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Erik Stoffelshaus: I did not speak badly about anyone in Lokomotiv. Someone did about me Interview with former Schalke 04 and FC Lokomotiv sports director

FC Lokomotiv
Фото: FC Lokomotiv
Former Schalke 04 and FC Lokomotiv sports director about his emotional “good bye” to Russian champion.

Erik Stoffelshaus is one of the most controversial and mysterious figures of Russian football. With him, FC Lokomotiv made a whole series of great transfers, won the Cup and became the champion of Russian Premier League. However, all this time, the sports director was under the fire of criticism from the head coach of the club, and he has never responded to it publicly. 

«You are not going to get any money»

– Erik, even after leaving Lokomotiv you refused all journalists and agreed to give an interview only for Do not you think that by explaining your steps during all these two years, you would partially get rid of public pressure?
– I have not seen any sense from getting involved in the debates through the press. If things do not speak for me, then words will not help. For what reason did I have to defend myself? Regarding the signing of a contract with Farfan? Or with Rybus? Or with Eder, Krychowiak, Höwedes? I can calmly look into the eyes of anyone, taking into consideration, that during the first three transfer windows we have spent almost nothing, but won the gold.

– Well, let us return to the explanations a little later and begin by summing up your work at Lokomotiv. 
– I have had two fantastic years. After only six months, we won the Cup, which was great, but winning gold medals in another 12 months was something very special. Incredible feeling! I am very grateful to the fate for the time in Lokomotiv, I learned a lot here, also met many wonderful people who were very friendly to me. The atmosphere within the club was truly fantastic, everyone worked for the result, and it came. When I was on my way from Toronto to Moscow, I had a feeling inside that something similar to what happened was waiting for me. I am glad that I was not mistaken.

– What have you achieved during this time?

– I look back with pleasure. When I joined the club in the winter of 2017, the team was on the tenth place, at the first game with Grozny I saw almost empty stands. The lineup was expensive, but did not meet the objectives. At the same time, the club was under the threat of sanctions of financial fair play, which left us no choice, as the budget for purchases was zero. I was invited to strengthen the lineup, to make it one of the best in the Premier League, but I was immediately said: «You are not going to get any money». Remembering all this and comparing it with the current situation, when Lokomotiv celebrated winning gold medals and played in the Champions League, I realize that we managed to achieve a lot. It was not easy so it makes the success more pleasant. I consider it as phenomenal. We managed to solve the task of making FC Lokomotiv one of the leading clubs in the country, which participates in European competitions and, at the same time, does not forget its own graduates. Now we have world champion and vice-world champion, European champion, winner of the UEFA Europa League, in addition, six young graduates play in the starting lineup or they are on the verge of hitting it – both Miranchuks, Barinov, Lysov, Tugarev, Zhemaletdinov. This is an intriguing fusion of youth and experience.

None of the new players became cheaper

– You noticed that the lineup two years ago was expensive. It is unlikely that the payroll fund has become less, is not it?
– But not opposite to that. For the same money, we have a completely different quality – the team that plays in the Champions League and earns there 20 million euros. Let me remind you that before that Lokomotiv had not played for 14 years in the main tournament. Moreover, we created a platform Kazanka for the academy talents development. The guys from the graduation year of 2001 became the champions of Russia, the U19 qualified from the group in the UEFA Youth League ... Something we managed to achieve during this time, you cannot disagree. All this is not an accident or a coincidence. Only hard work brings the result.

– Regarding the quality of the lineup…
– I am not a big fan of Transfermarkt, since the amounts quoted there do not always reflect reality. According to the website, a player costs two million, though he, for example, has a contract for four years, and his club is not eager to let him go, which means that for the buyer his price is not two million, but much more. But now there is no better guide to be used, which is why let us apply to this portal. Two years ago I joined the team, the total value of which players was estimated at 63 million euros. By the time I left the club, it turned into 111. The team became almost twice as expensive. At the same time, the financial aspect is very important. If you invest, but then you do not get the refund, then this is a bad job. Our investments are compensated by the performance in the Champions League, which translates into 20 million euros. In addition, I can easily let go any acquired footballer for the amount no less than what Lokomotiv has payed to get him.

– Will Höwedes be taken for 4 million, аnd Krychowiak, approximately, for 10?

– With their reputation and level of performance – no doubt.

On sign bonuses as a reputation blow

– Your best purchase in these two years?
– Difficult question! I have now listed in my head many personalities, each one of them has its own story, which is hidden from the public eye. Let us take the European champion Eder who only by his «golden» goal in the match against FC Zenit justified his transfer. The Portuguese did not cost a penny! I am incredibly pleased that we managed to get him on those terms. Or another transfer at the very beginning of my work – Farfan. He scored 10 goals in the RPL in the championship season, took the leading role in the team, went to the 2018 World Cup. Again, our costs were zero.

– But I would like to mention this: when they talk about a free player transfer, they are always silent about solid on sign bonuses for him and often for his agent as well.
– When I say «zero», it means exactly «zero». It is easy to offer on sign bonuses, but then I would be a bad sports director. A good one should reasonably handle club assets. In order to avoid the situation when later people would come and ask after looking through the papers: what have you done? To me, reputation is the most precious thing. What is the point of taking a free agent if you pay him a couple of million as on sign bonuses? That is all the same if you do not save but spend money, and the football player is quasi free. Yes, I understand the market where can be special cases. If, for example, Lewandowski contract has expired, then, perhaps, it is impossible to make a deal without on sign bonuses, which is actually a fee for the opportunity to sign an outstanding goalscorer without negotiating with the club. Nevertheless, in most cases it is necessary to find arguments to avoid on sign bonuses. Let us say, for Farfan: «Jeff, you have not the most outstanding career period, you play in the Emirates, the statistics does not impress a lot. Let me help you with restarting your career, getting back to Europe again, extending your life in football. You want this, do not you? But you, from your side, must meet our opportunities – we have no money for on sign bonuses». 

– Eder, Farfan – figured out, let us move forward.

– I believe that Rybus was also an excellent acquisition. We had no money then. We somehow found 250 thousand euros and I said to the representatives of Olympique Lyon that at this moment we would give only this amount of money, the rest of the sum – another half million – in a year. They tried to be indignant, but had to be interrupted: otherwise, there would be no transfer at all. Like this, having almost no financial resources, we formed the team, which then became the champion.

Höwedes became a victim of his versatility

– The next one is Höwedes.

– In my opinion, it was a very, very good transfer. To get such a central defender for 4 million is a major achievement. For instance, Schalke 04 is now in search, since Naldo went to AC Monaco. And it is not so easy for the club: the European market is not oversaturated. A football player must have a solid reputation. Evaluate Höwedes again: the world champion, he fully spent all the matches in Brazil-2014. At 22, he became captain of Schalke 04 and kept on being one for 7 years. This speaks for his football and human qualities. Benedikt is a world-class star, and he is capable of playing at the level that he demonstrated in the best years. Without any doubts. Or Kryhovyak. Incredible football player, PSG took him for 32 million, Lokomotiv eventually will spend on him less than a third of this amount. Worked out badly? And how can I single out one purchase? They are all very important to me.

– Fine, Kryhowiak proves his star status. But are you satisfied with Höwedes and his first six months in the club?
– Partly, he became a victim of his versatility. This would seem to be an advantage, but for Höwedes it turned out the way that Benni played in all five positions in the defense – on the right, on the left, in the center, as right center back and left center back. It was all about constant reorganization. Besides, in my opinion, he deserved more playing time. I am sure that if he could play constantly in the center of defense, he would be one of the best at this position in the league. Why did he sometimes stay on the bench? That is a question to the coach. He certainly could not forget how to play. In the spring, he came out on the pitch in the starting lineup of Juventus, two years ago spent all the matches for the German national team at the UEFA European Championship, he has a terrific mentality and he is a leader by his character. I think that there can be no discussion on this acquisition.

«Erik, I will not let you down»

– Farfan was your first transfer in Lokomotiv, and such a crazy risk in the very beginning. Forward for the previous 2.5 years played only 20 matches and scored 3 goals. Anyone would say: this guy has already mentally finished his career, having left for the Emirates. Did you understand that you could immediately become an object in Russia that everyone laughs at?

– Yes, that was a risk and I perfectly realized everything. But I am not the person who takes only simple steps to avoid questions from the public. The obvious solutions can be found without you. You can beat the competitors only by some unexpected moves. What did everyone think about Farfan two years ago? Exactly what you just have said: he is old, went to the East to finish his career, it is better to forget about him. The maximum was if someone could see the statistics, make sure, that even in the Emirates he has no goals scored, and deleted him from any lists for good and all. That was actually the perfect situation – Farfan saw this attitude on the part of European clubs, he had no serious alternatives. He just had to ask himself the question: is it true that Jeff can be forgotten? Do I assume that or know for sure? No, not for sure. And then you start to unwind the tangle. It was that easier since Farfan has been in front of me for a long time, I met him more than ten years ago, I perfectly see his football and human qualities. He never gives up! Where is Jeff, there are titles, he leads his teams to it. In each club, the Peruvian won either a Championship or a National Cup. He now has eight gold medals and four Cups. Does not it sound like a reason to take a closer look? I decided it does. My arguments on Farfan I have already quoted. In the end, I added:«I am taking a risk. Will you, from your side, not let me down?» – «Do not even hesitate, Erik, I will take the bull by the horns», – Farfan replied. From his tone, I realized that the risk on my part was minimal, I would not be ashamed of the transfer.

– Questions had been arising anyway.
– The first half a year was not the easiest for the forward. One goal for the whole spring, a cool attitude of the press, a discussion around soi-disant Jeff's excess weight which was not true – Ilya Gerkus (former CEO of Lokomotiv – recently demonstrated a confirmation photo. But did you notice that Farfan was moping or looking for enemies? He continued to work hard, scoring 14 goals next season and playing a key role in the Lokomotiv championship.
If someone is not that familiar with Russian football and have not seen the matches of our team, I would recommend in this case to watch a game in St. Petersburg FC Zenit – FC Lokomotiv (0:3), to observe the actions of the Peruvian. Only a few in the world can play at this level. And we got this forward absolutely free. This is actually the job of the sports director – to invite quality footballers without wasting a lot of money. This often requires unobvious steps. There were also various opinions on Krychowiak in the European market, everyone knew how much PSG spent on him, however, after his transfer the reviews were no longer so enthusiastic. It was about time to attack, knowing the possibilities of Grzegorz! As a result, an excellent transfer from the economic and sports points of view.

– Spanish sports edition AS has included Smolov in the top five candidates for Real Madrid. Do you think this is an adequate assessment of the Lokomotiv forward?

– This question is better to be asked to the representatives of the club from Madrid. We can only reason theoretically. It is known that all over the world at the great price are forwards who score a lot. Smolov is extremely dangerous in the opponent's penalty area, with a proper support of the midfield he is a superforward. You can feel a mile away that this is a great striker. Look at Fedor's statistics for the last two seasons (62 goals –, and you will see that he can be very interesting for many clubs. However, is Real Madrid among those clubs? I have no idea.

0:3 in Istanbul – madness!

– What did you fail to manage in Lokomotiv?
– I am very satisfied with the first one and a half years. But the sports results of the current season are below our expectations. The fifth place for this lineup is an absolutely inappropriate position. I am convinced that the team must fight for the championship. I am not saying that Lokomotiv must win gold medals, but to be among those teams that claim to win – that is for sure. There are great players in all the lines, so I am, of course, disappointed with the results. Especially in the Champions League. Well, FC Porto is very strong now, deservedly took the first place in the group. But losing 0:3 to Galatasaray was kind of madness. In the rematch, we could see that Lokomotiv was objectively stronger, confidently won 2:0. It was unacceptable to lose big to such an opponent. I was also very frustrated with matches against my native Schalke 04, where I worked for 11 years, having passed all the steps from the academy coach to a leadership position in the sports department. At home, we looked better, had to score and win, but we missed the gold in the very end. Even our rivals admitted that they had won thanks to luck. But in Gelsenkirchen the club looked frankly gutless. I did not see the team that holds the last, and decisive, match in the Champions League. With this attitude and such a performance, it is impossible to beat Schalke.
And even Porto helped by beating the Turkish club in a parallel match which makes the result more painful. And what is more sad is how we came to it. You can give away, but if you gave your best on the pitch, ran across it with burning eyes, then no fan will ever make a complaint to you. In Germany, I heard booing, and this was explainable. As a result, the last place in the group, which was one of the easiest in recent years. Heard judgment: not enough experience. Guys, who lacked experience there? Couple man? There were world and European champions in the lineup, not mentioning the participants of these tournaments. Who was they afraid of? We had enough strong attacking players to try to play bolder. Especially when it comes to the match from the category of «all or nothing», «get or get got».  That defeat is still a splinter in my heart.

In tenth place, a coach should look for mistakes

– A coach is responsible for a game and a result. Let us be honest, if you could decide, would you fire Yuri Semin after that fall?
– I do not like to rant hypothetically. Decisions are made by other people, so it makes no sense for me to talk about such issues in the press. Notice, I have never spoken about Semin in public. And even if I have, then only good things were said.

– It is true. But now you are no longer bound by corporate solidarity, you are not working in Lokomotiv, and you can openly express your opinion. Not so long ago, for example, a book by Semin came out, you probably have something to comment on.
– Drop it. Let everyone decide what to believe. I can only say one thing: there are problems – the doors are open, I was ready for discussion at any time. I was at the office every day.

– We want the fans to finally understand your position on the coaching issue. Is it true, let us say, that from the first day you were telling everyone that Semin needed to be changed?

– This is said by people with whom I have communicated in two years only a couple of times. And you believe, that I started criticizing the coach in front of them from the very beginning? I will clarify: for the first three months, I did not talk to anyone except for Ilya Gerkus. And in general, I admit, I am not the greatest fan of discussing key issues with people I just met. At the same time, if a coach is successful, his position is not subject to doubt. If you cannot see a result then discussions begin. We are not going to discover America here.

– When you joined the club, Lokomotiv was on the 10th place…
– … Therefore, it is completely logical that all aspects were touched upon in the analysis. As a sports director, I had to look very deep, to see how coach, physical therapist, medical staff, and so on cope. For Lokomotiv, the tenth place was a tragedy, I had no desire to linger on it. I wanted to win titles. Or am I somehow wrong?

– So far sounds very convincing.
– Maybe someone was waiting for me to come and say: «Everything is great, guys, shall we continue in the same vein?» Of course, with this analysis, the name of Semin was mentioned as well, it would be ridiculous not to expose his actions to any doubts. But again, not in the press, but in the club. I have never publicly spoken badly about anyone, although, it happened to me, you know it. One on one with Gerkus, we could discuss everyone, it goes without saying. A coach must reflect, look for his mistakes. For sure, there were some, any person makes mistakes, including myself, and my work at the club can be discussed as well. And the questions then were not addressed only to the coach, but also to the players. Thus, the right answers were found. Otherwise, Lokomotiv would not have become a champion.
Precisely, it is a team and players that should be put in the first place. They come out on the pitch and achieve victories. Therefore, I was rather surprised when the FC Lokomotiv gold medals were discussed in the press mainly through the prism of the head coach. But this was not the championship of Semin, Gerkus or Stoffelshaus. First of all, it was the gold of the Lokomotiv team.

We communicated a lot with Semin. Through Gerkus

– Can a sports director actually do his job when there is virtually no communication with a coach? 
– There was one – through Gerkus. That was more than enough for me. I have my own job – market research, finding football players, proposals for the extension of contracts and so on. Semin has his part – on the football pitch and in theory classes. I did not interfere in the affairs of the coach and waited for the same on his part. The tasks were assigned to me by general manager, I reported to him, nothing prevented me from working undisturbedly. Indeed, everyone has his own idea of how the club should function, who should make decisions on transfers. But listen, for eleven years I had been working in a very prominent club in Europe, under my supervision Schalke 04 played in the semifinal of the Champions League. I have an idea how and what works in football.

– How often did this happen: you found a player, were confident in his qualities, he was affordable, just perfect, but Semin rejected the candidacy?
– Quite often. It has immediately reminded me of one footballer who, in my opinion, would have helped the club a lot, but this did not work option for Lokomotiv. Then he was bought by another club at a much more expensive price, for 12 million euros, he plays really great. However, I do not see anything bad in these stories, it is absolutely normal. I mean it is always good to have more eyes on it. After all, other cases have happened: I evaluated someone highly, we did not take him, and the football player did not reveal the potential afterwards. Everyone makes mistakes, this is why when several people agree on a player, this reduces the risk. Personally, I am very pleased with how successful our transfers were, with our percentage of hits as well.

– There are materials on dedicated to your person with picture including the names of the players who could come to Lokomotiv. I suspect that Choupo-Moting was your candidate. He now looks good in PSG.

– Stop, stop, stop. Do you know how many such discussions happen almost daily? How many surnames pop up? Let us not comment on any particular case or we can go too far. Although the appearance of this picture is another bad example on the same topic: the internal affairs of the club should not accessible to public eye. But we have already talked enough about this. As for the candidates that I proposed, then, clearly, I will not give names. For the same reasons. That would be unprofessional. 

I was for the acquisition of Kverkvelia and against selling Miranchuk brothers

– You know the European football market very well – this is an advantage. Do you see as your big disadvantage a much lower awareness of the Russian market?

– And why did you decide that I know it badly? The first months, perhaps, this was an issue indeed, but over the course of two years, the Russian football market was very intensively studied. Our scouts were all over the country, we have created an extensive database of Russian football players, we have complete information. By the way, I am leaving it at the club, so the incomer will be able to use it. In my time, no one left anything.

– Information from the Semin’s book: you were against the acquisition of Kverkvelia.
– In the winter of 2017 during the training session in Marbella, Gerkus and I went to visit Rubin Kazan camp. There was my old friend Zambrano, we wanted to talk to him. At the same time, we saw two lineups of the club playing against each other, where Kverkvelia performed in the midfield for the second team. Even then, I told the president of FC Lokomotiv: «It would be great to get this guy». It seems I was not against it, but for the acquisition of Solomon. Gerkus participated in the negotiations, as it happened with deals on all other Russian-speaking players, but I was fully aware of all the details. Like Ilya, I knew every step about my negotiations and invitations.

– Is it true that you wanted to sell Miranchuk brothers, as Semin claimed? In the press in general, it seemed so that FC Lokomotiv retains its lineup only because of the head coach position. 
– No, it is not true. As a matter of principle, the rule applies: the sports director solves the tasks that the general manager sets for him. It all depends on the philosophy. If you plan to constantly fight for something in the Champions League, then it is better to save the squad and sell the players as less as possible. If you have a business model, then there is a completely different approach: buying at cheaper price and selling at more expensive one. For example, this is the course of NK Dinamo Zagreb. However, it is possible to earn money another way. If you have retained leaders in the club and it remains among the three best clubs in Russia then only for the participation in the Champions League you get 20 million euros annually. And if the team performes successfully in the European Cups – even more. For instance, if Lokomotiv played at the expected level, the club would earn 40 million this autumn. The lineup for this money would be much stronger. Therefore, you can generate funds by selling football players but also by achieving sports successes. One victory in the main European Cup itself brings 3 million that is a very good money. It is clear that no one can guarantee sports results. However, annual sales of 15–20 million are not easy to predict as well.

As for Miranchuk brothers, obviously, with them getting into the Champions League is much easier than without them. At least, even because there is a limit on foreign players in Russia. Without it, we could find brothers an adequate replacement to the brothers for the money raised with their sale. However, in the Russian Premier League a different approach is needed, here you need to look for an equivalent replacement only among local footballers, and this is practically impossible to do, taking into consideration the strengths of Miranchuk brothers. Therefore, their sale would certainly be a great loss for Lokomotiv, I am not an enemy to my club to support this initiative.

Limit discourages Russians

– It seems like you are against the limit on legionnaires, are not you?
– Yes I am, I do not see the point in it. Providing some quotas to support home-grown players is a good idea. In Germany, for example, each club must have at least twelve players on the contract who can be called up for the national team. On the other hand, any number of legionnaires can play in the match. If locals are worse, why should they artificially get an advantage? This is not good for football and discourages local players. They get professional contracts when they have not played a pair of matches at a high level. And in Germany this happens after a couple of seasons. It turns out, in Russia there are two almost independent markets – one for foreigners, another one for Russians. Although Lokomotiv is not particularly dependent on the limit. Who else in the Premier League can boast of such a powerful attacking line of home-grown players as Miranchuk – Miranchuk – Smolov?

– Is not there a risk that without this limit in FC Lokomotiv all the places would be occupied by legionaries? 
– Of course not. Counting on its own players is a priority for any self-respecting club. Back then, in Schalke 04 grew up and were in the team such players as Neuer, Höwedes, Pander, Özil, Draxler, Meier. For some reason, the lack of a limit did not hinder them, they immediately began to perform at a good level, justifying the trust. Moreover, the fans were happy: oh, one more! The FC Lokomotiv U-19 team in the UEFA Youth League beat in the group Galatasaray and Schalke 04 and qualified to the spring part. Although we think less about the results at this age and more about the development of football players. One academy graduate playing in the main team is better than the first place in the UEFA Youth League. Still, testing yourself at that level is very interesting. The opponents have excellent academies, it was nice to make sure that ours were not inferior. In addition, there is «Kazanka» with a serious bet on it. Not because of the limit, but for the development of the own youth. Of course, on the very first place the sports director will consider how to engage a young player from the academy, and only with the absence of such options for the certain position he will pay attention to the market. With a different approach, I would have problems with the vision of the club structure, its philosophy.

– In FC Zenith even with the limit, none of the graduates of St. Petersburg Academy comes out on the pitch for the main team.

– I am aware of that. As I am aware of that in the days of Denisov, everything was different. We studied competitors, their strategy. But why now at Zenit there are no their own graduates, I will not presume to judge, as to do that one must be inside the process. Obviously, the club objective is to become a champion every year, this implies a bet on well-prepared masters. In order for the youth to be promptly competitive, the academy must work at the highest level. 

Chalov, Golovin, Miranchuk brothers, Barinov

– How did you find Russian football after studying it from the inside? Is there potential?
– There is a very high potential. However, at the same time there are many controversial topics, which means, no one should feel carefree. This concerns, by the way, not only Russia. Germany failed at the turn of the century, then there was an outstanding period for the country and recently at the World Cup it has experienced the worst performance in its history. Your team managed to blow sky high, now it is necessary to gain a foothold at this level. I like the work of Stanislav Cherchesov, he is passionate about his job, ambitious, and he always sets high goals. Still, clubs should help the national team. In the football academies, I believe, there is something to work on – issues of coaches' education, obtaining licenses, testing of young players. In clubs, the issue of communications, strategy development, philosophy, infrastructure improvement. There is a lot of work, however, as in other countries. In this case, you can never think that you will copy something and things will go well. While you embed it, football is already moving ahead. Therefore, we should be able to anticipate the development of events. Lokomotiv became the champion last summer, but it was long ago in the past, forget it. There are new tasks, their solutions, if you just mark time you will be overtaken. Yesterday, some were riding the tiger, nowadays the French got ahead, so did British. In Britain, the Federation very seriously monitor the academies, it has tightened the requirements for the clubs. And if five or ten years ago nobody heard about English talents, now they say: «Wow!» 18-year-old Sessegnon, Sancho and many others make a rustle.

– Name the top five Russian footballers that you especially like.
– Difficult choice. At the World Cup Stanislav Cherchesov had to manage without a number of players for various reasons, especially concerning the center of defense, but even with these losses the team was able to achieve high results. Although there was only one legionary in the national team – Cheryshev, other players performed in the RPL. The coaching staff did an excellent job, brought everyone together, there were many players with great qualities as well. If we talk about the youth, then first I will highlight Chalov. By the way, I noticed him even before joining Lokomotiv, when, at the age of 18, he played in the Champions League against Leverkusen. I saw then: this fast guy would go very far. Golovin is a crazy talent, he demonstrated that at the World Cup. They will not give 30 million euros for a bad football player. Next – Miranchuk brothers. Classy players who enjoy playing football. Ball in the legs – wait for something unusual. The fifth one to me would be Barinov. I like this midfielder, he is the «sixth» number for years.

– Will he replace Denisov on that position?
– Yes, he will. He has been progressing for two or three years, learning from the best on the position of defensive midfielder. Barinov was very lucky that there was such a great example next to him as Denisov. How much he could learn from Igor in the training process ... He is lucky. 
I did not want to stand in the way

– How did you find out that your time at Lokomotiv came to an end?
– I was not informed about this, I made a decision myself.

– Why?
– Let us start with the fact that I have a family. Already some time ago, it was decided that I would not renew the expiring contract in the summer. But I had to leave a little earlier. I did not agree with what was happening in the club. I had a different opinion on the development of Lokomotiv, and since it went against the plans of its managers, it was not worth standing in the way. In this case, I emphasize: I do not mean that the chosen course is wrong. This is the prerogative of the bosses to make decisions about the future, no problem. They are building a new structure there. I wish only good luck.

– On which issues did you have a different opinion?
– I had two wonderful years in Lokomotiv, I was not constrained in my actions, I found complete understanding. The main merit for that, of course, belongs to Gerkus. We had perfect relationships, I could not wish anything better for myself. It seems that we have not even argued even once on a single issue, so identically we saw the development of the club. All discussions were held at a very high professional level and in the most respectful manner. I believe that Ilya’s leaving is the weakening of the club. It is not only about staffing the team, sports issues, but also about his competence in terms of everything that concerns the work of the office – organizing events for fans, marketing, communication with the press and so on. I compare the current situation with what I faced a couple of years ago, and I am convinced that the progress is incredible. The feeling that we are talking about two different clubs. The atmosphere at the mentioned game against Grozny and at the «golden» match against FC Zenit is heaven and earth. It is clear that the team played a huge role, but the president is responsible for everything. I have already said that I almost immediately appreciated the potential: Lokomotiv should become a champion. I was even warned that I should not say anything like this in the press. But at the same time I saw: the stadium was a bit outdated, the artificial field no longer met the requirements of the team, there was not enough medical equipment. And Gerkus hit all these pain points – the stadium was renewed, the lawn was rebuilt, equipment was purchased ... I am not going to list all the little things. For two years a gigantic work has been done. And when I realized that the direction was changing, Gerkus was leaving, the decision was practically formed. I had short negotiations, after which I announced the completion of working at FC Lokomotiv.

I am not attracted by the struggle for the fifth-sixth place

– What now?

– This is a good question. I do not know yet, but I am a big optimist. I have a lot of interests in life, I always did something I really enjoyed. Both in Schalke and Canada, where the Federation had a completely different direction, but therefore no less exciting, now there was a great time in FC Lokomotiv. I have no hurry, I do not jump from one job to another, I will go up to the choice painstakingly. 

– Usually, foreigners in our football leave the country immediately after the termination of the contract.
– Here I have a house, a family, my son goes to kindergarten, currently I have time to take him there. We will return to Germany, of course, but we do not run as soon as possible from Moscow. We are comfortable here, I tell everyone what a beautiful city it is.

– Do you see yourself in another Russian club?
– The time at Lokomotiv was more than just a job. A piece of my heart remained there, I squeezed the maximum out of myself. Imagining that in the other team I will try to beat my former club ... It is hard. However, one more rule was well learned: never say never. In any case, tasks should be no less interesting than in Lokomotiv. 

– At FC Zenit, there was once a German sports director. Would that be an interesting option?
– I remember, Dietmar Beiersdorfer. But there is a sports director in St. Petersburg club, no such questions needed, I respect my colleagues. I say in general – I am not attracted by the struggle for the fifth-sixth place, only trophies, Cups, medals. Certainly gold. I hate second places. When I am told that silver is not bad, I cannot understand. I lost in the finals, when was engaged in amateur boxing. Then with Schalke was a step away from winning the championship, but every time we stumbled. This is the worst feeling in life. Once, we lacked four minutes to win the gold. Catastrophe! I saw adults crying. It is better to take third place then. The more I am grateful to FC Lokomotiv, where my dreams came true – the Cup and the gold medals. No one can take that away from me.

Text: Konstantin Alexeev
Translation: Yulia Kartashova
Photos: Bild; EPA; TASS; FC Zenit; FC Lokomotiv
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