FROM RUSSIA WITH LAUGHS
Russia manager Leonid Slutski fell out of a tree trying to rescue a cat
- he broke his face and his playing career was over
By MIKE MCGRATH
LEONID SLUTSKI'S biographer is the man that knows the Russian
team better than most.
Here Igor Rabiner gives SunSport's MIKE McGRATH
the inside story on the coach and England's first opponents at the finals.
Russia coach Leonid Slutski is quite the character / AP:
WHAT IS SLUTSKI LIKE?
He is a very, very unusual coach for Russia, with a great sense of humour.
He took the players on a TV show 'What? When? Where?' which is very intellectual,
like University Challenge. He's also been on comedy programmes and has
danced and sung on the telly.
WAS IT GOOD FOR TEAM BONDING?
The guys maintained 'What? When? Where?' brought them together.
Artem Dzyuba told me that he was much more nervous before the start of
this live show and said: "Why did I agree to come here?! I could
have sat in front of TV, sitting in underpants and laughing and now I'm
sweating in the tuxedo and preparing to be shamed!" But they actually
ended up winning.
IS SLUTSKI DIFFERENT TO FABIO CAPELLO?
His goal, which he announced, is to make the Russian national team popular
not just with football fans but among those people who don't care about
And he has the freedom to do it. Slutski is about having a relaxed atmosphere,
unlike the nightmare of Capello.
SO IS HE OLD SCHOOL, THEN?
Yes, he is very old school as a coach, although he does not drink alcohol.
He was given two bottles of local wine by the mayor of Croissy-sur-Seine
where Russia are training but he gave them to his assistant and to the
general manager of the team, Evgeny Savin.
WHAT'S THE STORY ABOUT HIM RESCUING A CAT?
He was an 18-year-old keeper in the third division and after playing few
games he fell from a tree - about the height of three storeys - climbing
to pick up a neighbour's cat.
He couldn't say no to a crying 15-year-old girl. He broke his knee and
face and was badly concussed.
Then he spent a year in a typical Soviet provincial hospital, in an awful
room for 20 people.
There was a chance he would be disabled but he finally started to walk
normally. His playing career was over but he was a great student and completed
his Masters degree.
HOW DID HIS CAREER BEGIN?
The Olympia Volgograd team won the all-Russian kids' league twice.
They played in the Russian second division as adults and in one game Slutski
hit a ref on the nose and was suspended for half a year.
Several months later a club president fired him and then burnt Slutski's
car as he thought he was stealing players from him.
Many years later Slutski started communicating with this man again because
he is that kind of person who remembers the good things rather than bad.
WHO ARE HIS HEROES?
Leonid is a big fan of Sir Alex Ferguson, often quoting his 'My Autobiography'
and he says playing against Manchester United in his first European game
felt like being in a 3D cinema.
Slutski has a good relationship with Roman Abramovich who sometimes calls
Leonid to ask his opinion about some players who played against his CSKA
Moscow side and who have been a subject of interest with Chelsea. Some
people believe Abramovich might call on him to manage Chelsea. He was
called "Our Mourinho".
Slutski counts Sir Alex Ferguson as one of his great inspirations
DO PLAYERS LIKE HIM?
When CSKA won the first gold medal under Slutski in 2013, he ordered,
at his own expense, 30 expensive personal watches for all the club staff,
and they were very touched.
WHO IS THE SQUAD JOKER?
For sure it is Dzyuba, the big striker who got 30 goals in all tournaments
this season for Zenit.
His mouth is always open, everybody who is around him always laughs. Against
Switzerland, he went out of the hotel via a window instead of the normal
That's why he didn't have a chance with Capello.
Every interview becomes an event because he can never say boring things.
Last year he moved from Spartak to their big rivals Zenit, making Spartak
KEEPER IGOR AKINFEEV IS HIGHLY RATED. COULD HE COME TO THE PREMIER
LEAGUE ONE DAY?
No way. He was almost born in CSKA and went to their Academy from age
four and played his first league game for them at 17.
He is the Tsar of the dressing room and realises he'll never get such
an influence like that at another club.
There are rumours that in CSKA he even eats at a separate table!
WASN'T HE POOR AT THE WORLD CUP?
That's an easy explanation. Capello didn't know how to treat Igor.
He's a type of guy who needs full and constant support from his manager
and Fabio treated him like anyone else. Slutski also manages CSKA and
knows him perfectly.
WHO ARE THE LEADERS IN THE SQUAD?
Both the humour kings - Dzyuba and Vasili Berezutski - as well as Akinfeev,
who is totally different in character. It's interesting that the Berezutski
twins are very different. Vasili is joyful and loud, while Aleksei is
serious and wise. On the pitch, they are leaders.
WHO GETS ON WITH THE BOSS?
Defender Igor Smolnikov told me every single day there is an amazing,
humorous word battle between Slutski and Dzyuba.
Actually, the atmosphere in the squad is great, very much like it was
under Guus Hiddink at the 2008 finals.
WILL ABRAMOVICH BE SUPPORTING THEM?
Just emotionally this time as there is absolutely no info about his financial
involvement with them.
Last year Alisher Usmanov, a shareholder of Arsenal, helped in sorting
out the debts to Capello when the Russian FA couldn't pay him for a number
CAN THEY BEAT ENGLAND?
Dzyuba told me his favourite keeper is Joe Hart and it would be brilliant
to score past him.
Smolnikov and some other players told me that they dream to play in England
and this game is the best showroom for Premier League clubs.
WHAT ARE YOUR COUNTRY'S CHANCES?
If Russia make it to the second round, it will be regarded as a good result.
The atmosphere in the media and around the team is good.
10th June 2016