Ragnar Sigurdsson: "Karpin always treated me with respect and kindness"

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Ragnar Sigurdsson spent two years at FC Rostov from January 2018 after previous spells in the RPL at FC Krasnodar and Rubin Kazan. He talked to us about being named captain, Valeriy Karpin and his love for the city of Rostov and its people.

"I was nervous because I really wanted to play"

Before my debut against Zenit I was just really dying to get on the pitch. To have Zenit at home is a great match to have as your first game. The thing was I missed the first game [against FC Krasnodar] I think because I had a minor injury, but when this game was coming up I was ready to play. 

One of my teammates tackled me really hard in training two days before the game and put a hole in my shin; it was just an unlucky thing. I think I was lucky that my leg didn't break or something! It was really cold, and we were training in long tracksuits. I swore - I don't remember, but I probably said a mixture of Icelandic and Russian -  but then I just kept going. I thought it was a normal kick. 

Then it started getting worse so I took off the tracksuit, and I saw there was a big hole in my shin where I could see the blood, the bone… So I thought: "What the hell man, this can't be true…" The doctors just cleaned it up and stitched the hole. I was really lucky because it hit the muscle but didn't touch the bone itself or anything. 


The next day I was training with a little bit of pain and the day after I played without any trouble. I had never seen anything like it on myself. I was nervous because I desperately wanted to play, and for the Rostov fans, to try and win games for Rostov. I remember  it was really cold and the pitch was terrible [Despite carrying his shin injury, Sigurdsson played the whole 90 minutes on his debut as Zenit and FC Rostov drew 0-0]

"This new stadium took the club to a new level"

When I played for Krasnodar and Rubin against Rostov, I came to the old Olimp-II stadium and it always felt like a warzone.They were always running, fighting and kicking… I didn't like playing there at all. Then I didn't know anyone in the team so I had no reason to like them. 

But when I joined Rostov I really started to love the city and the fans. I had no personal feelings for the old stadium. If you had been playing there for many years maybe you would have preferred the old one, but for me it was really nice to switch to the new one. We had such fantastic fans - there were so many people coming to the games, singing and supporting us, but this new stadium took the club to a new level. 

We had a really good team. We had started to play in the new Rostov Arena before the likes of Roman Eremenko joined with a 5-3-2 system that was very defensive. We rarely let the other team score and were winning maybe 1-0 or 2-1, but I didn't feel we were attacking enough though, and after some games we stopped winning and dropped further down the table.

When we started though we had a good team with a good atmosphere in the squad; everyone wanted to work hard for each other and the fans. But in my opinion, when you play so defensively it is hard to hold out for a whole season. I remember talking to Karpin about it, and he wanted to play 4-4-2, but at that time, when we moved to the new stadium, he didn't want to change the tactics because we were playing so well. 

The next season we started to play 4-4-2 and we had an even stronger team. Shomurodov was scoring goals, Roman (Eremenko) was the best player in the league, and the level we were playing was so high. We were playing such attacking football. On the other hand, we started to let in more goals because we were more vulnerable at the back. We were losing some good players; we lost Parshivlyuk and Ingason, and it took a bit longer to connect to the other defensive players. The guys who came in were good players, don't get me wrong, but it took some time to connect. It didn't matter though as we were scoring two or three goals every game. 

"When Gatscan puts his boots on, you'd better be careful because he's a warrior"

Having teammates who share your language always matters, especially in the beginning if you don't know anyone. If you're all alone it can feel like you're not welcome, or don't have anyone to talk to. If I had been coming there as a 20-year-old and no-one had known me, it might have been so. But I think at this time all the Rostov players knew who I was because I'd played against them, so they welcomed me.

I can't say so much for my time in Krasnodar and Kazan but in Rostov I started to speak the language well. I met my Russian girlfriend, and she taught me so much Russian because we were speaking the language with each other every day so I started to learn fast. That helped a lot because not many Russian guys speak such good English, so when they began to notice that I was learning their language I think they truly appreciated that. I could really feel the difference when they saw I was trying to speak Russian. 

When I arrived Gatscan was the captain, and there was also Kalachev. They were the experienced, older leaders. Gatscan is a fantastic leader but he's a quiet guy, he doesn't talk so much. But when he puts his boots on though, you'd better be careful because he's a warrior. Nevertheless, in my opinion, it was Parshivlyuk who was the real team leader; off the pitch he always wanted to help everybody. If there were issues, he wasn't shy to talk about them with us. I really appreciated Parshivlyuk because he speaks excellent English, and he welcomed me and helped me with everything, whatever it was. So for me, he was the leader in the team. 

Gatscan was captain, and although Kalachev was vice-captain he wasn't playing because he was injured so much. Parsh was captain after Gatscan, then after him it was Ingason. You never knew who the next captain was because it was one of them.

Then Ingason left, Parshivlyuk left, Kalachev stopped playing, and I became vice-captain. It was quite a natural process because we had so many guys coming and going. There was a fast rotation at this time: I remember looking at the team photo from six months earlier, and so many of them had gone. It's not so difficult because you always have good guys coming in, even if it is sad to see good guys go; it's just football.

There were some games when Gatscan didn't play and I stood in as captain. Eventually, Gatscan left for Krylia, and it was obvious that I would take over the responsibility.

"When they gave me this responsibility I felt so honoured"

For me, it was a strange moment because in my life, I never really cared too much about being captain. I'd thought about it but never really needed it for myself. But when they gave me this responsibility, I felt so honoured actually. I think most of the guys in the team liked me, and I saw it as a big sign of respect to me from the president and the coach.

It was quite normal that I became captain, so I liked that, but there were some other things that came with the armband that I didn't like. I'm not a super ‘people person', you know. I had to speak about some things to the coach, while players started to ask me about this and that, and I didn't know about these matters. And then I had to speak to Valeriy Karpin - all of these were not my things.

Not being Russian you can't always express yourself exactly how you want, which is a challenge. We had a fantastic translator in Rostov, but you feel like you're not being 100% understood which isn't a good feeling. Sometimes I wanted to speak about some things in private and didn't want to have a translator with me.

Karpin did a great thing though. Roman was a second captain, and when we needed to speak about matters we would go together because he obviously understands more than me; that was a really good thing.  

"Karpin is a perfectionist. He's an excellent  tactician"

It's so difficult to find the right words. He's a perfectionist; he could have really long meetings about really small mistakes. Big mistakes can happen to anyone, but if you are making a lot of small mistakes, that's terrible because that's a concentration problem. I think he was right because he spent a lot of time showing us videos focusing on details that a lot of players might think don't matter.

We didn't start so well, but in time everyone started to understand these small details, and we started to not concede so many goals. Defensively, he's an excellent tactician. He always treated me with respect and kindness; I really felt that. I would say he's a very good man.  

"You get pumped, a little bit nervous, you're really alive"

I didn't know about the historic rivalry between Rostov and Krasnodar beforehand. When I was at Krasnodar maybe my teammates were talking about how it is a derby and we needed to win but I didn't pay attention. Even before the first time I played for Rostov against Krasnodar, I didn't feel like this was a war. It was after that match I played for Rostov against Krasnodar that I started to notice that this was a real derby match. 

Sometimes I don't focus on these sort of things, and I focus on playing and not making a fool out of myself. I'm a little bit concentrated on myself sometimes. You could notice how important the derby was by watching Gatscan playing even more aggressively than usual.

Another thing was I got to know some guys from Rostov - not football players, just normal guys -  and they said: "Oh this is a real derby! We have to win against Krasnodar." When they told me this I started to ask the players and they explained: "Yeah this is a crazy derby." For the players in the team it is more important to win the derbies, and that's just a fact.

When you feel the atmosphere, the fans, and how much it matters to them - especially when both teams are near the top of the table like they are now - these games are so electric. You get pumped, a little bit nervous, you're really alive. You sprint faster than normal and tackle harder; everything is fantastic about this feeling. Of course, at the end of the season it doesn't matter if you won against Krasnodar or Ufa, because you're collecting points. 

"Rostov is in my top three cities I've ever been to"

I love Rostov for a lot of reasons. I was living with my girlfriend there and she loved Rostov very much too, the weather was fantastic, and the people were so nice compared to the other Russian cities in which I've lived, in my opinion. There are so many good restaurants, it's unbelievable. I couldn't believe it - I had been in Krasnodar and Kazan and I could find maybe one or two, but in Rostov I could name at least 20 off the top of my head.

I got to know the owner of the Camorra Pizza e Birra restaurant and his friends, the Любо crew. These guys became my close friends too, and I still keep in touch with them today. I liked all the good food, the good weather, just walking around in a relaxed and happy atmosphere. I can't cook I'm sorry to say, but I didn't eat a great deal of Russian food. Obviously I tried some things: when I think about Russian food I think about soups. I used to go to Italian restaurants more. Rostov is in my top three cities I've ever been to; there's a 100% chance I will visit there again. 

I don't have a best or worst moment - I had a lot of both. Just the feeling when we played really well, when we deserved to win and fought for the result, and going into the dressing room with everybody so happy… You remember these feelings when the coach, the president and everyone comes in, everyone is happy. I think that's why we play this game"

The interview was published for the first time in honor of 90th FC Rostov anniversary on 10 May


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