Russia coach Fabio Capello has pretty much seen it all on the pitch and on the touchline. Yet even he was taken aback by the speed and enterprise of the football served up at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
FIFA.com caught up with the hugely experienced Italian at a FIFA/UEFA conference for Europe’s national team bosses, held in the Russian city of St Petersburg in September, where he spoke of his surprise at the football he saw at Brazil 2014 and what he learned from the competition.
The 68-year old coach also discussed the problems his side are currently facing in a tough UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying group and touched on his preparations for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, which would be his third consecutive world finals in the dugout.
FIFA.com: Your contract as Russia coach runs until the end of 2018. What are your objectives with the team?
Fabio Capello: My objectives are to have a good World Cup on home soil and for the team to perform at a high level there. The main aim, though, is to put together a competitive side, which means we need players who are capable of doing big things.
Alexander Kerzhakov recently became Russia’s highest goalscorer of all time. How important is he to your plans?
There’s no doubt that Kerzhakov is one of our best goalscorers. He’s 31 now and he works really hard too. He’s a great example for the younger players coming through. What I’m hoping for, then, is that he keeps on setting that example and scoring goals (laughs).
You’ve brought a few of those youngsters through in recent times, such as Dmitriy Poloz, Denis Cheryshev, Magomed Ozdoev and Artem Dzyuba. How important is it for you to blend youth and experience?
It’s very important to mix the two, though what matters most of all is blending qualities and attributes. That’s what counts, and I can see that these young players have got quality.
Russia have qualified for the last three UEFA EURO Championships. How confident are you of reaching the 2016 finals?
We’re in a very difficult group, with Sweden and Ibra [Zlatan Ibrahimovic], Austria, who are a really good side, and Montenegro, who could cause problems. They’re the most dangerous rivals. It’s a long road, but we’re bringing young players into the team and they’re starting to bed down. We’re hoping to push on now.
You mentioned Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden. He’s always said that when he was at Juventus you did a lot to make him into the free-scoring player he is today. What's your view?
Ibra has an awful lot of natural talent and it’s not hard at all to turn someone that gifted into a goal machine. All it took was to explain a few things to him. The rest is down to training hard every day, which is something he’s always done. He always did a lot of work on his finishing. When he started out he could kick the ball very hard but the quality wasn’t quite there. He wasn’t that great in the air either, so what he did was practise his heading over and over. His game really came on as a result. I called him over one day and I said to him: ‘You’re as good as Marco Van Basten. You’ve got the potential to be right up there with him, but I’m going to show you how he did it.’ I had someone make a video with all Van Basten’s goals. I showed it to him and I said: ‘You never get close to goal. If you want to score, you have to get close to the opposition goal. You’re always far away. You have fun creating play and you’re great at setting up your team-mates, but if you want to be a goalscorer, you’re going to have to play closer to the area.’ He got the message very quickly.
When you come up against a matchwinner like that do you have to change the way you play?
When you’re a coach you try to cover every angle, but the players are the ones who go out on the pitch. You try to explain things, but then you have to look closely and try to see if the charisma and the sheer presence of the player like that can lead to mistakes being made. And there’s no doubt that with someone like Ibrahimovic you absolutely have to be on your guard.
You’ve said on many occasions that Russia were given a tough group in the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifiers.
Well, my thinking has always been that you have to respect every team you play. Obviously you can’t talk about Sweden and not mention Ibra. And when you talk about Austria, it’s the team you focus on. They’re a good side and they play quality football. As for Montenegro, their biggest asset is the individual quality they’ve got. They have some really exceptional players. They’re all teams that, in one way or another, command a lot of respect from us.
What can a coach with your experience learn from a conference like this?
I’ve noted down everything that was said, which was all very interesting, and now I’m going to go away and reflect on what I heard. There are always things you can learn. If you don’t want to learn new things, then you should go and do something else. You need to keep your feet on the ground and have respect for others. Those are both fundamental things.
Looking back at Brazil 2014, did you see any innovations or new trends?
What caught my eye most in comparison to South Africa and the European qualifiers was just how fast the pace of play was. That’s what stood out for me more than anything else. Every team played the game very, very fast, and they were really aggressive and technical. It was a great World Cup and probably the best one in recent times in terms of technique and tactics.