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27 Nov, 2008 05:00

Interview with Kurban Berdyev

The republic of Tatarstan will eventually be the powerhouse of Russian football and hockey, according to Kurban Berdyev, the coach and Vice President of FC Rubin Kazan. Rubin were crowned Russia’s football champions recently and Berdyev gave an exclusive interview.

RT: Thank you so much for your time. You cannot imagine how hard it was for us to reach you. This is a great honour for us and for our Arabic audience. The Russian Championship has several serious clubs, such as CSKA with their Brazilian players and Zenit, who won the UEFA Cup recently. What’s the secret of your club’s success in such a strong competition?

K.B.: First of all I believe it’s our team. It’s also a certain level of technical mastery, of course. We’ve invited some quite experienced and qualified football players. But nonetheless I believe that we’ve had quite a solid team this year, and it will hopefully stay like this next year too. Its members are ambitious and willing to fight until the end. We never made it our task to become champions, until we entered the UEFA zone, of course. Then we made it our task immediately. After our third game, when we beat Zenit in St. Petersburg, I realised that our team could actually aim at something greater. I was even more certain after the seventh match when we beat Dinamo in Moscow. Then I realised that we’d managed to build a really determined and ambitious team for the first time in many years. We’ve definitely had our failures which had nonetheless proven our team’s perseverance.

RT: The team faces a real challenge in the Champions League next season. What are your plans and hopes for this tournament?

K.B.: Several positions certainly have to be strengthened. I’ve already discussed it with our president, Mintimer Shaimiyev. He’s confirmed that these positions have to be strengthened. Time will tell what players we’ll get. I cannot tell you this today. But the fact that several positions have to be strengthened is for certain.

RT: Have you started thinking about the team for next season? Will the international crisis affect your opportunities?

K.B.: I hope it will not affect the opportunities of our sponsors. I’m really counting on it. We have a number of players already. We’ve been holding negotiations with clubs in Europe and Latin America. We have certain arrangements with clubs already. I hope everything will be alright for us.

RT: How long does your contract with Rubin last for? Have you received any offers from other clubs?

K.B.: My contract actually runs out in 20 days. We haven’t talked about renewing it. But I believe it will not be a problem. As far as other clubs are concerned, I haven’t received any invitations from foreign clubs but I wouldn’t even consider them. I believe I belong in Kazan. Moreover, I’m also the club’s vice president. As the head coach I am responsible for Rubin and its victories and as the vice president I am responsible for the club’s infrastructure. This is also a very important thing for me.

RT: How do you evaluate the work with the younger generation? What kind of future awaits Rubin-Kazan?

K.B.: I believe the future of Rubin will be great. If we manage to complete the base, the infrastructure which we’re building now, then we’ll be among the best in Russia. You’ve already seen the base. You know that we are building a school. Yesterday we arranged for a training stadium to be built right here behind my windows. It will mean that kids will not have to spend two hours a day to travel to the central stadium for their twice-daily practice. They’ll use the training stadium here. Then we’ll be able to say that the construction is complete. However it doesn’t mean a completed infrastructure. We need a competent children’s coach. These are the things we are working on now, and this work has been rather productive.

RT: I heard that you go on the Hajj after every season. What are your plans for this year?

K.B.: No, I’ve never been on a Hajj yet, only on Umrah.

RT: Oh yeah, Umrah.

K.B.: I am actually flying to the Hajj today. This is my first time, so I feel a certain excitement.

RT: Could you tell us what the role of your beads is? Whenever you are sitting on the bench watching your team you keep them in your hands.

K.B.: I don’t consider it a token or a tradition. It’s just something I need. I just feel that I have to keep them in my hands when I’m watching a game. I don’t feel well without them. There were a couple of times when I accidentally forgot to take them to matches, even though it wasn’t my fault. And I was feeling uncomfortable through the game, as if I was missing something. Thus this is just a need I feel. I think Muslims will understand me.

RT: Kazan is a great city of sport. With your help it has become the football capital of Russia. Only a few cities could boast such a number of clubs and high-class players. What do you think about Kazan and its many great teams, such as volleyball’s Zenit Kazan team, AK Bars hockey team, Unix basketball team and Rubin, Russia’s football champions. What’s your opinion on sport in Kazan?

K.B.: In fact, we should thank and give our respect to Mintimer Shaimiyev, the President of Tatarstan, for his policy on sport. Sport is politics. He understands only too well that sport helps him bring up children. With sport they obtain a new belief. In the time of the former Soviet Union, everybody believed in the Communist Party, but all faith and belief vanished after it collapsed. It’s only now that people are rediscovering their belief in God. It’s true, but this process is progressive. It means that this emptiness in hearts and souls should be replaced with something else. But if there’s no faith here, then this spiritual vacuum can be filled with drugs and other bad habits. But if a boy, a young man or a girl goes into sports, they come to believe that one day they will be champions. Yesterday it was AK Bars, the day before yesterday it was volleyball, you’ve forgotten grass hockey – five or six grass hockey champion titles. It means that a boy starts believing in something. It means that bad habits disappear and a nation starts its recovery. This development of sport, politics and the recovery process is, in my view, much more active in Tatarstan than in other parts of Russia. I’ll repeat it once again that all this is thanks to Mentimir Sharipych. Tatarstan, including Kazan, stands only second to Moscow in the development of sports. I think that with time, Tatarstan will turn into a forge of hockey and football because, as you know, many ice rinks are located around Kazan. We want to solve this task, and this is a path we would like to follow. First, we will create the infrastructure for Rubin and the rest of the republic will be our next step.

RT: Is any kind of stadium being built for Rubin in Kazan?

K.B.: The foundation of a new stadium has been laid. I know that this new stadium is going to be beautiful. Its construction will be completed by the 2013 World Student Games. Therefore, Kazan will have a lot of modern sports facilities by 2013. I’ve already seen the drafts and sketches of some of these facilities. They look magnificent!

RT: Do you think that Kazan can do a good job hosting the World Student Games?

K.B.: Without any doubt! Tatarstan has a lot of experience in organising political events, and I don’t think that organising big sport competitions will be problematic for Tatarstan.

RT: And my last question. Early next year, in 2009, the Russian National Team will have to play elimination trials. I think that their first game will be versus Azerbaijan. But it’s going to be cold and snowy in Moscow in winter. Do you think that the city of Kazan will be able to host such a big and vital match?

K.B.: Yes, of course. It won’t be a problem. The thing is that the infrastructure is being developed in many Russian cities and towns. Therefore, when we talk about Russia or Kazan, we should see the real situation there. Because they lack information, many people have the wrong impression about the development of any particular kind of sport in various Russian regions and cities. When Muscovites talk about Kazan, they often say that it’s the king for a day. But when they come and see our infrastructure and how it’s developing, they can’t help being surprised. And then they come to understand that Rubin hasn’t come for an hour or for a day. The fact that it won and became the Russian national champion in 1991 was just the first sign. Our young people are fast to mature, and if we speak about football, I think that Kazan will soon rise as a serious and permanent rival to Moscow clubs.

RT: With my background as a professional footballer, I can say that it’s going to be a great advantage for the Russian national team if Rubin, the champions of Russia, play some qualifiers in Kazan. I would also like to ask you about Semak. He’s over 30 now. He’s the captain of the Russian national team and the captain and the main player for Rubin. He’s going to play qualifiers for the Russian national team and in the Champions League with Rubin. It’s pretty hard. Do you think he will withstand this kind of pressure at his age?

K.B.: I am absolutely sure that he will. I hope he won’t have any injuries. Sergei is a professional footballer and he had to bear colossal physical strains in the outgoing year. He endured them with dignity. Therefore, I don’t have any great worries. You know, when we speak about a team’s captain, it’s about Semak. He’s a true captain, not just on paper. Therefore, I am sure that he will help the national team. But we also have a number of players who, I believe, will assert themselves next year. They include Ryazantsev, Balyakin and Bukharov. Ryzhikov has already played for the national team several times. Therefore, we hope that more Rubin players will join the national team.

RT: The official website of the “Rusiya-al Yaum” television channel has received many letters asking us to tell them more about you and have more reports and features about the club and its work. You are going on the Hajj soon. Would you like to send greetings to your fellow Muslims via our television channel?

K.B.: I am very grateful to my fellow Muslims for their telegrams. There have been many phone calls and greetings, especially from the Central Asian republics, from Kazakhstan and from southern Russia. Rubin’s victory is very important for them. The thing is that Kazan is a multi-national city of the Republic of Tatarstan where all religions co-exist in peace. And this fact is very important. Our team’s victory is important for the Muslims but not only for them. It’s important for provincial towns and regions. So, if Kazan, Vladikavkaz and Zenit, although it’s from St. Petersburg, Russia’s northern capital, have become Russia’s champions, then why can’t we? We just need to start from the infrastructure, and we have to wait for some time. What I mean is five or seven years which it will take to bring up our own boys who will be able to play good football. I think it’s very important. Rubin’s victory has extended the boundaries for Russian national champions. It means that football is developing in Russia. That’s what makes Rubin’s victory so significant!

RT: Thank you very much!