Interview with Maksym Kalynychenko, Part One: Spartak’s Situation Today

Maksim Kalynychenko and Yegor Titov at Spartak in 2007. Source: Александр Федеров, SportExpress.

Maksym Kalynychenko, who played for Spartak Moscow from 2000-2008 sat down with Alexey Spektrowski in collaboration with our friends over at ProSpartak. Here we present Part One of the interview in English, where the pair discusses the current situation in Spartak, the players, and Massimo Carrera.

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The first questions, of course, will concern Spartak. What happened in the game against CSKA?

Well… Everyone saw what happened. We lost. Losing a game in two minutes is bad, but, speaking objectively, the game with CSKA went bad, like the Zenit game. Zenit simply has much more skilled players, so basically, any mistake ended up with a goal. CSKA didn’t play especially well, but they were fresher and, should I say, persistent, especially in late second half, when Spartak suddenly ground to a halt, stopped maintaining their rhythm and conspicuously started trying to conserve their advantage. But time-wasting was never a strength for Spartak.

I don’t know, it seemed to me that the team couldn’t last the whole game, they looked tired. They also lacked any depth in attack after Zé Luis’ substitution. There was no pressure on the defence from Melgarejo. It’s hard to play when nobody can hang on to the ball in attack. So, that’s basically why Spartak lost. The first goal – Golovin just dribbled into the box and crossed the ball to the far post, the second goal was Fernando’s mistake; it’s puzzling to me why Fernando makes so many mistakes now. Perhaps he lost a piece of himself, some motivation… like the whole team, more or less. In the last season, everyone fought for every inch of the field, but they don’t do that now. This is a derby, and in derbies, such mistakes are punished.

Was that defeat an objective result or should the game have been a draw?

Perhaps CSKA didn’t deserve the win, but we didn’t deserve it either. I think that a draw would be fairer, but Selikhov’s mistake… no, you can’t say that it was only Selikhov’s mistake, the whole team is at fault. They took a free kick at the opponents’ side, lost the ball, there was a counter-attack, a whole chain of mistakes, and Selikhov, frankly, didn’t make a fairly easy save, which he admitted. Now we’re left only to think what happened.

The team didn’t stop only against CSKA. Perhaps there were some mistakes with the pre-season training?

It’s hard for me to say if there were mistakes. Spartak’s squad has enough depth for rotation. But when you use three central midfielders, and nobody intercepts the ball both at your and opposing side, you can’t blame physical form alone: there’s something wrong with tactics and perhaps individual psychology, because such players as Fernando, Pašalić, and Glushakov should have won the midfield, but for some reason, they lost it. So, there are questions… maybe the training is indeed to blame. Yes, Glushakov is tired, but why are Fernando and Pašalić tired as well? Though to be fair, Pašalić hasn’t been in the team for long, Glushakov is objectively tired and struggling to regain form after the Confederations Cup, and Fernando isn’t playing as well as he did last season.

Fernando looks like his August 2016 self, when he was a bit heavy and slow.

But still, his pass completion rate was around 85%, more than everyone else’s. But now, he makes many unforced errors, lateral passes… It was somewhat strange: Italian coaches, as far as I know, view lateral passes very negatively, but Spartak have been making a lot of them lately, suffering from counter-attacks as the result. This is, of course, only what can be seen at a glance, I haven’t analyzed the games in depth.

It was similar with Dinamo, the only difference was that we scored two goals rather than one.

Yes, essentially the same. That’s a bad trend. Perhaps they’ll be in better form when the Champions League starts? Though at that time, we might already lose all chances to qualify for the next Champions League, so we’d have to win this season’s Champions League to play there again next year! [Laughs].

We also agreed to quite a difficult starting schedule, playing against most rivals in the first rounds.

That’s another thing. What’s there to fear, whom should we need to fear? You’re a champion, you should behave like a champion. And now, we have to give chase. But, to be honest, there’s nothing terribly wrong yet; we have to defeat the mid- and lower-table teams and wait for our rivals to lose points.

So, there are still chances to qualify for the Champions League?

The championship has just begun. Well, of course, if we play that way in the subsequent games, the chances will become slimmer and slimmer. We need to defeat Lokomotiv.

Lokomotiv suddenly lost in the previous round. They surely look beatable.

Lokomotiv is a strange team for me. They don’t have any clear playing style, but individual qualities of several players help them achieve some results. FC Tosno seemed much more organized, and they sank Lokomotiv quite easily. They can and should be beaten.

Spartak already defeated Lokomotiv in the Super Cup. I hope they remember how it’s done.

Of course, they will remember. They also should remember how they prepared for each game last season when they fought in every game as though it was their last. Now they don’t, as though they’re conserving their strength. They are either conserving the strength for Champions league or are too distressed by Zobnin’s injury. Timofeev is also out for long…

Zobnin’s injury seems like a big loss. Perhaps that’s why Glushakov and Fernando don’t look like their last-season selves?

In many ways, yes, but you shouldn’t be so dependent on one player. And you shouldn’t be waiting for him as some messiah – “see, when Zobnin returns, we’ll start defeating everybody again, like last year”. Yes, it’s a very big loss, even last year, I said that Zobnin was Spartak’s key player, and he still is, but still, with such a squad that Spartak have at their disposal, they can and should be playing better rather than starting the new season like that.

You used to defend the championship title too in Spartak, in 2001 and 2002. The team didn’t enjoy the best of starts as well back then. Everyone is riled up against the incumbent champion?

Everybody was always riled up against Spartak, and still is, both this and last season. Is it hard to defend the title? When I was in the team that defended title, there was no goal other than to win the championship. Even considering the changes in the club that began in 2001.

When Chervichenko came?

Yes.

He started buying lots of foreigners, some of them were quite bizarre…

I have a photo before my eyes – the squad that won the 2003 Russian Cup. I’m looking at it, and honestly, I’m a bit amazed that this squad managed to win the Cup. Young guys, foreigners…

Lucky pairings in the Cup?

I can’t even quite remember whom we were playing against.

Chkalovets-1936, Sokol, Lada, Rostov in the final.

Yes, something like that. All in all, our selection wasn’t at its best back then.

Don’t you fear that something similar might repeat now? There are some rumours about Luan, Garay, some others, but as of now, we’ve only signed Petković on a free transfer and loaned Pašalić.

I’m actually more fearful that we might return to our, quote, “glorious”, unquote, times when all kinds of inside information from the team and the club gets public earlier than it should. Last season, it was very good – everything remained inside. Nobody threw any accusations.

Yes, now there are open discussions – “someone wants kickbacks, someone doesn’t, someone else demands something”… It seems to get worse than in all previous years combined. To be honest, I don’t want to know anything about that.

Well, I haven’t read neither any transfer rumours nor analytics lately – “from our supporters”, from “specialists” who are also supporters…  Alas, everything returns again, nobody actually needs all this mess. There are some movements in the management, the coach points fingers at a club official, that official points fingers at the scouts… There’s some major discord going on. I don’t want to believe that, but it’s bad. Bad for the team, first and foremost. Everyone understands that, yet they begin their internal struggle again. Still, I’d like to reiterate that it’s what I see at a glance. I’m not claiming to have analyzed the situation deeply.

Will we overcome that?

I hope so. The Champions League looms ahead, the team’s focus should return to football, not discuss contracts and transfer news.

Speaking of transfers, how can Spartak strengthen their squad now? What positions need new signings?

I don’t know. I personally was convinced last season, and still am, that we need full-backs.

Spartak already signed Petković and Tigiev. Or they aren’t good enough?

I haven’t seen anything in Petković that shows he’s worthy of Spartak. I can be mistaken. I even thought that he was used outside his main position. Is he a central defender?

No, he played as a right back for Crvena Zvezda.

Perhaps he’s not adapted yet. I want to be mistaken, but he looked weak in the last game. Very weak and uncomfortable. Maybe he was too worried. I only say what I saw, I don’t want to attack anybody, but what I saw was sub par. I may be mistaken, I want to be mistaken and see Petković perform as expected of him.

What about Tigiev?

He’s also too green. He needs to overcome his anxiety, it’s obvious how worried he looks. We need full-backs who are much…

…stronger than Eschenko and Kombarov?

These two are players who only play well when they overperform. When they regress to their average level – you can’t play on overdrive all the time – this average level is quite mediocre. I don’t want to say anything bad about them, but that’s what I see from outside: they should perform at 120% of their strength to be worthy of the Champions League and incumbent champion’s level.

In any case, there should be some rotation: today, one player is used, then, after 2 or 3 games, when he’s somewhat burned out emotionally, he has a competitor who’s ready to substitute for him. There is some competition at the full-back position, but it’s quite mediocre.

Basically, it’s mediocre vs. mediocre?

Yes, and it gives us average level at best. The math is quite simple. To progress, you need a strong competitor, stronger than yourself.

Let’s discuss something good for a change. What did you like in Spartak in these first few rounds – the playing, or perhaps some players? I think Dzhikiya is progressing rather well.

Dzhikiya is now one of the best central defenders in the whole Premier League, not only Spartak. Of course, it’s not exactly a new discovery, he’s been playing very well last season too. I also liked Luiz Adriano, though he didn’t have to miss the last two games. Injuries are another story, he was always a bit injury-prone, but this red card against Zenit… He essentially threw himself off the rhythm on his own accord. But I liked his form at the start of the season. He’s very eager to play. Though it’s obvious that he wants to play as a centre-forward. He might be even showing a bit that he doesn’t like his current position.

He’s basically used at Zobnin’s position.

Yes, as a winger. He’s healthy enough for that, but he’s a striker, a forward. As soon as he gets into his environment (not as often as he’d like perhaps), he immediately scores. He becomes more useful and efficient. He’s still efficient as a midfielder, but he’ll be more useful at the front.

He’ll play up front against Lokomotiv. Zé Luís is out for several weeks…

Hamstring?

Yes, seems so.

And Luiz Adriano has already served his ban?

Yes, he sat out his two games.

Yes, I hope… The centre- forward vacancy is finally open for him. If Carrera doesn’t come with something more unusual, this would be the best option both for him and Spartak. Zé Luís is, of course, useful – he gives assists and gets fouled for penalties – but he’s still a forward and needs to score, and it comes a bit hard to him. Luiz Adriano is going to have moments in any game, and if he does have his moments, I think he will score.

So we can look forward to Lokomotiv with optimism?

I hope so. He already scored against them this season. Muscle memory should kick in.

What can you say about Promes? He’s already scored a lot this season, but even that doesn’t help now.

Promes is one of the few who is still playing as he played last season.

Promes is always playing like that.

Consistency is a good quality for any footballer, especially if he’s playing consistently good. And Promes does play consistently good, never gets below a certain level. He’s running a lot, takes the ball for himself, dribbles a lot, creates a lot of potential attacking opportunities with his running and dribbling, and scores a lot. Especially if we consider that he’s playing as a winger, not a centre-forward. He’s a real gem. He wants to move forward, so I’m afraid that this is Promes’ last season in Spartak.

So, only Promes, Dzhikiya, and Luiz Adriano retained their last season’s form?

Adriano wasn’t that good last year, it was obvious that he was out of form, and he suffered from injuries, but this season, Adriano’s form is one of the best in all Spartak. And he was always a good footballer. He never suffered from a lack of form.

Zé Luis also basically remains the same as the last season. His conversion rate is quite low, but he causes a lot of problems to defenders, we should give him that.

Everyone else is way below their level. Kutepov just disappeared. It just puzzles me what happened to Kutepov. From a national team player to a bencher… I don’t know, perhaps he lost his coach’s trust.

Dzhikiya won competition against him. And they’re never used together.

The coach knows better. In a pair of central defenders, one is the leader, and one follows him. One should be right-footed, and the other left-footed… It’s hard to say why Carrera made that choice.

Central defenders live in their own world?

Every position is a world of its own, but central defenders are one of the pillars of any good team. The central axis: central defenders, central midfielders, centre-forwards, and the goalkeeper. This is the spine everything else must grow on. And our spine is misaligned currently, I don’t know why. In the past, central defenders were Spartak’s weak spot even when everyone else played well, but now, they became the strongest position. Central midfielders are often inefficient, attack has lower conversion rate, and the goalkeeper became less reliable.

Essentially, we started to attack less, so we get attacked more.

Exactly. When you give the ball to your opponent, you have to defend more, and you get tired more. This snowballs out of control. It’s natural and has an easy explanation, but at the same time, it’s unexplainable.

I don’t know if we should discuss more sad topic, but still… After the Zenit game, I remembered the other 1-5 for some reason, against CSKA in 2008.

I only remembered that match now. [Laughs]. I see no analogies.

Yes, the games are very different, but I remember the moment with Rebrov conceding the fifth goal, and Pletikosa conceding the fifth goal from a very easy-looking free kick. Perhaps when a goalkeeper has already conceded several goals, he becomes demoralized? Rebrov is attacked for that own goal, and then the fans project that mistake onto four other goals and blame him as well.

That match was a failure of the whole team. You shouldn’t blame Rebrov alone. Yes, the goalkeeper can be reliable, and when he makes a mistake, the whole team can become nervous, but speaking of that game in particular – the fifth goal didn’t change anything. And that he didn’t save any shots before that – well, there are some awful matches when every shot just goes in. Any goalkeeper can have such a match, though, of course, the fewer of these matches, the better. Rebrov proved everything last season with his playing and confidence.

Now Selikhov is growing up in Spartak. Selikhov’s game against CSKA was less than stellar too. He made some mistakes when he came out for the ball, and the second goal doesn’t do him any favours… There’s a problem with the goalkeeper’s position, but there are problems with other positions as well. The team has hit a rough patch. There is no such thing as one player playing as a maestro, while all others playing badly. Perhaps Dzhikiya looks better than others now, but even he makes mistakes. That’s football – anyone can make a mistake any time.

Psychological moments are important too. Now it’s obvious that Spartak’s problems are psychological rather than playing-wise. Perhaps not everyone… or maybe even no-one came back from the championship celebration yet, thinking that the wins will just keep on coming. No, there are no such things and never will be. After you win a championship, you have to work even more hard to keep winning.

As Carrera said, “Winning a championship is like climbing a mountain only to see an even higher mountain ahead.”

Absolutely. These are obvious truths, everyone knows them, but you can’t get into everyone’s head to know what’s happening with them. Before the last season, we sometimes viciously criticized these very same players – this one is “sub par”, that one is “weak”… They proved that they were above par, and then suddenly stopped proving that. And it snowballed from that.

Perhaps, age influences things a bit as well – our Russian players, bar Zobnin, aren’t exactly spring chickens?

We’ve already discussed that in the previous interview. I think these players, for better or for worse, still have years of career ahead of them, either in Spartak or in other RPL teams. And, well… Age doesn’t mean that much if you take good care of yourself. The older you are, the more you need to train. That’s paradoxical but true. It’s harder to keep form. You can get away with some things at a younger age, but when you get older, you can’t get away with that anymore. I personally understood that after retirement. [Laughs].

So, you had it easy in the last years of your career, but then it became harder?

After retirement, I couldn’t quite get a handle on myself for a couple of years! Only now, I’m slowly regaining form.

When your body is used to regular exercise, and then it suddenly goes away, it must be hard to adapt.

Yes. You stop training, then you come to play a pick-up game with your friends, for instance, and try to use the skills you had quite recently. But the body isn’t ready, and you instantly feel all your old injuries. The body needs time to adapt to, should I say, new format of playing football, when you play two or three times a week, or even less. First, your body craves exercise, then loses its tone, then you start feeling old injuries, and then… Now, after three or four years, it’s finally all balanced again. There are still some problems, but you don’t run like mad anymore. You play quiet, veteran-ish football.

By the way, were you ever invited to play for Spartak veterans?

No. To be honest, it’s not an urgent theme for me. Not that I’m totally not interested, but… well, they don’t invite me, fine. I’ve never worried about that, and won’t. I have other things to do in life.

So, no invitations at all?

Well, there were some talks a couple of years ago, but it was never anything concrete.

 

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Look out for Part Two of Alexey’s interview with Maksym Kalynychenko on RFN tomorrow. You can read the full Russian-language version of this interview over on ProSpartak, here.

Author: Alexey Spektrowski

I’m a Spartak Moscow fan who dabbles in Soviet/Russian football history (mostly numerical and statistical). Contributed some data to the Spartak Moscow museum at Otkrytie Arena.

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