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Jose Couceiro: I worked for the whole Russian football


He is an extraordinary. Came to Russia, when nobody waited for him, - Lokomotiv  in its usual self has just parted with Yuri Krasnozhan, and was seeking a man, who would play “on hand”. Instead of the request to reinforce the team with expensive foreigners, Jose Couceiro suggested working with Russian players, and it would seem that he surprised his leadership. Loko beat Zenit (4:2) and CSKA (2:0). It didn’t disgrace himself, played “nice” football and fell down only at the end of the season, when it was evidently the time to change the manager.

Three years ago the present Couceiro’s team Estoril Praia promoted to the top Portuguese league, than it could take part in the Europa League group stage. Estoril was even allowed to play these matches in their own stadium Antonio da Mota, that could hold at that moment less than five thousand spectators. UEFA backed the beginner up at first, turned the blind eye to discrepancies with the regulations. But last spring it reminded the club of the fact that it had promised to erect a normal side stand or so. One had to say good-by to the considerable part of the budget (it amounts six million Euro per year) and erect the construction, boxed about two thousand and a half yellow-and-blue seats up into it. And now Estoril is again in the Europa League group, in the same one with Dinamo Moscow.

I watched the match of Estoril with Nacional, and Couceiro’s team got the first victory in the championship in my sight. It was easy to understand that Couceiro would have to work hard, and this work wouldn’t certainly be grateful. Estoril sold everybody whom it could sell. It got about 4 million Euro from Galvao, Evandro, Carlitos. A season earlier a leader of charges, Lica, transferred to Porto. For now seems impossible to climb to success, for which the previous manager, Marco Silva, who took Sporting. There are not any quite young footballers in the first eleven as well. What is Jose Couceiro doing there? What is his aim, when he spends about five minutes for blamestorming with three-four pupils for whom he chews over something in details after the training that I watched from a window of the club office, waiting for the interview?

You are not well-known in Portugal

— Let’s begin with the fact that I work in my country, — responded Jose Couceiro to the first question, being slightly surprised with it. — It takes me twenty minutes to get to the stadium of Estoril from my house. All things here are mine — my house, my family, my friends, my city of Lisbon. I liked to work in Loko, and the conditions here, of course, are quite different. But nevertheless, Estoril is a very interesting task, a project. At the moment the new cycle is beginning, and it’s very difficult for us. But we take part in the Europa League — it’s very important and engrossing. Six matches with the top-teams — Panathinaikos, PSV, Dinamo — it’s really great for us!

— And now let’s speak about one and the only phenomenon, named  Jose Couceiro, in Russian football – a foreign manager of Lokomotiv, team’s line up was the most “russian” …
— It’s a very serious subject. In fact, it was obvious for me that if there is a limit for legionnaires in Russian football, it’s necessary for the team to have the backbone, consists of strong local players. In our case, we began with the defense. Shishkin played on the right and Yanbaev — on the left. Belyaev, Burlak and Dyakov were taken to the center. Except CSKA and our team, there were not Russian players in defense in the whole League! But if you have three stoppers at once, who take part in the national championship, it’s really magnificent! Let’s go further — Tarasov, then Ozdoev and Glushakov were in front of stoppers. Phew! (Lifts his hands in dismay). We had no problems. Do you know why? Because it’s more easy to prepare backs than forwards. And only after you have laid such a foundation, you can take some boys from abroad. Because it’s very difficult to invite the other Russian players — they are very expensive. But it was worth working with young players painstakingly, as there are surely plenty of boys with great potential in your country, in Russia. But they must play, play and play! They must be given a chance to advance. Even in case if they made mistakes. The Russian football tradition is the following — made a mistake — seat down on the bench! May be at the present moment, the relation is beginning to change as a result of the fact that the State interposed in the matter and practically ordered to advance Russian football players. Do you think I had another vision while working in Turkey with Gaziantepspor? It was just the same there: It’s easier to put together a team using local players than relying on legionnaires.

— There are no limits in Portugal. And you have excellent young players.
— The situation is quite different here. One Dinamo player is worth more than the whole our team. It’s very difficult to team up with foreigners in Portugal.

— Where was it easier to work — in Turkey or in Russia?
— Of course, in Russia. Working conditions are better, Gaziantepspor has nothing in common with Lokomotiv, which is much more powerful. It may be compared only with Besiktas, Fenerbahce…

— As a matter of fact you defeated Fenerbahce with Gaziantepspor (2:1). Both goals were scored by the former Loko player Julio Cesar. Was it he who consult you before your taking over Lokomotiv?
— No, it was not he, but I took advice of the other boys who were playing in Russia at that moment. It was quite enough for me to watch some matches by video to realize the fact that the potential of your football is great. And I don’t mean only Loko. Several clubs of the Russian championship at once were deemed to be a serious forth — Krasnodar, Kuban, Dinamo, CSKA, Spartak and Zenit, of course.

— Let’s clarify the situation: using the Russian line of defense in full was your strategy or your strategy was born as a result of your contacts with the board?
— It was my strategy. You know I must choose my own first eleven and the team’s lineup as a whole. And be responsible for this team. Along with that, making such a decision, I considered it as a long term plan, not only for Loko, but for the whole Russian football. Look, people here in Portugal, practically don’t know your players. And the fact that you give little attention to them, is very strange. It’s quite clear that the club of Loko level has two main goals — to appear in the championship and to appear in the European Cups. And qualitative reinforcement is necessary for taking part in the European Cups. But the basis must always be one and the same. The balance is necessary. Your players are very emotional. A football player must be able to control his emotions both on the field and out of it. Spokoino, spokoino! (In Russian). It’s just the game! Why should one hold the emotions at bay? Because playing football is very difficult in principle. It’s the only game one plays by feet. It’s very difficult. Especially in cases when you don’t control yourself. In this case you lose everything. For example — Ozdoev. He is a very emotional boy. He is very good, but too emotional. He can simply get mad at the drop of a hat, be bonkers. But if you take him by an elbow in a happy hour, draw him aside and repeat several times in a static tone: ”Calm down!” And you realize that he is a very good, sensible man. But one should work with him bit by bit, by careful steps, and may he make mistakes sometimes. All players at the age of 18,19,20 commit blunders, and it’s absolutely normal!

— Is the same sort of thing with Torbinski?
— Yes, Torbinski is emotional too. But he has a great talent. The only problem with him is a lack of stability. Torbinski is a typical representative of the so called “old school” of football players. He can play one game at the outstanding level, and then he isn’t seen for five matches. I used to tell him: You must play at the high level statedly, and only in this case you will permanently be capped. And if you remember, Dick Advocaat drew him up all the time. Then the situation changed. I remember one of the last matches with Dinamo. We had no forwards at all: Pavlyuchenko picked up an injury and Maicon as well, something was wrong with Сaicedo. And Torbinski played a striker! He played brilliantly and scored a goal. His talent allowed him to do a lot on the field. But he met with failure, being aged between 21 and 27. You know, I remember him quite well by reference to play-off matches of the European championship, when my U-21 team of Portugal met with the Russian team. We lost in Moscow 1:4, but at home we retrieved the defeat and won 3:0…

— By the way, what sort of miracles happened at that moment? I can’t say that there were a lot of stars in the Russian team except Torbinski.
— (Falls to thinking).
Shishkin? He was, wasn’t he? And Denisov? Not so few good players, indeed. But we retrieve the defeat. Portugal was always very strong with junior and youth teams. But if in Russia one begins to give chances to your youth in the first eleven, it seems to me, you will be pleasantly surprised.

— Your fellow-countryman, Jose Mourinho, tells very amusingly in the Net as he was patiently instilling into Balotelli the idea to go easy on the field whatever happened, but he went and received the red card off the reel. Did similar situations happen with you and the above mentioned Torbinski, Ozdoev?
(Laughs). Footballers should be prepared for a play mentally. But nevertheless nothing will insure you from emotional breakdowns, there are times when — bout — and a man blows up in half of a minute. Bang! And nevertheless you must work. Even if it’s very difficult.

— If Ozdoev blew up, then Pavlyuchenko, on the other hand, in the words of Gus Hiddink, should be awaken in time.
— Yes, Pavlyuchenko is quite different. It’s difficult to say, if I had to awaken him, but while my working, he was constantly restrained by injuries. He often recovered, and had to miss trainings. He is 32 now, isn’t he? May be, Pavlyuchenko has reached the ceiling, each player has got it.

— And what about Sychev?
— He is a good, professional boy. At all events, I adhere this very opinion about him. Sometimes he got into the first eleven, sometimes didn’t, but these decisions were only “technical”. As a whole, I can say nothing against Sychev.

— Are you in the picture, where are your former young pupils now?
— Of course! Ozdoev and Burlak are in Kazan. Belyaev picked up an injury, and is still in Loko.

— Could Burlak and Belyaev form full-fledged pair of stoppers for the Russian national team? They complemented one another, you know…
— They are totally different! Belyaev is faster, reasonable and intelligent. Burlak is very strong (beats his hand by the fist with a flap). He always played tough. Two together really did a very good job. To play is more difficult than to say.

—  Olga Smorodskaya…
—  (Laughs). My Ex-president?

— Yes. After your leaving she spoke highly about you. Something like, Couceiro made decisions, concerning the team’s line-up, governed by absolutely sport principles.
— How could it be otherwise? My task is to make the team win. And every new game can’t be similar to the other, one must constantly think up something, bearing in mind different circumstances. Estoril is not the same kind of thing that Vitoria Setubal, and it, in turn, absolutely differs from Lokomotiv. Different conditions, players, characters. In my view, football is a team at first. And only the team can play as a star on the pitch. Not a separate player, not a manager, but — the team! We all must work for achieving a result — I, the president, the medical team. But only players come onto the pitch and obtain or don’t obtain the result. To play football is much more difficult than to speak about it (Laughs).

— Let’s get back to the point — Belyaev and Burlak? Why did this bunch break up?
— I give you an example. We played with Atletico in the Europa League play-off. Belyaev and Burlak played from the start against Llorente. From the side it might seem that the manager himself willingly reposed his head on a guillotine. However the boys played very well. But soon we played with Anji and Burlak made a decisive mistake. And how everybody tore at him! Why?! For what? All people made mistakes. Take it easy, relax tension a bit. One need patience while working with young people. But, of course, at the same time I realize that fans, the leadership, the press required to win all matches…

— Jose, did you try to learn Russian?
— Oh, yes. Ya ne panimayu po russki. (Laughs) To tell you the truth, I understand speaking, when it’s slow. Did you notice that Portuguese sounds absolutely the same as Russian?

— Sure! Being in Portugal, I look around all the time as it seems to me that all people around me are speaking Russian.
— That’s it! That’s why it wasn’t very difficult for me to understand your speaking. But I didn’t learn the language specially.

— Most people in our country now think that only a Russian speaking manager can open access to local players. And this trend reached the peak of popularity when Fabio Capello failed with the Russian national team in the World Cup. Your example denies a lot.
— But what can be difficult in communication with the players? You know, except the Russian and the Portuguese languages, there exist the body language, and it works especially in football. I’ll not ague the fact that if you know the language of the country you are working in, it’s your advantage. But is it difficult to get by heart and to understand, what “davay” (“come-on”) means. It’s not quite difficult to learn “odin v odin” (“one on one” — I.Z.) In general, football now opens all doors in front of you, and one must be able to drink in knowledge and experience from everywhere. Why, being in Portugal, should I retire my shell and speak only Portuguese? Any new experience is of benefit to you.

When the manager is not needed.

—  What do you feel, when you see Glushakov in the Russian national team?
— I’m glad of him! And Tarasov as well, in spite of the fact that he was out of luck — picked up an injury just before the trip to Brazil. If you remember, we began to lose with Loko after Tarasov having picked up an injury. Yes, we had a lot of problems with attacks, but the key part of the field was that, where Tarasov and Glushakov played. Denis is also a fine fellow! But now he is in Spartak, not in Loko.

— And again about your former bosses. Who stuck to your memory most of all — Olga Smorodskaya or Vladimir Romanov?
— I wouldn’t like to have a talk directly about them. I always try to keep in with everybody. And I have my own point of view at the same time. It’s the following: only the manager must hold responsibility for the team and make decisions, concerning it. And if a president or a sporting director begins to press — the manager is no longer needed. However I always open for dialogues about football with anybody. But the latest decision must rest with me. This is my decision and my responsibility. And as for that conversation about the strategy, it was easier for me to make the basis from Russian players, and then, using my information about foreign football, to strengthen the team more. Such an approach could score success for a long time. But Loko changed the manager and the strategy with him. It’s not right — the club must have its own way, in accordance with which it could develop for several years. There were Fitsov, Shishkin, Belyaev, Burlak, Dyakov, Yanbaev, Tarasov, Glushakov, Ozdoev in the team, Gagatov was, and Smol’nikov has been earlier. It was a sufficient base to rely on, wasn’t it? If you have no money to buy a player with a Russian passport under conditions of the limit, to train him! But you have to wait, work and endure, the stars will not appear on the field for no particular reason, Jesus will not come and create them.

— Gus Hiddink said that the players in the Russian championship don’t insufficiently meet speed-power requirements of the modern football. Fabio Capello says the same things now.
— That’s exactly why one must begin to play at the top level at the age of 17-18, and don’t wait for anything obscure! If a player gains experience under conditions of tough competition, in this case he will exactly become a full-fledged football player when he is 22-24 years old. Why do you have  a good national hockey team? The reason is that your boys begin to play much and often at an early age. I remember Dyakov. I invited him to the first team and offered an opinion that the leadership should conclude a contract with him. And I was said:” What good will it be to you? What a lot of stoppers — one, two, three, four…” But he is Russian indeed! He must be saved for the club. At least Dyakov left. He has played in Rostov, now he is called up to the national team…

My boys were better than Durica

— By the way, what has happened with the Portugal national team lately? There are plenty of players, Cristiano Ronaldo smiles broadly over and over again, but the team forces the manager to resign just at the beginning of the qualification cycle…
— Now the generational change of players takes place in the team. But we have an advantage: a lot of Portuguese footballers appear abroad in powerful leagues, and that’s why, I think the situation will change soon. But Russian players represent only their clubs. At that, of course, mistakes are unavoidable while renewing of the team’s line-up. After all, Portugal is always unique. We number ten million in all. There is nothing like it in Europe at all. And, indeed, it’s difficult to find such a country in the whole world — only Uruguay is the same. That’s why we don’t worry about our future.

— Yes, I see. If you don’t want, we’ll not speak about the president, named Olga…
(Interrupt). Listen here, listen! Our opinions differ from each other. When my contract was completed, she had the full authority not to suggest a new one. I respect her decision. But if you asked me, whether I’d like to work in Loko for two-three years, I would answer: ”Yes. Of course”. When I began the project, I reckon approximately on such a period.

— Here it is one more quotation, confirming the fact that Smorodskaya evaluated your work honestly: “Our place is a failure. But the work as a whole wasn’t a failure.” To tell you the truth, then she added, that you knew why it were you who didn’t cope with the work at the end of the season, but she said, you didn’t want to speak about it.
— Listen here! But we had a lot of problems! Generally I know her point of view, I know the opinion of the Sport director. And I respect all of them. But my decisions are only my decisions. For example, Durica now is a key Loko stopper. But in my opinion, those Russian boys were better. But I repeat it again, it’s my own point of view. May be it’s a mistake, I don’t know! But I think so. I’m always honest with players. It doesn’t matter for me how old a player is — twenty or thirty. Age and nationality don’t play a key role. If Caicedo is in good looks — he’ll come onto the field. If not, Pavluchenko will play. This is an exemplary player – Maicon. He is a team player, he’ll play where he’ll be told. But Glushakov is exactly the same! “Glushakov, play in defence”. — “Of course, manager!” — “Play on the left”. — “No problem!” Torbinski is nothing of the kind. New and old schools  differ in brainwork. If you were learnt in a different way, you would think differently in middle years. That’s the reason why the manager must appoint the team’s line-up! I had no problems with anybody — either with Olga or with sporting director Smertin. While the draw in Nyon we even called on the phone, it’s really pleasant to communicate simply. Loko is my past. There is no use in wasting my emotions on it.

— I can’t but answer you the following question: when you came to Loko, were not you interested why Yuri Krasnozhan had been dismissed practically before the beginning of the season?
— Naturally, I asked, as it was important for me to understand. In reply I got quite different explanations. By the way, I’m in with Syomin and I knew that he tied the score on the Loko field not long ago, and I understand how it’s important for him. (Smiling). But I was also surprised that we lost in my last seven matches with Loko. All in all it’s a big club. I tried to understand the culture of the country, people, not only those who worked in the club, but around it too…

— But what did Smorodskaya tell you about Krasnozhan?
— I didn’t ask her about it. It’s not concern of mine.

— Then let’s speak a bit about your adventures abroad. Before Loko, you succeeded in working with the Lithuania national team: outplayed Rumania in the away match of the qualification cycle with the score 3:0, then won Austria, the Faroes… But nevertheless you didn’t get a place. Did anything go wrong in the middle of the way?
— Except it, we lost to France both times as little as 0:1. The problem with Lithuania is that football is not the sport number one. Basketball prevails there. We had an excellent group of players, topping fellows, both as players and as people. But the team was too small. We had no reserve at all. Lithuania needs much more players to come to the European championship or the World Cup. Besides they must play abroad, but not only at home. At that time Stankyavicius and Danilyavicius appeared in Italy, Yankauskas had almost finished…

— Did the Lithuanian experience help in Lokomotiv?
— Of course! At that, in spite of the fact that Lithuania and Russia were united by the Soviet Union, people differ very much. Russia is a big country, and even in different towns and cities people are widely different. People in St. Petersburg are not as in Moscow, in Krasnodar they are radically different. But for me the only division was always important — into good and bad people. And both good and bad people are in the world. And one more division — into serious and windy. And that’s why to understand people better, I always take at least one assistant who has worked in the club, I’m going to. Because I have my own opinion, but in some cases it would be necessary to correct it.

— In conclusion, explain me, please: how did you, the famous patriot of Lisbon, one day manage to head Porto?
— I’m just a professional. And I repeat once again: football is not a war. There are a lot of people who always seek war and conflicts in it. But football is just a game. And it doesn’t matter for me where I work. Porto or Loko is one and the same thing.

Text: Ivan Zhidkov

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