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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: Associated Press

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 football.

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 entrance.

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 fans furious.

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 of months.

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.

thesun.co.uk, 10th June 2016

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