He has been inundated with praise (and marriage proposals) but Russia’s World Cup coach Stanislav Cherchesov says he is still haunted by the team’s agonizingly close failure to make the semi-finals of the World Cup.
“Emotionally, we were in high spirits, but in the end we fell one inch short – we could have been in the last four, playing against England. No one believed in us before the tournament, but still we are sad. We would have loved to have lifted the World Cup trophy over our heads,” Cherchesov told RT during a lengthy live interview on Tuesday.
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An almost entirely home-based squad exceeded expectations with a series of self-sacrificing and competent performances, culminating in the win over Spain, and the defeat on penalties of Croatia in the knockouts. In the process, the Russian team captured the hearts of an ambivalent nation, and became a symbol of what has been a stunningly successful tournament for the hosts.
But Cherchesov will not take credit.
“A team cannot bring energy to the entire nation, we can only give the opportunity for people to express their feelings,” he told Peter Schmeichel, RT expert and a fellow goalkeeper born two months after him.
Still, the former Spartak Moscow manager says does say that a spontaneous positive feedback loop developed between the players on the pitch and the crowds over the past four weeks – starting with the surprise demolition of Saudi Arabia in the opening game in Moscow.
“It would have been impossible without the fans. On the other hand, it is impossible to get fans out of their seats unless you are performing on the pitch. The two things fed into each other,” said Cherchesov.
But Cherchesov takes the compliments coming in from every quarter – he says calls from officials and celebrities have become incessant as the tournament has progressed – with a pinch of salt, remembering the doubts that plagued his two years in charge, and particularly the seven winless games that preceded the start of the tournament.
“For the two years we experimented with a lot of players, looking for ones with the right mentality, and I was criticized. In the end we have a team of equals, people who believed that at the home tournament you shouldn’t just perform, but give more than you have,” he says wrily. “Now people understand that. No coaches are understood by the people, but once something good happens, everyone starts analyzing and claiming ‘we predicted that.’”
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Though he is forthright and often critical, Cherchesov does not want to be caricatured as the unsmiling gesticulator that he has been on the sidelines.
“Look, here I am smiling and relaxed, because I am here as a normal person, and not a a football coach,” he reassures Schmeichel, who says that he has been almost concerned by Cherchesov’s demeanor.
So has Cherchesov, who plans to stay on as coach, been having fun with all the media attention – the wall-sized graffiti, pop songs in his honor, and beautiful strangers on social media declaring their undying love?
“It’s nice, but I am happily-married man and a father of two.”