RUSSIAN FOOTBALL NEWS: Looking back at your time in Russia, what would you describe as the highlight and the lows?
BART CAUBERGH: For me, the highlight was for sure the long time I worked in Samara. Two-and-a-half year, that’s a very big part of my life, and it was also a great opportunity for me to learn Russian and Russian culture. To understand the people and make some friends in combination with the professional job I have done there. It’s always nicer when you can work for longer at a place, because you can build something and go in depth. If I look back I can be very happy with all the things we have done.
First of all with the leadership of Frank Vercauteren, because he was the one who invited me. I was very happy to be his assistant for two and a half year in Samara, and I appreciate the opportunity. And if we look back, I think we can be proud and happy for the things we have done. First winning the FNL championship and the promotion to the Premier League. Returning to the top flight after just one year was very nice. And last year we finished 9th, Krylya’s best result for the last several years.
This year was a more difficult start of the season, but before entering the winter break, we were 12th in the league so still in a safe spot from relegation. That’s for sure the highlights. Another highlight was the possibilities we received from the management to grow and work. From my point of view, almost everything was very positive.
RFN: Where there any significant lows then?
BC: The month of November. That was for me the most difficult; the temperatures, the difficult circumstances to train, and the Russian weather in general. It was something I had to adapt to. For sure November. Until October everything was nice and fine; to train, to work and do what we had to do, but once November started, the last weeks before the winter break, it became very difficult to train because of the rain, the snow and the cold.
RFN: There is an ongoing discussion in Russia about whether or not the league should follow the calendar year instead of the current model, what is your opinion about that as a coach?
BC: If you only look at how to get the best circumstances to train and play, then for sure it would be better to avoid playing in the winter. Continuing in summer is a possibility, but you also have to look at the European calendar and at the FIFA national team dates to ensure that the teams playing in Europe have the best possible circumstances to perform. From a weather point of view, it’s an opportunity though.
RFN: Was there anything else other than the weather that surprised you once you got to Russia?
BC: What also surprised me was the size of the country. Especially in the first year when we had to travel to the far East and even more than in the Premier League. We went to Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Sakhalin to play.
It was also surprising how some teams arrived in the morning on gameday instead of on the day or two days before the game day, and then went back straight after the game. It’s impossible to perform very good straight after an 8-hour flight.
I would call this the extreme ‘external factors’ in Russia. These were for me the eyeopeners. Especially for me as a fitness coach, the most interesting things to handle. The factors were: Long travels, crossing time zones, temperatures ranging from +35 to -15 and switching between natural and artificial pitches. These were highlights from a professional point of view.
RFN: How did you adapt to these extreme factors?
BC: A combination between things that were proven from a scientific point of view, but also, more importantly, to take football as a starting point, and to take the current situation and your own training and game plan as a starting point. And starting from that, adapting to the external factors. So, for example, when you have the games, you can plan your training sessions, your training camps, and based on that you adapt to all these external factors. It’s not about changing your training methods, but more about adapting your methods and philosophy to Russian football, which is the starting point. Football is always the starting point.
Around the staff, we had a lot of people from outside who could be consulted. I like to call this ‘the team behind the team behind the team’. With the first team being the players, then the second being the technical staff and the medical staff, and the third is external specialists and consultants, with whom we discussed how to deal better with these external factors. But also for rehabilitation and nutrition.
RFN: How much could you prepare in advance, and how much did you have to make up on the spot once you arrived in Samara?
BC: That’s interesting, because you can prepare everything as good as possible in advance, but you often have to make the most important decisions last minute. For example, we plan a training session for 11 o’clock the next day, and then we wake up and see 30 cm of snow, so we have to change the training plan. Or for example, we plan our flight to an away game at a certain time, but then the weather conditions in Samara closed down the airport, so we had to change everything. You can plan everything, but in the last minute things can change. That’s also what’s difficult with football, because there are so many things, like a player who is sick or the weather, that can change thing, forcing you to adapt. It keeps you on the top of your toes though.
Despite this, the most important thing is planning. You need an objective reference. Because then you have a starting point, and you know what’s the best for you under various circumstances, and from that point you can start changing.
RFN: I can imagine all these external factors make your job even more important, because they can influence the results more than in Belgium for example?
BC: I agree. It’s totally different in Russia than in Belgium or Denmark for example. I was often thinking about the discussions we had in Belgium. When planning an away game only 150 kilometers away, we talked about whether or not to have a break on the trip, where we could have the pregame meal, and a lot of other small things. While in Russia, we travelled over and over and over. We had to take the bus to the airport, then be there an hour before the flight, then fly, and then with another bus to the hotel, usually a day before the game. Then we slept at a hotel, and spent the next day at the same hotel, where we had to find some things to do. Then we had the game, before we could return. You simply can’t compare countries.
RFN: As you mentioned earlier, Krylya did achieve some remarkable things while you were there, what was the secret behind the success?
BC: For all the achievements all the credits goes to the full team. The players did a fantastic job, and I’m very happy
that I was part of this. The leadership of Vercauteren was great. He created a nice team, and a combination of all these things with the support of the management and the governor and sports minister made it possible. That was the reason for everything we achieved. Everybody worked well together and towards the same goals, and that was why we were successful.
In the FNL, we played 13 games after the winter break, won 11, and only conceded one goal. Before the winter break we were ranked fourth and 7 points behind Anzhi, but we ended up as champions. It was unbelievable.
Last season was the same, we began the league perfectly with a 1-0 victory against Anzhi, then we surprised in Zenit and CSKA with big victories, and we were never placed in the bottom four during that entire season. And even after the winter break, we did a fantastic job. That was typical actually, as the things we did after the winter break played a huge role in what we achieved.
RFN: What’s the best approach during the winter break to get ready for the second half of the season?
BC: At football, the prizes are awarded at the end of the season, so it’s important that you stay ready during the entire season, and not only the easy first half. After the winter break you have 12-13 games, which means these games decide in which direction you move. From that point of view, it was crucial for us to create the best possible circumstances for the team to prepare for what we wanted to achieve. In fact it was more important during the winter break than the summer break. I think together with the club and management, we had pretty nice circumstance to prepare the team, with good hotels, pitches, … everything, because these are the things you need to perform well.
From a physical point of view, we had almost no injuries, which was thanks to our preparations. Everybody stayed on the pitch, and all of our players were fit and ready for the first game after the winter break. In all pre-season in summer and winter during the past 2,5 years we had a player availability of more than 85%. Having your players ready to play is always the most important thing. Especially as a fitness coach, I can be happy and proud that we avoided injuries, and that we didn’t have any problems like that, because it helped Vercauteren, who could play most of the games with the strongest possible team.
It’s not a secret, but it’s all about doing the right things at the right moments with the players, and I think we succeeded in that.
Frank and I have known each other for a long time, we worked together at Genk, Al-Jazira and now Krylya Sovetov, so we know how to work together, and how to pursue our goals. And after some time the players also began to understand it, and they could see and more importantly feel the results of our work.
RFN: At Russian Football News, we want Russia to perform well internationally, but it hasn’t really happened lately. Is there anything holding the national team back in your opinion?
BC: that’s a very good question. I follow Russian football, and have watched a lot of Russian national team games. It’s all about creating the best possible team, to create a situation where all the players are available and where you can perform in the best possible circumstances. Looking back at the Euros, most of the players came from the same teams, like Zenit, CSKA and Krasnodar. I think they had 4 or 5 players in the starting line-up from CSKA, which is a huge advantage because you have all these players who know each other and are used to playing together. Communication is the most important so also playing together in the national team is only an advantage. The fact that the team was coached by their club coach made things even better. The second thing was that most of the players all played in Russia. That’s also something you have to keep in the back of your head.
The current coach has two years to prepare his team for the World Cup, and we have to see that as a process. People have to be patient and need to understand that he doesn’t prepare for tomorrow but for the World Cup in 2018. If everybody around the team have the same goals and approach, I’m sure things can happen for the Russian national team.
You see now how many Russian teams compete in Europe after the winter break. It shows that the Russian league is strong and important.
RFN: After the Euro, there were a lot of discussion about the negative attitude of the Russian players. Have you found that to be a problem?
BC: I am very happy with the attitude of the players I have worked with in Samara. It was almost perfect. The attitude and the work ethic of the Russian as well as of the international players was excellent. If you want to compete at the highest level, in any sport, you have to do everything that is possible, and that includes training hard every day, which we did. From what I have seen, it was really nice to work with Russian players. I am happy with the professional relationship of the players. Especially with our captain Ivan Taranov and Sergey Kornilenko. They also helped me a lot to adapt in the first weeks and months in Russia and these are things I really appreciate. Kornilenko was my neighbor during the last year in the basa. Same like Yohan Mollo. This also created moments with the players during the day and outside football because we were all living together in the same place.
RFN: Did you find Russian players to be different from Belgium players or the ones playing in the Middle East?
BC: They are different. With Russians in general, you need a bit of time to understand each other because cultures, language and attitudes are different, but once you have reached an understanding, they are really warm and nice to both spend time and work with, and then they can do very much and work very hard. Although I had been told this before, I was surprised. Russians can work very hard.
RFN: The pace in the RFPL often seems slow compared to the big European leagues, and the players looked tired at the Euro. Are some coaches doing something wrong, or are those leagues and countries simply better?
BC: I don’t want to speak about good or bad. Take always the game as the starting point. If you compare football from ten years ago with football today, you’ll see that the amount of explosive actions a player make a game is much higher. Football is much more intensive than 10 years ago, and the game is played faster. That’s a starting point for how to planning your training sessions. Football is an intensity game, a ‘peed of actions’ sport, and not an endurance sport. Based on more intense games, the amount of explosive actions and intensity needs to be higher during the training sessions. It all comes down to training better rather than training more. Training better means you need higher quality in training, more intensive trainings, rather than just a higher quantity.
If you train better so more intensive, players also needs more recovery though. Therefore you have to pay attention to what the players are doing when they are not training. You also have to pay attention to things such as hydration, nutrition, food supplements, injury prevention, and strength training. All these things prepare the players to train and thus play better. For everything you do you have to ask the question: ‘does it contribute to the performance of the team, yes or no?’ Especially because you want to have the players available for all games and training sessions. This is the major thing to improve.
RFN:Do you think the winter break could actually be an advantage for the Russian national team because the players gets a rest period?
BC: Yes for sure. But the only condition is that the players will not be exhausted during by the team coaches the pre-season camps in January and February before the World Cup some months later. None of the biggest leagues have periods where the players are totally off in the winter. Russia have six to eight week preparation in January and February. On one hand it’s a disadvantage because the rhythm in the season is broken, but on the other hand, the players gets an optimal period to recover in the winter, and the players have optimal period to prepare for the second half of the season. The players have a very long preparation with their teams in the winter ahead of the World Cup, and then they play for three months, so you can expect that the players will be, or can be, even fresher than the players who have played 60 or 70 games throughout the entire season. These players should be more tired than the Russians, and it can be a huge advantage, if the players are doing the right things at the right moments.
RFN: On the Russian Football News Podcast, we often talk about ‘only in Russia’ moments. Did you have any experience where you thought, “this would only happen in Russia”?
BC: Everything is possible in Russia. An example is the huge stadiums being built now. The stadium we played at in Krasnodar was world class, and the club’s academy was better than anything I have ever seen before. The stadiums built for the world cup, including the one in Samara, are huge projects, and that’s really nice.
The second thing is the game we played against Spartak Moscow in November. We won 4-0 and it was -11 degrees. The pitch was a bit white and frozen, but we played. And the roads to the stadium were all cleared of snow. It was not the perfect conditions for a football game, but we played, and that’s only possible in Russia. Had this happened in Belgium, the game would have been cancelled.
Another thing that has surprised me outside of football, is how quickly snow gets removed from the roads, so traffic can continue.
RFN: Are there any young players at Krylya we should keep an eye on in the future?
BC: There are several young players coming through in Samara. That’s one of the things Vercauteren paid a lot of attention to since Day One. He has looked at developing the young players, and the local players in the region, especially in the first season, when we had no second team. Therefore the young players trained with the first team, so we could see them play, and they could train with better players. Last season we coached the second team too.
This year, some young players are in the squad, like Ilya Viznovich, Egor Golenkov and Nikolay Kiritsa. They are always training with the first team, and from a developing point of view, this is a great thing for both Krylya Sovetov and Russian football. That young players get the chance to show themselves and play on the highest level is of course important. That’s also why I like the foreigner rule to avoid a team playing with 11 foreigners at the same time. That means you have to pay attention to young players and youth football. You need a long term plan to prepare the players for top football.