To win matches you have to be a tyrant - Fabio Capello, Russia coach

Just a month to go until the 2014 World Cup kicks off. And for the first time in 10 years Russia’s national team will be among those competing. Expectations are low for a team lacking experience. Western politicians call for Russia to be kicked out over the situation in Ukraine. Will that affect team spirit? Is the Russian team being underestimated? Do they have any chance of victory? We speak to the coach of Russian national soccer team, Fabio Capello.

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Sophie Shevardnadze:From all the choices you had available you chose to coach Russia. Why? Because certainly it was the weakest team out of all the others you have coached.

Fabio Capello: I decided because I like to be here. But I like the ‘sfida’, the challenge. For me it is important after a long time to find something new. And to be a coach of Russia is completely new. New languages, new country, new style of life. For this reason I chose Russia and also for the challenge. Because in our group was Portugal. And when I have decided this all the people told me, “You are crazy,” because it is difficult to…the group for the qualification. I said that I need to try. For this reason I chose Russia.

SS: Do you think people actually underestimated Russia? Because like you said you did beat Portugal at top of the group.

FC: Yeah. But every time you need to understand what really happens, and we have the campaign that during the qualification was really good. The group played really well. We created a good mentality. It was the most important thing after the Euro [Championships] – to create them a new mentality, winner mentality, group mentality. This is the key to go forward, to create something different. This is really important for me. I saw my work getting better.

SS: Talking about mentality, what is different for example coaching Russia in comparison to England? You certainly don’t have the line of all stars this time.

FC: The big difference is that here I need to work with a translator always. Because the players don’t speak English, don’t speak Spanish, don’t speak French.

SS: So it’s always with a translator?

FC: Yes. And this is difficult. To transmit something different. The passion, at some moment you need to use your best words to change something or to create a new spirit or create something new after the first half. This is difficult. I am not sure always the translator will say with the same words I told him.

SS:The exact same things you’ve said…

FC: Exactly, what I want to mean.

SS:I’m sure they can understand from the hand gestures…

FC: What with England was easier I can speak with the players, I can understand their problems, I can understand everything. The most important thing was after the Euro to find the players, to stimulate the players to do something more. Because the fans were really angry against the players after the Ukraine. And this was really important for me to cancel it, what happened before. You need to be looking forward, you need to do something more, and we did this. And to create this was really important, to create, to find some leaders in the group. And with translator some time I tried to do this. This is a big difficulty that I found to work here.

SS:To find leader in a group?

FC: No, I found it.

SS:With the translation?

FC: With the translation.

SS: Supposedly, you are very strict. Everyone is so scared of you.

FC: Yes, I am strict.

SS:Is it the only way to do with the players? Be very tyrannical?

FC: No, sometimes. It depends on what happens. You need to understand what you need to tell to players in different moments. Sometimes you need to be strong, sometimes you need to be quiet, and to speak slowly, and sometimes you need to shout. You need to understand what is happening. During the game, during the training, during the time that we stay together. This is really important. I, after the first half, when I get from the bench to the dressing room, I figure what I need to do.

SS:What?

FC: Yes, this is “what?” I arrive at the dressing room, I want the players to stay three minutes in silence. You need to change boots, everything you need to do, don’t think about the game. Drink, everything, don’t speak about. And after four or five minutes I start to speak. In this period I think if I need to shout or I need to speak slowly. So I think what I need to do. This is very important.

I remember the last game that we played against Real Madrid. We were recovering. Nine points to Barcelona. You need to win last game home against Majorca. After the first half we are losing. And after the first half we went to the dressing room and thought about what we need to do. We played the last 11 games fantastic. The first half of the last game was disaster. With fear, no confidence. It was terrible. “What do you need to do, Fabio,” I think. Normally I speak standing. Then I went close to one place, sit down with the players. And I said, “Guys, we need something incredible. We are calling nine to Barcelona. Why we want to lose the title? Why? Go to the pitch and play like a training. We will win.” This happened.

You need to understand what you need to do during every moment you stay with the players, because the players are looking for you to understand your idea, your method, everything.

SS:Do you feel like the Russians understand you? Because I remember in England you were very criticized for being so strict right before the world cup.

FC: It’s because we lost.

SS:They said: “We could not see our wives, we could not drink, we could not go out. Fabio was strict with us.”

FC: This is the life of an athlete. I told them, “We are athletes. We are not…we represent the country. We sacrifice. You think best athletes drink every day and stay with their wives, their girlfriends every day? No! We go the training camp and stay together. We work together. Eight days – is that a lot? We have money that people paid for us.” Why you need to do this? I think so. Someone might think different. This is my idea of football.

SS:And with Russians, do you feel they understand you?

FC: Yes. Until this moment, yes.

SS:Is there something that is very peculiar with Russian team that you have not encountered with other teams? Is there something as national particularity? Mentality?

FC: Yes sometimes. One of the problems is that not all of players played our way. And to understand, to speak [about] what really happens in the other countries, the other league or championship in Germany. And sometimes the mentality is Russian. But I try to change it to be international. We need to be international.

SS: What’s international?

FC: International is to open the mind. Not only to think about Russia. Russia is a big country with good mentality, but you need to understand what really happens in the football world. This is very important not to only our style, lifestyle, football style, is really sometimes really close. You need to be open.

SS:Talking about international, it’s the first time in 12 years that you take Russia to the world cup. They don’t have the experience. Do you think they can handle the psychological pressure?

FC: Absolutely. Absolutely. Because when you play home, a World Cup will be a really, really, really strong pressure. For this I am happy they can play the World Cup to understand the value of this competition. This is really important to understand what really happens during this competition. Euro is nothing if you are playing the World Cup. All the world watches these games. All the world people, fans, watching the teams, read the papers, watch TV, interviews - everything. It’s incredible and the pressure will be really, really strong.

SS: Are they ready for the pressure?

FC: Well, now, they are ready for this World Cup.Are you speaking about the next World Cup?

SS: No, this World Cup.

FC: We are ready. We worked a lot - really strong. We checked everything about the training camp, the games. We think we are ready. But you need to know that sometimes something happens unpredictable.

SS: But you know how you were saying that England were always too tired, because they were playing too many competitions. Russia, on the other hand, doesn’t play half as much competitions…

FC: I’m really happy about this, because I fight with the Federations, with the club as England manager, because to them, it’s impossible to play 56 games every year – the players will arrive tired at the moment of competitions. But they tell me, “Fabio, the Boxing Day’s the most important period of football in England.” But Russia would be fresh.

SS:But they don’t have the experience. What’s more important, being fresh or being experienced?

FC: Yes, if you are fresh, you have no experience, if you are tired, you’ve got experience. But I prefer to be with fresh players.

SS:For yourself, I know, you’ve been trying to do your best, but apart from that, for yourself, inside, you’ve set a certain goal for this World Cup – what is it? Are you trying to win it? Finals? Semi-finals?

FC: My job always, I think, is games after games…

SS:One by one?

FC: Step by step. Because of difficult games that we need to play, because in the World Cup, every team that will practice competition is the top. Managers are good, players are good, and all is really difficult.

SS: Forthe friendlies before the World Cup you chose as your opponents Slovakia, Morocco and Norway.

FC: Yes.

SS:Why them?

FC: I tried to choose three different teams with the style more or less that the teams that we were placed against in Brazil. Slovakia is fast, play well in counter-attacks, they are really, really fast. Norway normally is dangerous at set pieces, they are tall - for that reason, I think [they are good at set pieces]. The choice was to prepare the team, the corner and the set pieces. And Morocco is North African. They are really good players, these players play in Europe, more or less 80 percent, and they’ll be the same style, more or less, that Algeria uses.

SS:Do you have a problem, in soccer, with team play? Because, for example, hockey in Russia – every individual player is brilliant, and it’s a super-popular sport in Russia, but there is a huge problem with team play. Do you have the same problem with soccer?

FC: No. Until now, no – because this is different. Hockey players play in USA or Canada, at these really important competitions. But the football players play here in Russia, they know everything. It’s easier for me to create a group, because I think, for the hockey, they’ve got big stars. Everyone wants to be the best.

SS: Prima donna.

FC: Yes, prima donna.

SS:You’ve also signed up for the next World Cup in 2018 that Russia is going to host. Now, people who watch football are worried that the players you have now are going to be kind of old by the time 2018 comes. Do you have a plan? Are you going to pick different players?

FC: Yes, we’ve got a plan. We’re going to try something new. I asked that the teams will change the roles for Russian players and seven foreign players. I’ve asked five Russian players and six foreign players to change from 16s to 18s, to more – and with this we can improve 40 percent of Russian players, and also you need to try to do the same thing that the other countries are doing: the change of the passport of different players. In Italy we’ve got eight players that came from different countries, not Italian – England, Germany. I don’t understand why you are only country that has not this possibility.

SS: So you’re asking to make this possible.

FC: Yes. It’s not out [illegal], no. It’s [within] the law, you can do it correctly. The last is Diego Costa, from Spain. He was Brazilian in Spain, he chose the Spain. You can do this. We need to improve. Because we have 140 million people. I got only 64 players to choose. This is incredible.

SS:Fabio, do you have government officials and ministers interfering into your job, or you are completely in control – because in Russia they love to interfere into sports. Have you encountered that yet?

FC: I haven’t. I’m completely free. When I got some problems, I speak with president, with minister, with the people that need to find the solutions about the problems. But I choose the players, no one can tell me “you need to select this one.” That never existed. Never in my job [has] one president told me this. Never.

SS:What do you think of the Russian fans, quite crazy, huh?

FC: Well, yes. They are crazy!

SS: Are you concerned over all the violence?

FC: They are crazy for Russia.. I want to tell you, crazy to support us. Not what happened in St. Petersburg, this is out, completely crazy thing. But crazy for the passion, crazy for support.

SS:There are two American senators who wrote a letter to FIFA asking to ban Russia from this World Cup competition and also strip it of its right to host the 2018 World Cup. What do you think of that?

FC: I think the sport is out of this political problems. I don’t like [it when] the political people put this on the sport. They need to understand that we are one part of the world, one part of the different jobs, that we create something different. I remember USA-China Ping Pong meeting, games, for the reason I don’t understand. But probably the senators want to do something to go in the first pages of the newspapers.

SS: Is there anything that could change you, make you change your mind into continue working in Russia?

FC: No. Every time you need to understand what’s happening. You need to be interested in something new, to be open for everything, because if you are not interested in different things that happen in the world and also in my job, in my sport, in the other things – it’s really important. If you are close only in one thing you’ll never improve. To improve, to find the solutions, to find something you can learn from different situations.

I went to Madrid to see the semi-finals, as an example, because I wanted to see live what really happened on the pitch. Because I need to understand, to learn, always, in every moment in life. And the challenge is this – to learn, to learn, to learn. When you think, at the top, “I know everything,” it’s better that you stop.