Chris, thank you for giving up some time to talk to us today. What a fantastic start for you at Gvardiets!
Thank you for wanting to speak to me, this is the first time I’ve been asked for an interview since I have been in AR Crimea. Yes, we have made an incredible start to the season and things are looking quite promising indeed.
You currently sit top of the Crimean First Division, having won the first fourteen games of the season – how have you been able to make this happen?
Yeah, it has been quite a start to the season! Firstly, it is a great achievement but it will mean absolutely nothing if we fail to keep this momentum and be in an automatic promotion spot at the end of the season. I’ve absolutely fallen in love with the club and the country. I have a great coaching staff around me and my chief scout did some excellent work in identifying some free agents that we felt could boost the existing squad. Obviously bringing in fourteen players as we’ve done could work against us, but luckily they have gelled really quickly as people and I think that has made it easier for them to take on board what we are doing on the training field. But I have to say again, if we fail to go up this season nobody will remember the fact that we won the first fourteen games in a positive way, we will be known as the Crimean Newcastle!
Gvardiets certainly play a unique style of football, can you tell us a little more about it?
Certainly, I grew up as a player in England when most of us were coached the Charles Hughes way, getting the ball forward quickly, often hitting it long to the big lad/quick lad combination up front. Teams played with high intensity, not massively worried about keeping possession of the ball for long periods of time, looking to get as many shots on target and feed off set-pieces. Somehow, overnight, this style of football became unfashionable and was derided – even though it was often very effective if done in the right way. I am a simple man, I believe that if we have the ball more than you, if we complete 85% or more of our passes, win the ball back early and nearer their goal, get 20 shots on goal and get 40% of them on target, get twelve corners a game then we are going to win more games than we lose. The next level then is to do it with a certain style, so I am not talking about playing like Wimbledon did in the 80’s, but I am not ashamed to say that we play percentage football like they did, just different percentages. We move the ball from one end of the pitch as fast as possible, but with shorter passes. We get as many people into attacking positions as fast as possible. We are as fit as anything, so we can keep chasing the opposition down for as long as it takes. We work hard on our set-pieces at both ends of the pitch. Yeah, you can probably score a couple of goals against us each week with the way we play, but can you stop us scoring four?
A couple of your strikers are really catching the eye at the moment, aren’t they?
Sure, football being what it is the guys who stick the ball in the back of the net are likely to get the headlines. Nobody else wanted to give the young lad Dmytro Men’shykov a shot at first team football, but we did and we have been rewarded handsomely so far. Safaryan was already at the club when I arrived, and he has adapted to our style very quickly and is getting better every week now. But it isn’t just about those two – Zhamanaev is a commanding presence in goal, we have three big strong defenders who can play and help us keep recycling the ball and in the 38-year-old Osipov we have our very own Peter Pan. I cannot believe the condition the guy is in for his age, considering the relentless pressing we employ. He is a brilliant professional.
You have an intriguing Crimean FA Cup tie against Volna next, and they are struggling in the Premier Division. Are we going to see an upset?
Well, I don’t want to do their manager’s team talk for him now do I? All I know is that we are going well at the moment and winning is a fantastic habit have. If we play to our strengths then we always have a chance, I really believe that. It will be the toughest game of our season yet, and I am sure I will learn a lot more about my guys as a result.
Chris, thanks for your time and good luck on Saturday.