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FC Zenit head coach Andre Villas-Boas: The biggest disappointment of Russia that rules could be changed at any time

Андре Виллаш-Боаш
Фото: ФК «Зенит»

39-year-old Portuguese has told how to make Brazilian star more team oriented, about Roman Abramovich management methods and his main disappointment of working in Russia.

— It's not the first visit of Zenit to Qatar. What makes your team to come back to Doha?
— We’ve been coming here for the last three years because Qatar has great conditions. The infrastructure is very good and then our friendships with partners in Qatar help settle some things well. So whenever possible, I always try to come back here. It’s a special place. Conditions that you find here are second to none.

— Qatar faces a lot of criticism. Some people think that the country won't be able to host a good World Cup. Do you think Qatar is able to nail the biggest football championship in the world?
— I think so. The main problem is to sort out the FIFA calendar, that is still the biggest challenge because there is only one way you can play this World Cup which is in December and January. If this is done appropreatly without messing around with club football, I think it will be the right place in the right time for the World Cup. The infrastructure again will be magnificent. The ability to see more than one match per day is fantastic also for the fans. With the financial power that Qatar has I think everything will be made perfect. This is very important for the fans. You can see that for a long time Qatar has been worried for making the best World Cup. Again the biggest problem could be the FIFA calendar and hopefully that could be sorted out.

— You have a new signing here. When did Zenit new player Jose Mauricio catch your attention?
— Its been referenced for a long time and of course you know his contract situation is something that interests us. That’s why we’ve made the bid and also he made the bid to come to Zenit. He comes with a 6 months contract with an option to extend. We of course know the player for what he has done in Terek Grozny. He can offer a lot to our midfield offensively and defensively. He is a midielder with a goal scoring ability. Also he has a bonus of being able to play in Champions League. So this are the things we were looking for generally in this transfer window and of course the ability to add him now with the contract situation that he has is important thing for us.

— Talking about another Zenit star — Hulk —  it looks like he is more sharing the ball with teammates. What type of words did you find to change his attitude?
— We have very good relationships. I also think that he improved his goal scoring ability that continues to go on and we saw that recently in friendly game with Lekhwiya (2-1, Hulk scored twice —

He was so decisive in our attack and he always create so much in the attack — its fantastic and he also improved his game in his defensive ability. I think that because of the person he is and willingness to help the teammates, he is trying to do the best for the team. It’s something that he has involved and its something that the team needs also from him this defensive responsibility. We can't deny he is one of our key players and a player who can make a difference in every second of the game, so what we want is always get the most out of him and hopefully we can do that for the next 6 months.

— Talking about your experience in Russia. What is the worse part and the best part?
— Well I think they are always positives and negatives in every championship. I think the biggest disappointment for me was to see that the rules of the league could be changed within weeks start of the league. This was something that not acceptable and simply can’t be done. Unfortunately, it was the case and it caught Zenit a little bit out of hand. Because what’s been decided 6 months before that the championship will be without any limit and registration on foreign players. It was a big surprise for Zenit — the team with the more foreigners and it had a big impact. We couldn’t go to the market quick enough to sort out that adaptation because we were thinking exacly on the opposite. That was probably the biggest negative that I found.

The rest I think was really really positive experience. I really enjoyed my time in Russian football from the social part to professional part. The people in the club treated me really well. The group of players that we have is really really fantastic. We have really good team spirit. I’ve been really well treated in Zenit so it’s been a good experience socially and professionally. In Zenit we have good infrastructure, good training ground. Good people at the top that support us and we want really to give something back to them with this European campaign that we are doing.

— What advise would you give that could improve football in Russia?
— I spent only two years in Russia. It’s not much really. It doesn’t make me an expert in Russian football and in problems that Russian football is facing. The change of the regulations will of course allow and force coaches to look more into Russian players available. On the other hand you can go to the market for a foreign player that costs you much less comparing to a Russian player and you don’t want a Russian player to be accommodated in this place you want him to compete, you want him to look for challenges. So only time will tell if there will be benefits for this decisions. There is of course a reality that you forced to look into your national market and this is very good, so hopefully the decision by the ministry of sport will improve Russian football in this turns. This decisions take time to give results, they don’t come immediately. I am very doubtful they will come on time before Russian 2018… The quality of coaching, education its decisive on the upbringing of youth footballers.

— FC Porto is close to your heart. Would you want to come back to that team? And if so, when?
— At the moment it’s is very difficult because I am completely focused on Zenit and I want to finish well my time here, so hopefully it will go well. I have big expectations for the game against Benfica. We want to put everything in that game to qualify for the ¼ finals. It will be big achievement for us, so we are using this pre season with the focus on Benfica game. And of course we have to have more responsibility to what we are doing in the championship because we haven’t been good enough in the first six months and we want to finish as high as possible and look to frighten the championship. Seven points in Russsia it’s not a big difference. At the moment six teams are competing for the title. So we want to do well we want to come back strong to the league and finish well. We also want to win the cup. At the moment my focus is here. For the next season I don’t know. From England I have come to Russia. Probably after Portugal it was the most amazing experiences I had professionally and the most gratifying and for the next step I really don’t know.

— Maybe now its time for Budesliga then?
— Maybe yeah. I hope that as I coach I’ve been doing good enough to qualify to continue in the top leagues. I am still 38. By the time coaches are starting they are normally 38 and I’ve gone though a few years already and I am looking forward to whatever future takes me. 

— Talking about your experience at Chelsea, are you still in contact with Jose Mourinho? What is your reaction on his dismissal from the club?
— No, I don’t keep contact with Mourinho. There is an element of surprise and at the same time there isn’t because you know to be fair Abramovich has done with Jose and what he has done to all the coaches and with Jose twice. So you know… For them to do it with the most successful coach it’s strange but for Roman Abramovich to sack a manager is not strange anymore. It’s something that happens every year so I don’t know what the future holds for Chelsea in reality. Every change of coaches has brought them success. It’s been like that, so Roman you can always say that his decisions were good because they brought him success. I really don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s a surprise for everybody in some way but it also it isn’t because Roman has kept his method with everybody.

— In your opinion, what are the main problems Chelsea had this season?
— I don’t know. This things are really difficult from the outside to find out. Because when you part of a group on the inside you can find explanations for how such a wonderful group of players could have faced in this situation. We had similar cases in the past with Italian teams that done so well in Europe and in the League and then they have one year off which is terrible. It’s happens to Chelsea for the first time. The quality of the players is not in question. Maybe the motivation and the problems that they face, negative results let them to negative moments that they can’t get out of.

— How would you evaluate Mauricio Pochettino’s work in Tottenham?
— Of course they been doing well. There was league cup final, fifth place finish. They are looking very strong this year. Some very good investment in young players, so are the top philosophy and I am glad that they are achieving success.

Text: Anna Lidster, Doha

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