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Russia flagWorld Soccer: The Russian season has been running for more than a year. Are you worried that your players will be tired?

Dick Advocaat: The season finally ends on May 13 but the Cup Final has been moved from May 20 [to May 9]. I hope we can re-invigorate the players. I won’t punish them in training, they need to be fresh.

How did you follow all your players last season?

So many are in Moscow that I can watch them in the league there. The major problem was with the internationals at foreign clubs who were not playing very often. Even Andrei Arshavin had difficulties at Arsenal [before he moved to Zenit St Petersburg].

Have you ever had problems with him or Roman Pavlyuchenko?

No. Look, it’s quite simple. For all internationals they must want to play for the national team. Otherwise, they need not bother. Pavlyuchenko once said about me: “He picks his friends from Zenit.” Nonsense, of course, because a coach always picks the best team available. Pavlyuchenko said it to my face but he later played in the team and everything was fine. That’s how it works. The players do not have to be my friend.

Alan Dzagoev has been called the future of Russian football. Is he really that good?

He has a good head. That’s a Hague expression for someone who knows what he really wants. He’s a forward-thinking midfielder and I am actually quite an offensive-minded coach. I’ve been called a negative coach but I prefer to work with forward-thinking players.

So Russia will have attacking ambitions at the Euros?

Yes, with a tight organisation. We play with two attacking midfielders who have to press. It’s a fixed system, always 4-3-3, the same one I played with at Zenit. It allows for lots of changes in personnel. I don’t care about big names as long as they can play as a team. Everyone knows what their position is.

How high are expectations in Russia?

Russians are patriots and everyone is now saying that we have been drawn in a good group. It could have been a lot worse. The draw gives us the chance to progress. Look at Holland, with Portugal and Germany. For them, it will be very different.

But a good draw is relative. If you go through, you’ll meet a team from the group of death in the quarters… 

Right. As every coach says, you still have to beat everyone if you want to be champion. On their day every team from Group B can beat each other. If Greece can do it in 2004, so can we, even though we play more offensively than them, of course.

So you won’t change your team?

No, certainly not. We’re not going to suddenly go defensive. In the qualifying we were successful because we went out to win games. We have to be positive.

What lessons have you learned from past European Championships?

It is important that players are given confidence. A top Russian player recently said: “Advocaat always makes us feel like winners.” You also need to be calm.

What will your last team talk be like?

I’ll speak up to 20 minutes, no more than that, even with an interpreter. I give a rough idea of how our opponents play, their key players, weaknesses. There’ll be no time during the match to say anything, so organisation beforehand is so important.

Interview by Arnout Verzijl/ESM

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