Rinat Akhmetov: "If we win - it is deserved by everyone, if we lose I am the first to blame"

Rinat Akhmetov: "If we win - it is deserved by everyone, if we lose I am the first to blame"

FC Shakhtar

- What happened to the team that failed to become Ukraine's champion for the first time in five years? 

- What happened was that we didn't become Ukraine's champions. And it's great that this is the first time in five years. It means that Shakhtar was on a four-year win streak. Over the last five years, we have done a good, thorough job. I was expecting us not to come in first this year. I shared my thoughts with my friends and colleagues. 

- At which point did you feel it? 

- When we were done with the previous championship, I was meeting with my friends. I told them that we might not get the next one. They thought I was joking. I actually wasn't. It was a gut feel. When Dynamo hired Mircea, I thought this could work the other way around and help us win the championship. I even thought that players might get stirred up, change their attitude, and bring us the trophy. We played badly and deserved to lose. Dynamo Kyiv played very well and rightfully won. 

- No plans to renew the contract with Luís Castro? 

- As you remember, we had a two-year contract with Castro. We have not offered a new one. However, the team will not remain headless. Neither you, nor I will coach it. Trust me, it will be a good and strong coach who we'll believe in. Castro has done a very good work. In this Shakhtar, he has fostered many young players whose names will be associated with Shakhtar for a long time, I think. He will remain in our hearts forever, as he got us out of a very tough group. 

- In the Champions League, you beat Real, but lost big to Borussia twice. Why did the team have such a rocky performance, in your opinion? 

- You see, we won against Real Madrid. As you remember, many players were not there because of the COVID. So, we fielded young players, and they worked a miracle. They were on par in terms of quality of play, ball possession and made combination plays, offensive plays, and all that while away. We led 3:0 going into a half-time. Then we versed Inter. The coach fielded the same young lineup, and they didn't lose again. Next, we played against Borussia... The youth can win big or lose big. We lost. And it was bad. That game versus Borussia showed that we were prepared very poorly. Although we lost two games to Borussia with a 0:10 combined score, we then won 2:0 against Real. And it's not too bad. Then, our away match with Inter was to determine the fate of our European cups journey. We went there, and what's the outcome? We didn't lose. So people praise Castro as a great coach. But when we lose to Ahrobiznes, people say he's not a great coach.  It is not fair. When we win, all credit goes to everybody, the coach included, but when we lose, just the coach is to blame. I am strongly against such judgements. I think that when we lose, I am to blame, and when we win, everyone deserves a credit for it. A defeat means that we didn't notice something, didn't pay enough attention. And first and foremost, I didn't! So I apologise to our fans a thousand times. I trust we will do everything we can to show our fans an exciting, beautiful, and strong performance in the future. And most importantly, a victorious one. 

- In other words, do you take full responsibility for this season? 

- For sure. Have I ever not? It has been 25 years, will be on 11 October, that I've been saying that everybody deserves credit for our wins, and if we lose, it is me first who is to blame. 

I cannot promise that we'll win the next championship, but I can promise that we will go to great lengths to make it happen! 
To understand a person, you should put yourself in their shoes. Look at Liverpool, at all the work Jürgen Klopp has done there. A successful coach, the best team, excellent play... But hard luck this season. Are we going to say that everything is bad? That the team needs a new coach and an entirely new lineup all at once? It is wrong though... These are rushed judgements, an emotional approach, which by and large cannot prove true! 

- Is Josep Guardiola a top-tier coach right now? 

- Today, yes. Last season, he didn't become the champion, but this season, he did. Most importantly, he didn't make it to the Champions League finals with Manchester City. But this year, he may win the trophy. Patience is key. My success formula has three elements. Love always comes first for me. You need to love your work. If you love what you are doing, then you will do it 24/7. Secondly, you need to believe in victory. If you believe in a positive outcome, then you will be able to convince your colleagues, partners, and friends to follow this path. You need to know the path to success. The knowledge comes third. 

I want to say that I love football! I believe in victory and I know the path to our success! But trust me, the path is not green-lit at all. There are very hard obstacles. We should always stay in shape, the club, the players, the coaching team, the massage therapists, and physiotherapists. Our whole football family. Which is to say that Shakhtar should always stay in shape. We should move forward and overcome the hardest of obstacles to achieve great success and hear loud cheering of our fans. 

- Mr Akhmetov, another purpose of this interview is to let the fans know that Shakhtar lives, because media have been speculating that Rinat Akhmetov has "grown cool" towards football. 

- What does it mean, "grown cool towards football"? Do I attend the matches? No, because I made a promise to Shakhtar fans. It was very painful for me to leave Donetsk. On 20 May, it will be seven years since I left. Donetsk is my home city that I have always loved and always will. We've always been in Donetsk. We went to Donbass Arena, and I used to have a tradition: before games, I would come to the training and talk to the players, answer questions. After games, I would meet them and give some comments. Yes, it used to be that way. Our fans found themselves in the same situation, as they couldn't go to the stadium to enjoy football, even before the COVID pandemic. Unfortunately, the pandemic has become another thing affecting our lives. 

However, I haven't missed a single match. My love for Shakhtar has not faded. What does it mean, "grown cool"?!  Does Shakhtar live today? It does. Is it pursuing the ambitious goals? Yes. I assume that you haven't heard anything about Shakhtar's funding or some salary issues, or anything like that. Is it all working then? It is! 

- But most people believe that your presence at the stadium in a crisis like this will certainly inspire the team? Sure enough, a good president means more than stable funding. 

- Shakhtar is always in my heart! I love Shakhtar and will do everything I can so my team keeps winning! As you know, I never missed a single game in Donetsk. I still don't, but I watch all the games on TV. My 25th anniversary as Shakhtar's president is coming up. I went to the stadium for 18 years, and had to spend the next seven watching the broadcasts. It is not easy... Don't think that it is simple and easy. 
It is not good that you can't go to the stadium when your team is playing. I am hopeful that the day will come and the peace in our country will be restored, Shakhtar will return to Donbass Arena, and we will host there our first official match against Dynamo Kyiv. It will be great! 

- Will you not go to the stadium for now? 

- Not for now. I've regretted that promise many times. Of course, I wanted to watch the Champions League games in a stadium. We had important matches, and I did want to come. 

- The fans have asked you to return. Yes, you made that promise, but the fans are asking. Not only the team needs it, but the fans as well, right? The fans do not see their president. 

- They will, they will. I'm giving you this interview, so they'll see me. 

- Is there, let's say, a chance, maybe in the future, that Darijo Srna becomes Shakhtar's coach?  

- Of course, why not? Anything is possible. We have some other ideas right here right now. And Darijo is young. 

- Would Darijo want to take a foray into coaching? 

- I haven't discussed it with him. I think you could talk to him, and he would be honest about it. He is very pure and straightforward. He'll always tell you. And trust me, his intelligence outweighs his ambitions. He knows exactly that he is a legend of Shakhtar. He has done an awful lot for Shakhtar. And he will do much, much more, but he definitely won't bite off more than he can chew. So don't think that I would tell him: "Darijo Srna, I want you as a head coach starting tomorrow." Would I elevate or condemn him with that? If he can do it, then he will be a great coach, and if he can't, then he would say: "Mr President, you have asked me, and I felt uncomfortable declining, so I ended up dealing with something I didn't want to deal with." So Darijo is a super responsible person, and Shakhtar will be in his heart forever. He has done and continues to do so much, and I want to say that he still will do a lot of good for Shakhtar in his current role. He helps me today, I talk to him almost daily. And every day he is honest. It's not that he tells me that everything is fine and tells Castro that everything is bad. He has courage to be honest. And honesty is a non-perishable good. 

- This year you have lost your brother Ihor. You said that he was very helpful in all the business, Shakhtar-related too. Could you say a few words about him, as you haven't reflected about it anywhere yet? 

- Me and my brother were very close friends, and we loved each other very much. Ihor was ill for a long time, we were fighting for him. To our deepest regret, he passed away. He loved football very much. He never missed a single game, had a good taste for players, he loved a beautiful, exciting, offensive football. He also liked Brazilian players. 

- So you shared the same views? 

- Yes, we did. He loved the offence side even more than me. He did help very much. He always said which players he liked, and which he disliked. In fact, he was largely right. So I will definitely miss Ihor. 

- Castro had a conflict with Taison who refused to come on as a substitute. Why do you think this happened with Taison? 

- Taison has done a lot for our wins, and we are grateful to him. We wish him the best of luck in the future.  

- But you let him go for free… 

- This is normal. A player is not a slave. He has a contract, his rights and obligations. We signed a contract with him, now it has expired. We have respected the contract and complied with it, as we do with any contracts with our players, coaching staff, everybody. And they do the same. When the contract ends, he has a right to extend it, as do we. If we don't reach an agreement, he has a right to leave. 

- Does Shakhtar have a problem with succession of generations? 

- Moraes is injured, which is a big issue for the team. That situation with Taison happened. Konoplianka has an injury. So the experienced players couldn't help. It is a problem. And old-timers not letting the youth in... Well, the younger typically don't like asking the elder for permission.   

- Why Shakhtar hasn't made any purchases in a few years now? 

- What positions, do you think, Shakhtar needs to reinforce? 

- Let's say, the offence. 

- We had Dentinho standing in for Moraes, and we played great against Real. We won, and Dentinho showed a top-level performance. He is an experienced and helpful player. At the same time, we have young footballers. Fernando, who can cost 100 million if he starts delivering, he has what it takes. He can cost a million, or a 100 million, everything depends on him. I would like him to cost 200 million and play for Shakhtar. 

- It's your quote: "Shakhtar needs some money." Are you ready to sell? 

- I think everybody needs money, Dynamo Kyiv and other FCs as well. It is natural that we make both the cost-effective purchases, and the profitable, expensive sales. 

- Is the club ready to make expensive sales right now? Take Trubin, who you say is good. Let's imagine that tomorrow you have an offer, are you ready to let him go? 

– Yes, by all means. Let them make offers, and we will see what figures start making us uneasy. If we feel that the sum is so high that we start getting nervous, then we'll immediately take a plane and even pay the medical checkups. 
We have excellent young players, and I am sure that they will perform well both in the national championship and in the European arenas. We had Taison, Marlos. Now we have Tete, Marlos, Solomon. 

- Do you feel that they grow organically, slowly, or would you like them to grow faster? 

- I think that they grow fast. Remember when Willian joined us, he didn't perform for two years. Remember Adriano, it took him several years to achieve performance. I think Fernandinho didn't start playing right away. If need be, we will buy someone. Don't think that we won't, we certainly will. But we will buy precisely those players that we need. Not to show the fans: look at Rinat's work! I don't want the good looks. I don't want to buy players as we used to. We bought Bernard, and benched him for three years. And what's the outcome? Unhappy Bernard, unhappy team, and no help to be seen. 

- And financial losses?

- It is bad from the financial perspective indeed. We should be patient and not hurry under any circumstances. You know, hurry is not the sister of success. 

- How difficult is it now to buy a promising player in Brazilian market?

- Why should it be difficult? We are buying them. I think you have seen that we bought Tete for 17 million. It's a good and quality investment. We see that Tete costs more now. Today we have high-quality players. I am confident that they will shape our future. 

- Has the market grown somewhat substantially since the last purchases of Barzilian footballers, for instance Tete? 

- COVID-19 may have taken a toll, but generally yes, the market is growing. The European market had been growing before the pandemic as well. This is a global market, you know. European teams also consider it. They see how much players cost, they see that Shakhtar can make good purchases and can sell footballers at a very high price. Other grands also scout there. For example, we have recently wanted to buy a Brazilian. But we see that Manchester City has bought him. It means both we and Man City wanted to invest in him. The player has chosen Manchester City.

- Is it about Kayky? (from Fluminense Football Club — editor's note)

- Yes, it is.

- What will happen to Andriy Pyatov? Will the club offer him a new contract?

- I think the club should offer him a contract, because Pyatov is our legend. He has done a lot for us. It seems as if he has been longer with Shakhtar than me. As I said, I will mark the 25th anniversary of my presidency on 11 October 2021. As for our young goalkeeper, we all see that this is a very strong purchase for Shakhtar, and I think we feel confident with him. I want to say, let the competition decide who's the best. I am sure Pyatov will never give up in his life, so let the one who is stronger play. The strongest must play! 

- Moraes has a very serious and terrible injury...

- I want to support him, because he is a crucial player for us, who helped us win trophies, and, of course, I really want him to recover and I wish him all the best. 

- But his contract expires in half a year. Will the club offer him renewal?

- You know, Moraes now needs help and psychological support in the first place. We must help and support him.

- What do you think of Oleksandr Yaroslavsky's comeback to football? 

- This is very good! When people, who love football more than money, who will invest in football and put their heart and soul into it, return to football, the quality of our football and our championship will only improve. This means the competition will grow stronger and we all will have better chances in European tournaments. Which is why it is good for Ukrainian football.

- Can you share any projections about Ihor Kolomoisky's return to football? 

- It would be good too. I think we all remember what a football Dnipro played then, again Metalist and Shakhtar. At that time, all teams performed well. Remember Chernomorets, Karpaty? When we were to go to Lviv to play against Karpaty... I can't even tell if there was anything harder. For example, Volyn... Kvartsyany was running along the sideline, and all his players were like 2 meters tall, you see? Powerful and athletic. He always had a physically fit team. It was difficult for us every time.

- All the clubs you have mentioned also added points to Ukraine's ranking in the UEFA Coefficients. Shakhtar and Dynamo did it regularly. But now, without the so-called middle class, it is very difficult for leaders to be the only contributors. 

- Zarya is a very strong team today, I think. It is making a great progress. Desna has accomplished a lot. Vorskla has made a step forward, at least this season. Hopefully, our domestic championship will be improving. 

- Have you been sick with coronavirus? 

- Fortunately, so far, no. I haven't been sick up to the moment you asked this. We'll see how it goes.

- And now will it be my fault if there is anything? 

- I have heard that media wrote about it. Once there was a situation: I was in contact with a person, and it turned out that this person was infected and fell ill. The next day, when the person called and told me about it, my face melted. I instantly felt all the symptoms. I felt achy all over. I started checking, like a dozen times, everything was fine. I vividly remember, it was March 7th, I took PCR and tested positive. I thought that was it, I felt fever. An added symptom. The next day I took another PCR – positive again. That's it, I thought, I test positive. I started measuring oxygen saturation: took three measurements, got three different results. I had three or four different devices on each finger, measuring it day and night. In the end, there was nothing by and large. I thought I might have a mild case. In four to five days, I decided to take PCR and tested negative. Everything was fine. I thought, well, something went wrong, and I had no idea what to trust. I started taking tests every day, for 10-15 days, daily. Negative all the time. That is, I have got off lightly. But what I want to say is that the condition was very unpleasant. When they say it's positive, you walk out, I remember that vividly, and all of a sudden the pins and needles pierce your rib. I thought to myself: "Wow, look how it works! It twists my ribs."  

- When I fell sick, you called me immediately to ask how I felt. I felt terrible indeed. Well, will you get vaccinated? Much is talked about it now. 

- Well, they tell everyone should be vaccinated. 

- But you have not decided yet? 

- I have almost made my mind, just biding my time. 

- You were close friends with Mircea. How did you take his appointment to Dynamo? 

- It is his choice and his right. You know he's a professional. Look, did his contract expire? It did. Did we offer him a new contract? We didn't. Was he ready to stay? We chose a somewhat different path. It is absolutely wrong to say that we chose a wrong path, or I made a wrong decision, or someone got the management confused. We made our decision, invited Paulo Fonseca, and won three champion titles in a row. We won them all, by a very substantial margin. This means we made the right decision. 

- With Castro as well. 

- And then we won the fourth time with Castro and again reached the semifinals of the Europa League, playing the most exciting football. Mircea deserves a good luck, at least in these later days of his career. I don't know when he will end it, but I hope to God that he will serve football for many years. May he be well, and we even better. 

Lucescu does not have a life contract binding him to represent some interests of Shakhtar for ten or twenty more years beyond his term as our coach. No, Lucescu is a free person, this is his right, his choice, and his responsibility. And the Surkis brothers have a different club, they have the right to invite and so did they. They have made a good call, overcome a psychological crisis, and today they are celebrating their well-deserved championship. Good for them. 

- Do you stay in contact with Mircea Lucescu?

- No, we haven't talked to each other in a while. You know, the Surkis brothers haven't won the championship for four years. And before that they won twice, and earlier they hadn't won for five years. It is taxing psychologically. We can and should understand them. They deserve respect: after all, the guys do not give up, they fight, they set ambitious goals, and proudly fly the banner of Dynamo Kyiv.
It is great for the national tournament that they have champion's ambitions. If they win silver, they are upset, for a year, two, three, five, it doesn't matter. They are upset and unhappy with it. They always pursue champion's ambitions and goals. Just like us. I called to congratulate them as soon as the match was over.

- What did you wish Ihor Surkis? 

- What can I wish him? I can wish that they lose the next championship, and we win. What else can I wish? Exactly the same wishes that he sends my way. I am joking, of course. My wish for myself is to do my best, so next year I accept congratulations on the champion's trophy from the brothers. But this requires a great effort. It is not simple or easy. We will fight. We'll never abandon the fight. We will not shy away from the hard work. We have a very strong team, I mean our entire club. A very professional, very effective, very strong team led by Sergei Palkin, so my biggest thanks to them. I am positive that we have a very good and ambitious football club. So the fans don't need to worry. And most importantly: everything we do, we do for them. Because I believe that our supporters are the best. I apologise a thousand times for such a season, for some unpleasant moments we may have caused, but there is no victory without defeat.