RPL season breakthrough: How Grigoryan and a psychologist helped Melkadze open up

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FC Tambov midfielder Georgiy Melkadze talked to us about how he changed after his first goal in the Russian Premier Liga, recalled a memorable conversation with Aleksandr Grigoryan and explained why he is communicating with a psychologist.

The Spartak pupil’s first appearance in the RPL was in May 2015. The Red and Whites were losing the Moscow Derby 3-0 to CSKA, and Murat Yakin released an 18-year-old Melkadze for half an hour. Spartak conceded another goal and did not score anything in response. The player himself said three months later that he had been waiting for his debut for the team since he was five years old.

He endured a lot before scoring his first goal in the RPL. Under Dmitriy Alenichev, Melkadze played four league games, while under Massimo Carrera he spent all his time with Spartak II. Then he was loaned to FC Tosno: there the Spartak man began as a starter but failed to score, and lost his place in the lineup. When Oleg Kononov came to Spartak, he pulled the pupil into the first team, but for 10 matches the back of the net remained elusive.

In the last days of the 2019 summer transfer window, the player was loaned by FC Tambov. In his second game, Melkadze scored his long-awaited first RPL goal against Rostov.

"A lot of people wrote that I should return to Spartak”

"This was a more emotional moment than my debut for Spartak; it was a turning point. I was also lucky for the goal: I rolled the ball towards the far corner, and it ricocheted into the near one.

“If I hadn't scored that first goal against Rostov, there wouldn't have been the other five. If you compare me before and after it, they are two different people. I became very confident on the football pitch. After each subsequent goal, this confidence began to grow like meat and gave me wings."

When Melkadze was asked to evaluate the game by Rostov head coach Valery Karpin, he noted: "It's one thing to play for Spartak under pressure, and another to play for Tambov at the stadium." All this the player felt for himself.

"When you make a mistake, people don't treat you kindly, they shout obscenities from the stands. This can be called pressure, because the fans want to see a good Melkadze at Spartak, and not the one who was before. They are angry, but it doesn't help me, it doesn't motivate me when people insult me from the stands. There is no such thing in Tambov. The fans will shout something funny and make a joke. I have never met with insults.

“There was a funny case when we played against FC Sochi. The defender had his back to me, I knocked the ball forward, ran and jumped on him. I was given a foul and someone shouted from the stands: ‘Where did you ride him?’ It wasn't funny at the time, but later I appreciated the joke."

There is no such attention at FC Tambov as at Spartak, so the players did not panic when the team were bottom of the RPL table. "We didn't pay attention. When I came in, we didn't have enough points, which of course made it more difficult. But after Rostov came the victories, and before the winter break we played very well. After the break, we could have performed better - we should have beaten Rubin.”

Now Melkadze is Tambov's top scorer with six goals, and the fans' opinion of him has changed. The player felt this on social networks. "Before, most of the comments were not that offensive, just negative. Now a lot of people are writing to me to return to Spartak as strong as I am. There are also people who ask me to stay with FC Tambov.

“They told me: ‘You can't play normally’”

When Melkadze appeared at FC Tambov, the RPL newcomers were managed by Aleksandr Grigoryan. After the victory over Rostov, the coach said that the club hit the bull's-eye with the player.

"I probably also realized then that I had guessed right with Tambov," the player says. “At the time of the transfer, I was afraid of repeating the story with FC Tosno. There was no real choice then - the transfer window was closing, and in a day and a half we would not have found a better option. But the experience in Tosno was avoided thanks to the trust of coaches, partners and a little luck."

A memorable moment of working with Grigoryan for Melkadze is the conversation in his first weeks with the team. "We talked a lot before my first game for FC Tambov. Unfortunately, we lost to CSKA then, but we continued this conversation the following week. He explicitly expressed that it is necessary to drop everything and play as I did for Spartak II or the youth team. That's all. Later in the FC Rostov game, I broke through.

“The best thing for a football player is if he feels the trust from the manager. When they play you in the starting lineup all week, tell you how your opponent plays, how to play, where to select and score, then you know that you will play. This is trust."

Players who worked with Grigoryan will always remember his working methods. For example, Maksim Kazankov, who played for the manager at SKA Khabarovsk, talked about boxing matches and dance battles. At FC Tambov, according to Melkadze's recollections, the specialist also practiced boxing.

"It was to bring the team together, to make us laugh and distract us from football. I had three boxing matches. I lost the first bout to Anton Kilin. He is only a metre tall with a cap! (1m69 -Ed.), but he was already experienced. I didn't really swing my fists, I tried not to hit him too hard. It turned out to be quite a passive battle. To be honest, I don't remember who I met the second time - Karasev or Rybin - and it ended in a draw. In the third, I think I won against Soslan Takazov."

On 19 October Grigoryan resigned, and the managerial duties were transferred to Sergey Pervushin. FC Tambov immediately won three consecutive games and came into the winter break in 11th place. Melkadze noted that after the change of manager, the attitude towards him became more serious.

“He told me: ‘If other players play at the usual level, you are not allowed to play normally. You came from Spartak and you have to show your best game in every match. That's why everyone here is counting on you.’"

"The psychologist calls after every match”

In a March interview with Sport24, Melkadze said that a psychologist helps him. Vadim Vize was familiar to him from his time at Spartak’s Academy. "Why did I go to a psychologist? I didn't know what to do, I had to discuss it, so I went to see him," the player explains. “We talked throughout the summer, even before I signed a new contract with Spartak. In football terms, after family, relatives, close friends, I will listen to his opinion. But I didn't talk to him about moving to FC Tambov, everything was already decided there."

Most often, it is Vize who first dials the player's number to help remember the positive moments and continue to build on them. "He calls me after every match, and we communicate for 20-30 minutes. He watches the game and recalls the episodes where I won battles, tried, was OK, and asks me to fix it.

“We don't discuss bad moments at all. I know that my peers who play in the FNL and PFL communicate with him. But I haven't heard of any other players working with a psychologist. I don't know if my teammates know about me, but I think they would be OK with it. Everyone at FC Tambov is an adult, except me."

“I wanted to play for Spartak too soon”

During the season, Melkadze and another FC Tambov player, Vladimir Obukhov, have been compared by journalists and fans to Spartak's summer newcomers, Ezequiel Ponce and Jordan Larsson. The two red-and-white pupils have scored more than the foreign forwards.

"I didn't react to it in any way, because I know very well how hard it is to score at Spartak. Like nowhere else," Melkadze laughs. “When they write how many goals Ponce has, I understand the reaction of people: they see it, but they don’t think anything, they do not draw conclusions. I'm not interested or offended that I'm not at Spartak, but they are. These players have proven their worth at other clubs, and I haven't done that yet."

After his debut for the Red and Whites five years ago, he set himself these goals: to win competitions in training, to gain a foothold in the starting lineup, and ultimately to play for Spartak. Now Melkadze puts down his failure to youth: "Too early I wanted to play in the main team, so it happened. I was too young." When Kononov joined the team, the player told the new manager that he was ready to play in the team.

"What football player in my place would say otherwise?” Melkadze explains. “I wouldn't say I was too sure of myself. If the goal is difficult to achieve, it does not mean that I will not do everything to achieve it. Even if this is not possible, you should still try and make every effort.

“Only then can something work out. At 80 percent now, no football player performs: probably only veterans. At that moment, my confidence was based on the fact that I could play; I had all the tools for this, but just needed to be directed in the right direction and make the right decisions on the field, without a fuss. This should all be put together."

Kononov left Spartak almost a month after Melkadze at the end of September. But the manager and player met over the winter at the FNL Cup where Kononov was in charge at FC Riga. "He said he was happy for my progress, that I had to take the pressure off. That was all we talked about.”

Melkadze called the first goal against FC Rostov one of the best days of his life. In the future, the most important moment of his football career will be with his parent club. "This is to win the Champions League for Spartak! A goal in the final would not be a priority. Even though I won't score 30 goals, the main thing is to raise this trophy."

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