Perhaps, it is normal if we were speaking about only the Russian championship. But what about the teams that reach Eurocups? How to play against, for example, Arsenal on the European stage who has 9 foreign players in the first team? Why do we put ourselves in a situation that is lost case a priori? A club can't have two squads to participate in the Russian championship with one and in Eurocups with the other. Why not? It is just terrible populism, I don't like it at all.

Is naturalisation of players for the national team fine?

It doesn't work at the moment. I think it is an easy way. The difficult way is to up and go to look for guys in Siberia, beyond the Urals and improve them. It is laziness to take football players who were brought up by somebody abroad and just give them the Russian passport.

By Zulfat Shafigullin, Artur Khalilullov. Photo: Maksim Platonov