MOSCOW, April 21 (R-Sport) – A month before Russia start preparations for their first World Cup in 12 years, coach Fabio Capello opens up to R-Sport’s Vasily Konov, David Nowak and James Ellingworth about his hopes and fears for the tournament, and reveals that he has signed his last contract as a football coach.
FC: Last year, it was in May when the boats were on the river. This year it was March. March 15, I saw the first boats in Moscow.
DN: We’ve got a hundred questions for you. You’ve already said you expect the quarterfinals to be a realistic target in Brazil. Is that true for Russia?
FC: Yes, we need to think about this. I hope so, because always I think about each game. First of all you need to pass the first round. After, we will have, on the paper, or Portugal or Germany, you know. But we will see. I think we’ve got a good team, we are preparing everything well and we hope to arrive at the quarterfinal. We hope.
DN: This would be a success?
FC: Yes, it would be good. Success is to win, but this year it will be difficult. But every time you need to know your target.
VK: You know your target, and it’s the quarterfinal.
FC: Yes, but sometimes if you arrive at the top you can do something like a surprise, you know, when the round that we got with Portugal, the one thing when we arrived at first and Portugal second. We didn’t play the playoff. Now I don’t know. I remember with my players and also I think the players after 12 years away will be really, really focused and they want to do something after the Euros, that we didn’t play well. As a result, they are really, really focused and doing everything that they need to do.
DN: Have you had to convince bosses, calm expectation?
FC: To win is a dream, but really we are a good team. The expectation always is really high in Russia, but they need to know the level that we’ve got at this moment. We have the level of the players, the level of Russian football. You are used to playing at the top level, it’s easy to play games, really important games, but not a lot of players are playing outside of Russia. Not a lot of players have played in Euro cups. This is important for experience. I know as a player, as a manager, you know the different level that you play at the final, semifinal of every top tournament. It’s really, really important, this and we need this to understand the level of the games that we will play. I remember my first World Cup as a manager, each game is difficult because we will play against really, really good teams, because to play the World Cup it’s really important to be a really good team. I remember always when Italy won the World Cup in Germany. To have drawing with Australia, they scored a goal in the last minute with a penalty. … After, the Italians won the World Cup, but they are drawing against Australia. Everybody said: ‘Italia, Australia, no game.’ No. Each game in the World Cup is difficult. This they need to understand. Not the name of the country, because, example, Belgium. It was a really good team when I was a player. The names of these people, you are too young to remember these players. It really was a good, good, good team. After, for a long time, nothing. Now they’ve got a fantastic team. Before, we would speak about Belgium. Belgium - nothing. Belgium, be careful now, because it’s a really, really good team. One of the best teams in Europe.
VK: And a young team.
FC: Yep, absolutely, a young team. … Germany, they got the winter break. Never, never tired.
DN: Very important the winter break. You commented about England (which plays through the winter).
FC: Yes, yes. England, it’s the problem for England. It’s a problem, it’s a problem always. I spoke with the president, with the managers, but the people said Boxing Day is the best moment for TV rights. All the people, every day in front of the TV.
DN: And drinking.
FC: Yes, you know very well.
DN: I’m a British journalist myself. I come from this culture.
FC: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But also for me. Because I hope now. Because it was for me, it was a problem, but now it’s good. I can see every day some games.
DN: This first game, you say you don’t really look at the teams, you look at each game. But if we’re being realistic, we talked about a realistic target, if we say that Belgium on paper is perhaps the strongest team in the group, then you’re shooting for that second spot. This-
FC: Sure, but on the paper. On the paper. Everything can be.
DN: This makes this first game against South Korea the most important.
FC: Yes, I know because in Dubai we played against Korea. We won. We beat Korea. I know the value of this team. I spoke with (Japan manager Alberto) Zaccheroni. I met him, what do you think about Korea, and he said, be careful about it, they are really strong physically. Tall, tall, tall. They are tall. Really tall. Also they’ve got a good tradition of football. Yes, they are improving a lot.
DN: This is perhaps a more important game than the Belgium game.
FC: I think the first one is the most important, for me. In Spain they said, they told me, to be careful in the first game.
DN: And in the hottest city of the three you will play. Perhaps this is-
FC: No, this is not a problem, no. It’s good, very good. The draw was very good for us. The cities, and also not so far from where we stay for training camp. It’s not so far, really 1 hour 20 maximum flight.
VK: There’s too many rumors about Russian camp preparation. Is it all right now?
FC: Perfect, perfect. We get a weekly report, photos. The pitch is OK, and absolutely we have no problems.
JE: When you look at Algeria, obviously you say that every game in the World Cup is difficult. Algeria proved that four years ago. What lessons do you have from that game?
FC: That to arrive at this game, you need to be really focused and you need to play always at the top. This is the most important thing. Not to read Algeria or the name of the team, but the value of the team. Not their name, but the value of the players, because Algeria, a lot of players don’t play in Algeria. They’re playing in Europe. They’ve got more experience than some Russian players. This is true, it is true. The experience, I’ve told you before, is really important. Really, really important. To play a game with pressure. If you play at the top of some teams, you are used to play to win. Normally you play to win, but when you play with the top teams, the teams you are playing against are playing 120 percent. You, you need to be at the minimum 95 percent if you want to beat these teams.
DN: Talking about the players, is there a way back into the squad for the people who played at Euro 2012? Andrei Arshavin, Pavel Pogrebnyak. Is the door still open for them?
FC: Look, I check out all the players. I check out the players. I go around Russia, because we’ve got three players that are playing away from Russia, two now. One is injured, it’s (Denis) Cheryshev, there playing with Sevilla, and the others are here. I check each game, two, three games. Two or three weekly live, and two on TV.
DN: That’s a lot of football-watching.
FC: It’s not bad. It’s my job. I need to be sure when I will decide names for the World Cup.
JE: When you talk about experience, how helpful is it to have one or two players in the World Cup squad who play outside Russia, who play and see more different styles of football and have that greater experience? Is that something that you’d like?
FC: Oh yeah, yeah. I like it because outside Russia, some games they play faster. Let’s talk about the experience, to play to win and to play faster. This is really an important thing. I spoke about the players who are playing outside Russia. This is really important to understand what you need to do and what you need to play so fast. Did you see the game yesterday?
FC: Barcelona. This was the program yesterday, Atletico Madrid against Barcelona (Athletic Bilbao were in fact Barca's opponents). Against Barcelona. A lot, a lot, a lot, fast, fast, fast. … And you need to understand this, this pressure. You need to be fast, not only physically. Here (points to head). This is the problem. You can be fast physically but you need to be fast here. You need to understand before you receive the ball, what are you to do. This is the big problem when I speak about playing faster. Not because you run faster.
JE: Would you like to see some Russian players signing for foreign teams?
FC: I don’t know, this is not my job. It depends on the clubs’ European places. I think we’ve got some players who can play for a little while in Europe. … But I am happy with my team. But for these players (who play abroad) it will be better.
JE: If a Russian player came to you to ask how he should improve, would you recommend moving abroad?
FC: You need to choose. The players can choose, the team can choose, the families can choose. We are speaking about footballers, I can’t push the players and say you need to go outside (into Europe). No. Never. We create a really good spirit in the team. We are playing together and creating a group mentality. In everything we are getting better.
VK: You start preparations for Brazil in a month with three friendlies. What about holding one friendly match in Brazil itself? You have 10 days there before the first game.
FC: I prefer to stay in Russia. I prefer to stay here. The players after each game will be free, they can spend time with their families, wives, girlfriends, everything. We’ve got the hotel, the training ground, really good, no problem. I take this decision after I understand the people, the Russian players.
VK: But any friendly matches in Brazil itself?
FC: No. Well, perhaps one friendly match, but an easy friendly match. We spoke to the people in Brazil, they are ready to prepare a friendly game.
VK: We have 23 players who will go with you to Brazil. Previous Russian coaches have taken extra players in case of injury – two or three substitutes. Will you go to Brazil take extra players this time?
FC: No. You need the 23 player before you go. Before (the tournament) you need to write 30 players. I think one week before, sixth or fifth of June, you need to write the 23 players. You can’t substitute if one will be dropped or goes to the hospital or something.
DN: Is there theoretically room in your squad for both Artem Dzyuba and Fyodor Smolov?
FC: I’m checking Smolov, I’m checking Dzyuba and after we will decide. Perhaps another one, why only these two? Why?
DN: Because you don’t have many players to choose from. You’ve said so yourself.
FC: I know, I know. But some are getting better. These two I know really well, these two. Smolov. Perhaps some new. (Laughs).
DN: How interesting. Have you been looking at any totally new players?
FC: For this reason I go around to see three games (a week live) and two on TV. To be sure.
DN: So maybe Russia will have a secret weapon?
DN: How interesting.
VK: Who is the key player for the Russian national team?
FC: I think I’ve got some leaders. They are good players. I’ve got some very good players. Not one is the key but the leaders need to join the others (together) with mentality, spirit. This is very important.
VK: But no names?
FC: No names. Never.
JE: You recently told the FIFA website that Brazil is a rehearsal for 2018. With that in mind do you want to take more young players to Brazil?
FC: We are looking forward. We are looking forward. The problem is, do you know, all the Russian top teams normally play four Russian players (the minimum under Russian league rules). And the four Russian players - sometimes one plays 20 minutes. The young one. So it’s difficult. We’ve got some young players who are really interesting.
DN: I wonder who that is.
FC: Two or three young players, very interesting players.
DN: Why did you commit to the Russian job through 2018 before the 2014 World Cup has even started?
FC: They offered me. The minister said ‘we want you to stay until the next World Cup.’ It will be a really tough job as regards the pressure because we’ve got the World Cup now after 12 years (without appearing at the competition) and it will be very important to understand the level of the tournament and the level of the teams that we need to beat. The level of the pressure from the country. This is Brazil. And after we’ve got the Euros (in 2016) and the preparation for the (2018) World Cup, where the pressure will be really, really high.
VK: The World Cup in Russia will be like the Olympics in Sochi. I know you were in Sochi, what can you say about it?
FC: I think it was really,really good. I read a lot of things before the start of the Games, a lot of things that I didn’t see during the Olympic Games: about the security, about attacks, about different things. I didn’t see it. I didn’t see these wrong things. I saw everything went really well. The security was really, really good, not invasive. Nothing. Absolutely. I think also for the World Cup (in Russia) will be at the top. The most important sports events, they are in Russia now. Absolutely we are improving (organization) all the time.
VK: Do you have any plans to continue your job after the World Cup in Russia?
VK: You’ll retire?
FC: Yes. I’m 71 (by then). I already said, guys, stop please.
DN: Really? So this will be your last job in coaching?
FC: Yeah, yeah, absolutely, yes. Like Sir Alex (Ferguson, the Manchester United coach who retired last season). He was 72, I will be 71. One year less.
VK: Two questions from our readers: Where is the best pizza in Moscow?
Bottega Siciliana. It’s next to the Bolshoi (theater). It’s one of the restaurants I prefer because the food is really, really good, and it’s a normal restaurant.
VK: Do you have any pets?
DN: Do you have an opt-out clause in your contract after Brazil?
DN: Whatever happens in Brazil, you’ll stay for 2018?
FC: No. Well, if they will sack me! (laughs). Who will know what happens. Sometimes they happen, incredible things.
VK: What about having a training camp for the Russian national team in Sochi in the long term?
FC: No. I never think about this. No, no, no. Why?
VK, DN: Good weather, good infrastructure, new stadium…
FC: No, we’ve got time to decide. If you go to Sochi, you have to fly three hours, this is the problem. Probably around Moscow. If there will be a new training center where we can stay in the same place. But we have time to decide. If we choose Sochi, if you’ve got everything, we wait from the federation that there will be a training center, because we don’t have it. I don’t know when they will decide to build a training center for Russian football.
VK: Who will be captain in Brazil?
FC: I don’t know.
FC: I hope the captain that I’ve got in my mind will be fit. (Laughs) Because this a really, really important thing.
*The interview was held at the Russian Football Union's headquarters in Moscow, where Capello spoke in English.