Interview with Maksym Kalynychenko, Part Two: The FNL, Spartak under Oleg Romantsev, and more.

Maksym Kalynychenko in his Spartak days. Source: Fratria.ru

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 Two of the interview in English, where the pair discusses the state of the FNL and Maksym’s experiences of traveling throughout Russia, Soviet Football including the work and life of Nikolai Starostin and Oleg Romantsev’s dominant Spartak Moscow side in the 1990s. Make sure to read Part One first, here.

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Let’s change the topic for a while. It’s also an interview for Russian Football News, for English-speaking readers, and they have some questions too. Recently, there’s been a series of articles at RFN offering their own vision of Russian football, for instance, what to do with the Far Eastern teams. You’ve been to Vladivostok with Spartak a couple of times. How did it feel?

It’s very hard. A very difficult and complicated topic. Football should be played everywhere, and since Russia is a very big country, you shouldn’t ignore far away cities. If these cities have good teams with Premier League-level play, so be it, and you have to put up with the hardships that come up. From the personal point of view, flying to Vladivostok, Khabarovsk or Nakhodka is very hard. I’ve been only to Vladivostok, but it was more than enough for me. The acclimatization is very difficult, you have to find a moment when your body is at its best. It’s not that hard to find these moments, they can be calculated. Still, long travels to away games are difficult, and the home teams do everything to play the match at the most inconvenient time for the visitors. It’s understandable really, everyone does that. The South American teams, for instance, play way above the sea level, you come there, and it’s hard to even breathe. Still, all teams have to endure the hardships of travel. SKA Khabarovsk now, for instance, will have fifteen long flights, while Spartak only one. So, we need to be more understanding.

Yes, the article also says that the Eastern teams have it the hardest because they constantly have to fly.

I remember how Vladivostok handled that: Luch would come to Moscow for a week or so…

And then travel from Moscow to other cities?

Yes, there was a lot of Moscow and Moscow Oblast teams in the league – Saturn, Khimki… When you’re in Moscow for a week, you acclimatize, and some short, three-hour flight to, say, Nalchik is much better than flying 12 hours directly from Vladivostok to Nalchik and then having 14 more such flights. It’s very hard, so this model seems to work well: you prepare for away games in Moscow, then you go home and prepare for the home game in Vladivostok.

You need a hefty budget to work like that.

Budget… Yes, you need that, or you get nowhere. You either have a budget, or you’ll start losing people. It’s very difficult. Psychologically, first and foremost, but physiologically too: when you regularly play football at the time when you normally sleep, it overloads the heart, among other things. It disrupts the biorhythms in a big way.

I read a study conducted by Americans. The United States leagues are basically the only ones, besides Russian, that have to deal with time zones. They found out that the team living more to the west has a small advantage over an equally-strong team living to the east.

Interesting. What reason do they give?

Basically, when you fly from the west to the east, it’s easier to adapt when you fly from the east to the west.

I think I agree.

They, of course, don’t have nine time zones, but still, there are stats that tell us that when some, say, Californian team goes to New York, it wins more often than a New York team going to California.

Perhaps there’s something in this. When I flew to Thailand, it was much easier for me to reacclimatize after going back. When I flew to Mexico and back, it was a nightmare, I couldn’t adapt for five days or so. Couldn’t sleep, couldn’t do anything.

Yes, going east and back is easier than going west and back.

Seems so. I can personally attest to that.

So, the European part of Russia has a built-in advantage over the eastern part.

Yes, both physiological and geographical. So, SKA Khabarovsk should sign more European-part players! [Laughs].

Maybe. Or, like Luch, live in the European part and fly back to Khabarovsk only for home games.

Yes, if they have enough money. Though if you do advance to the Premier League, you should plan your budget accordingly.

One of RFN’s ideas is to regionalize the lower leagues, beginning with FNL. Divide the league into, say, three zones, West, Centre and East, or even into smaller fractions, to reduce the flying needed by the Far Eastern teams.

I agree, the FNL should be zonal too. Russia is very vast, and there’s no sense to make life harder, especially for the teams that have zero ambitions to advance to the Premier League. We should make it simpler for them. In any case, we should do something about that, because FNL seems to be one of the hardest football tournaments in the entire world. You have to fly so much that it might drive you crazy!

Yes, they drew flight maps, and SKA Khabarovsk’s total travel distance is longer than the circumference of the equator, or something!

A round-the-world trip. It’s terrifying to even speak about and to actually fly… What if some guys suffer from aerophobia, what should they do? Retire immediately, or move to the European part of Russia?

And what if a Far Eastern team, God forbid, qualifies for a European tournament?

[Laughs] “God forbid” – for whom?

I don’t know who would have it worse.

There were some precedents… Now, they have to fly to Kazakhstan from Europe.

Kazakhstan isn’t the worst possible variant. What if SKA Khabarovsk qualify?

Well, Kazakhstan isn’t exactly the closest thing as well, you have to fly 8 hours to get there from Europe.

Though I remember PSV traveling to Novosibirsk to play against Sibir in the Europa League.

Recently, Inter, I think in the season when Dnipro almost won the Europa League, played against Qarabag. Such isolated cases can be tolerated, but when you have to fly constantly, it’s horrible.

I saw Soviet First League tables, one season, in particular, must have been a flying nightmare. Imagine: Russia has its own league, Ukraine has its own league, and all other Soviet republics are lumped together. You had to travel from Tallinn to Frunze.

That’s awful. What do you expect from the bureaucrats though? As they say, look who benefits the most. It was done for something, someone pushed a crazy idea through. And the people are left disgusted after that. “Love towards football”… How can you love football after that?

How can you support a football team, in general, when the climate isn’t that great? Well, except the obvious things like artificial pitches at the stadiums.

Well, take Norway or Denmark, or other Northern European countries as an example. They do have football teams. Of course, it’s linked to the social level: The better a country lives, the better is the state of their football. In Norway, they grow good grass fields, and use lots of artificial pitches, the stadiums are great. Yes, they’re small, but they’re always full. You always have 7 or 8 thousands of spectators. Considering that their cities are rarely bigger than 10 or 15 thousand, you can say that two-thirds of the whole population come to watch football regularly.

Still, the distances to travel aren’t that vast.

True, but they have their peculiarities too. Sometimes you have to take a ferry, or a small plane, for an away game. My friend played in Norway recently, he told me some stories. There are some peculiarities and difficulties in Norway, even though it’s a relatively small country. You have polar days and nights there; you can’t sleep despite late hours, and then you get up, and the sky is still light, and you can’t tell whether it’s day or night. Anyway, there are some examples of teams playing in harsh climates, and we have to study that.

Yes, very interesting.

And you should think more about the development as a whole. What entertainment do you have in some faraway regions? Yes, you go to the cinema, to the theater, whatever, but football should also be an integral part of entertainment.

At least in the form of some regional, amateur championships. They probably do exist, but we don’t see them much in the news.

The question is, what is really done. You don’t even have to spend too much money. You should have some people who love football and see the potential in all that. You can earn money on that. Even, say, hot dogs, mineral water or beer in plastic cups can bring some revenue to a small club. You have to attract people to the stadium. Put up some show… I don’t say you should have a full orchestra playing in the half-time, but still, you have to do something that’s interesting for the youth, for the whole family to take children with them. It’s pertinent for the Russian football as a whole.

Not only for the colder regions.

Yes. The entertainment part of football is very little developed here.

To do that, you shouldn’t just take money from the state – you should attract investors, but almost nobody does that here.

That’s exactly my point. When you have a budget – city budget, regional budget, any money you just get to spend, rather than earn them yourself. As soon as the budget money stop trickling down, the team just dies. You have to earn money – sell some merchandise, do at least something! Open fan shops, I don’t know. You need to attract people to the stadium. I personally don’t know how to do that, but there are people who are taught such things in colleges. But they don’t even try to do that here. They spend their budgets, and that’s all.

This is a leftover from the Soviet times.

Absolutely. As long as people think in the same categories…

Back then, it was something like that – a city-forming factory or some other business sponsored a team to get people to play sports and entertain them.

Back then was back then. In the Soviet Union, they at least had some underlying system behind that. And now, we ostensibly have “market relations”, but in actuality, there are very few market relations. The same song goes on: Give us some money, and we’ll spend, and then we’ll report: “We spent this money for this, and that money for that”… Wait, could you earn money? Well, we probably could, but we didn’t want to. I don’t know, every club probably has some budget for, say, fan relations, for attracting the people to the stadium. I’m sure they have such a budget. It’s interesting to know how they spend their money. No, not how they spend it, I’m not an auditor [laughs], but I’d like to know how the people who spend this money are thinking and what are they doing. I can’t see that. I see what Spartak are doing – they have a comfortable stadium and actually do much to attract people there.

Nobody in Moscow can now sell out a stadium, except for Spartak.

Yes, take CSKA, for instance. They would boast that they were the best or something… They now have their own cozy stadium, in a historically CSKA place at the Peschanaya street. But the people don’t come there. Or rather they do come, but not too actively.

And they explain it away with dacha seasons, or workdays, or something. They even couldn’t sell out the stadium for the Spartak match.

Yes. It’s a disgrace.

Though I think if they sold all the tickets freely, they would have a capacity crowd. But more than half of that crowd would be Spartak fans.

Yes, and that’s probably why they decided against that.

There’s a similar approach in the United States now. Some teams think, “It’s better not to have a sell-out, but have an overwhelming home fans majority.”

Well, United States… Their league organization is a thing that should be studied and learned from. If some teams do that, then they can afford not to have a capacity crowd and compensate that with other things. With TV translations, commercials, etc.

TV rights are the thing that sets the big leagues apart from everything else. The TV companies pay enormous money to the teams in their leagues, and other leagues don’t benefit from that.

Because their product is in demand, and it is bought. But here, there won’t be any demand, people won’t buy it. They’d rather buy food. [Laughs] Everyone is used to watching football for free. We get to the market relations again. Nobody needs a quality product because it’s impossible to sell. There’s a vicious circle: if the product doesn’t sell, then the investor has just wasted money. The simple formula – you create a product, you sell it, people buy it, and everyone is satisfied – doesn’t work. Our social history is a bit different. Our fans demand a super-quality product, but for free, and they don’t think that they need to spend quality money to get a quality product. Though if you take the Match TV sports channel, for instance – it’s made with the state budget money.

Something’s wrong with it, judging by most recent information.

Something’s gone wrong. It’s difficult. We don’t usually discuss economic questions.

Nikolai Starostin once said exactly that, “For some reason, we don’t like discussing financial questions”. He said in his book that Spartak earned enough money to both cover their expenses and sponsor the hockey club. Starostin was an economist by education, so he knew about such things. Spartak was probably the only club concerned with earning money back then. Now, we also have Krasnodar, another private club.

Yes, Krasnodar is a good example, though, of course, it’s impossible to compare Starostin with Galitsky. Galitsky is a businessman, a billionaire, and he can spend his money as he wants. He wants to spend it on football development, and I like that.

If you really want to earn money, you will earn them. Spartak had profits even in Soviet time.

Absolutely. But 95 percent of teams wait for a budget handout to spend. It’s really sad…

Spartak is still living on that legacy, in some way.

Yes, they have amassed a large following, there are now literally dynasties of supporters.

***

A funny little question from Russian Football News. Is it true that Oleg Romantsev slept only four hours a day and read a new book every day?

I don’t know for sure, but he did say that, so I assume it’s true. He did read a lot. As I understand, Romantsev knew the technique for fast reading. Now it’s commonplace, but back then… well, you know, there was no Internet or something you could easily learn that from. Oleg Ivanovich is a clever and educated man, so I don’t see anything unusual or amazing in the fact that he read a new book every day. And if his health allowed him to sleep only for four hours and use the remaining time to learn something new, to analyze, then it’s good – football is constantly changing and evolving.

And now, more seriously: Tell us something about your time in Romantsev’s Spartak. You probably remembered that many times in various interviews, but most RFN readers probably haven’t seen them. How did you get there, how you won championships, how the Romantsev era ended…

When I came to Spartak, it was a machine. And I was just a twenty-year-old boy. They looked almost like deities to me, I used to watch them on TV, and then they started playing, the ball moved like on a merry-go-round… At first, I couldn’t understand how could I possibly fit into that and why I was there at all. But then, a couple of days later, I started to adapt, because the partners were so good that only a dead man couldn’t adapt to playing with them. If a player knows something about football, he’ll start to progress. So, it seems that I did know something about football because I did progress.

When I sat on the bench for three or four games in the first season, I had no questions. It was all fair: If you’re the strongest today, you’ll be playing, no matter if you’re 20 or 35 years old.

Champions League was yet another different planet for me. Real, Arsenal, Liverpool… Even 0-5 at Anfield is something that you remember for a long time. Well, I don’t like to recall 0-5, but I liked Anfield. A good, old-school stadium.

The team was very close. I won’t say that we would gather all together as a team – of course, like any team, Spartak had some groups: Old-timers, youngsters, foreigners, but I can’t say that the team was divided into any feuding coalitions. No, just a normal atmosphere of a normal professional team. We spent a lot of time at the training base. Many travels, Champions League, many people played for their national teams… In my first year at Spartak, I’d very rarely been at home. On Saturday or Sunday, you have league games, then on Wednesday, there’s Champions League, and we would train at the base for two days before the game. So, I was only home for two days a week, at most. And there was also the national team… My wife was quite mad at me [laughs]. But it was the norm back then. We had a purpose, the team… it was a family, a machine that won the titles, earned some notoriety in Europe, there were no questions.

Then, “market relations” began. A new owner came to Spartak, with a team of helpers and advisers, and they had their own ideas on where the club should go next, and everything that was built for so long was destroyed rather quickly.Perhaps the Romantsev era would have ended anyway, football is a game that constantly evolves, and football clubs evolve too, but it was all too sudden. The new players lacked the quality required for Spartak to remain the same fearsome Spartak of old. Everything ended very logically, and then Spartak hit the rock bottom and started climbing again, and now they again became a force to be reckoned with, a team that’s delightful to watch. They have a great stadium, everything works very well.

Perhaps the Romantsev era would have ended anyway, football is a game that constantly evolves, and football clubs evolve too, but it was all too sudden. The new players lacked the quality required for Spartak to remain the same fearsome Spartak of old. Everything ended very logically, and then Spartak hit the rock bottom and started climbing again, and now they again became a force to be reckoned with, a team that’s delightful to watch. They have a great stadium, everything works very well.

I have very warm memories in general, I don’t want to recall anything negative. You always remember the best things, and there were many good things back then.

Yes, there’s already quite a lot of negative things said, even without us.

I agree. Why should we also recall any past negative things?

Would Maksym Kalynychenko in his best form fit into the current Spartak squad? Would you be interested to play there?

I don’t know. A good footballer can fit into any team. Can I see myself in the current team? It would be hard for me. I can’t see myself as a central midfielder. And I lack the breakneck pace required to play a wing forward…

Perhaps you could take the place of Popov or Jano?

Yes, attacking midfielder, if you can call the position that – possibly. I don’t overestimate and don’t underestimate myself. I think that I was a good player. Not super, not top, but just a normal, good player. And a good player can be useful in any team. If your head thinks straight, and your tactical and physical preparation is good, you can play in any team with any top players, and you’ll be only progressing. It helped me much in my youth when I came to Spartak aged 20. This helped me to kickstart my career, I became stronger.

It’s a pity that injuries held you back.

That’s life. What can be done with that? You can’t get anything back. You have to treat that normally, you shouldn’t get God angry. I’ve never dwelled on what could have been. I’m thankful for what I had. Could it have gone differently? It probably could, but I’m thankful for my time in football.

Would you share a couple of amusing anecdotes from your career? As I said, the English-speaking readers probably don’t know any of them.

Just remembered a funny story. We flew to Portugal to play Sporting, and it was [Aleksandr] Filimonov’s birthday. We went out for a walk, it was the day before the game. We came two days before the game and were allowed some free time. Some guys went shopping, and Demos – Dmitry Ananko – brought Fil a huge oar! For kayaking or something, I don’t know. That was his birthday gift. We laughed like crazy. He even wrote a dedication on it; I don’t remember what exactly, but the very fact that he came to the hotel with that oar…

Where did it go after that?

I don’t know, you should ask Fil whether he took it home or left it there… I think he took it.
Slavka [Vyacheslav Zinchenko], our cobbler, once wore football boots in the airport. I think it was in London. He either lost a bet or was just offered money by the guys if he walked from the bus to the plane in six-cleat boots. I think he borrowed a pair from Yuri Kovtun and walked through the airport, just like that. I thought that the police would apprehend him right there!

Did the attract a lot of strange glances?

Yes, a lot. I think he even wore a three-piece suit. We would go abroad wearing suits, so Slavka most probably wore boots with the suit. I can’t say that for sure, but it was fun anyway.

We had a lot of fun actually. A team thrives on that, especially when we’re away from home for extended periods; you just have to relieve the pressure in some way. We never had any problems with that.

It’s probably for the best.

The team atmosphere should be normal. If it’s too serious, it’ll drive everyone mad. The team had many young guys, under 30… though even after 30, you aren’t exactly old. You’re still a kid at heart.

***

By the way, now that you’ve mentioned youth, let’s return to current events. Strange as it sounds, but many youth players have featured this season, in many teams. Perhaps the first generation that appeared under the limit has passed their peak?

It’s hard for me to say why young players are now trusted more.

There are now Golovin, Miranchuk, Nabiullin from Rubin…

Kuzyaev.

Yes, Kuzyaev is a bit older, but he immediately made an impact at Zenit after transferring from Terek.

And you shouldn’t forget Zobnin too.

Zobnin, Dzhikiya…

The guys haven’t been corrupted yet, so they play well. To say the truth, quite a few young players attract some attention each season, but most of them quickly disappear after that. The question is, why?

Perhaps the current generation will prove themselves better than those who started playing three or four years ago?

I’ve had enough of “this generation”. What’s the use of analyzing or not analyzing them? The foreigner limit does its dark business. You can’t escape it. For some reasons, any good intentions in our football tend to backfire. I don’t know how good were the intentions for the limit in general, what they wanted to do, but the limit didn’t bring the results we hoped for, and the damage it’s done is obvious. People got rich… the people around football who really shouldn’t be in football at all.

Those whose business is selling players?

Yes. Such is our market.

What can you say about the new proposed limit formula then, 10+15 or 8+17? Will it change things?

To be honest, I’m too far removed from all that. I’m not interested in studying the foreigner limit. There must be healthy competition – it’s the only way to progress, anywhere, in any field. When you have, say, an indulgence, or an artificial environment when you have everything, you’re basically carried to the field in a litter, and somebody else is doing your running for you, nothing will ever change. You should compete. If you won the competition – doesn’t matter against whom, foreigners or your own compatriots – if you’re the best, you’ll play. But when you’re basically appointed best, and then suddenly have to compete, you won’t be able to – your competitive instincts were destroyed in your youth. You won’t swim out. If you, say, were training in sea water, and then you’re told to compete in fresh water, you’ll lose to those who trained in fresh water. You become dependent on what was forced upon you rather than do what’s actually needed. I don’t know what’s going to happen with this 10+15 thing.

You can only register 10 foreigners in the squad, but you’ll be able to field all of them.

Those who want it most will play. What will change? The footballers will still be dependent on agents and other people who make money on football. What will change? Nothing will change. If you’re interested in selling a young Russian player you’re working for, you’ll lobby for him in the club, earning some preferences in the process. If you’re interested in selling a foreigner, you’ll lobby for a foreigner… The old schemes won’t go anywhere. You have to change the very institution itself, rather than the foreigner limit.

Nobody will do that.

Because it’s a goose that lays golden eggs. Who would kill it? You can discuss football all you want, but there are much more non-footballing issues to solve than purely footballing ones.

That sounded rather gloomy.

I can’t help it – it’s our reality. The European competitions are the ultimate test. Now we’ll see how our legion holds up there, how will they represent Russia. Let’s see how they play.

Getting back to Spartak: What’s your take on our chances in the Champions League? Of course, it depends largely on the draw, but still – will we reach the European spring? At least the Europa League?

It’s hard to say. Of course, it does depend on the draw – what will the third and fourth pots bring us. I hope to be mistaken for our current form – perhaps they’re planning to perform well in the Champions League, and the team will run fast in September… But now, there are some doubts. Let’s see. We shouldn’t discount the skills of our coaching staff. They surely know what they were doing in mid-season and why, what workload they gave and why.

Let’s hope so. How did you prepare in 2006, when Spartak played 50 games in a season? How was the physical form?

I came back from the World Cup, and my form declined for a while. I remember that it was very difficult. I didn’t have much of a vacation, rested for just a week, and then Grigoryich [Vladimir Fedotov], God rest his soul, gave me a two-week self-preparation program, something like that. And then, I slowly regained my form. It was hard, really hard. When your body adapts to a certain cycle, it’s hard to change it. So when the players say that it’s hard to play every three days, and we tell them, “But everyone in England, in Germany, plays like that”… Yes, they do, but they’ve been playing like that for their whole life. Constantly. They have their own biological rhythms. Also, it’s hard to compare England, Germany or Italy with Russian or Ukrainian football. They have quality players and good rotation, everything is possible. They can use a reserve squad for some matches, like the League Cup. All in all, it’s unfair to compare our football with them.
50 games… I think it’s too much for our realities.

Was it hard for the team?

No, it was normal. The team had a purpose. When the team plays well, when the audience supports it… When you play 50 games in a good emotional state, when you win a lot, it’s obviously easier. However, playing 50 games and losing 40 of them is a whole other thing.

So, basically, if the team likes playing, it’s easier from the physiological point of view, too?

Of course. It’s better to play often and win often than to play rarely and lose often. Look, it’s such a great formula! [Laughs].

By the way, in 2006, Spartak conceded several late goals and drew 1-1 instead of winning. Was the team tired, or lost concentration, or what?

A bit of everything. Physical wear and tear, moral fatigue – it was all there, you can’t avoid that. And bad luck. Say what you will, but luck is an important factor in football. In the last season, Spartak managed to score some important late goals to win, but in this season…

…In this season, they concede late goals.

Yes. Everything returns, like a boomerang. The fortune can be benevolent and can be not so.

So, in any other season, we wouldn’t have won some of the 1-0 games we had last year?

Maybe. Last season, we even won several games that we shouldn’t have won. But we won them, and that’s we became champions.

The difference between a champion and an average team is the champion’s ability to win the games they shouldn’t win, isn’t it?

Absolutely. The champion should have some healthy luck. But this luck should be deserved with your work. Spartak deserved this luck last year, but this year, they don’t work hard enough to earn any luck.

So the current shared 8th place is what the team deserved by their work?

No, I think they deserve more, but they have to pull themselves together. This is a “message” from the football god: “Guys, you should get down from your clouds and get your feet back on the ground, you have to play football, not discuss your championship win”.

Let’s hope we’ll go through that with minimal losses.

Yes, we’ve already lost more than enough. We should gain points.

I’m not even talking about points losses now – there are even talks that someone might be sacked…

We’ve returned to the beginning again. Some strange movements began within the club. Lobbying, not lobbying, I don’t know. Someone is always inconvenient for someone else. In big clubs, in big corporations, there’s always some kind of power struggle. I hope that for the sake of results, for the sake of Spartak remaining among the leaders, all this ends quickly and with minimal losses.

And everyone unites again like they did last year?

Yes. Curb their ambition, do the good deed, and then have some good rest.

***

Here is the link to the full article in Russian over at ProSpartak. We’d like to thank Maksym for his time, and the guys over at ProSpartak for their work during this collaboration.

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.

Comments

  1. Mitchell Gardiner says:

    Really enjoyed the interviews!

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