Alexandru Gatcan: "Berdyev's assistants immediately said that they wanted to reach the Champions League"

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Midfielder Alexandru Gatcan has been playing for Krylia Sovetov Samara since the summer of 2019. Before moving to Samara, he played 11 years for FC Rostov, which celebrated its 90th anniversary on 10 May. The player told us how he went from the first division to winning the Russian Cup and winning a Champions League match with Rostov.

"A fan club from Italy is waiting for my family to visit"

– Your Italian fan club appeared in 2015. How often do you communicate with them now?
– Unfortunately, there are no games because of the coronavirus, and we cannot analyze any football action, but we generally communicate and are interested in each other's affairs. We exchange messages about once every two or three weeks.

– Did you ask how they are coping with the coronavirus situation?
– They said that the situation is difficult and unusual. The guys work in a company that produces boards for refrigerators, and now they are out of work. They want this situation to end as soon as possible and to be able to continue working; families need to be fed. The last time we spoke last week, they asked if our championship would continue. I told them that we are still waiting for a final decision.

– How did you find out that you had personal fans in Italy?
– I was told by the FC Rostov media officer, I do not remember exactly what year. When I was told about the fan club, I was surprised and thought it was a joke. The guys first came to Russia five or six years ago, and I realized that everything was real, and we started communicating. They invited me to visit Italy, and showed me Milan, Como and Monza, where the Formula 1 track is located. It was cool. The guys are waiting for my family again, and I invited them to Samara this year, but they can't go abroad so often because of their work.

– How did they explain such attention to you?
– The head of the fan club is called Alessandro, who played football until the age of 16 as a prop, and he liked Gennaro Gattuso. Then he worked in Poland and was at the Poland vs Moldova match [in September 2012 - Premierliga.ru]. Alessandro liked the way I played, going in hard to challenges and winning individual battles. Later, he called FC Rostov, but only talked to the press attache and was shy to contact me. After a while, we started communicating directly, and then he and his friends came to meet me in person.

– He must have seen a copy of Gattuso in you. Do you look like him yourself?
– There is something in common, but I consider myself a more ball-playing holding midfielder. I can play for the team. Gattuso was more of a destroyer, and a tough one.

"I have never regretted that I spent such a cool time in Rostov”

– You said that you spend self-isolation with your family in Rostov. Why did they stay there, despite your transfer to Krylia Sovetov?
– This is my second hometown. The first one is still the one where I was born [Chisinau - Premierliga.ru]. I spent an excellent 11 years with FC Rostov and had many significant victories. The family is doing well here, our eldest son is playing in the club's academy. I hope that if nothing global happens, we will continue to live here.

– You moved to Rostov in 2008. What was the city like then?
– I thought it was windy, overcast, and foggy. Sand always blew in from the fields and it was dusty. After a while, Rostov became cleaner, especially after the 2018 World Cup: roads started to be built, while the new stadium and other infrastructure appeared. Now the city is 100 percent better than when I first arrived.

– What do you like about Rostov?
– Here is a team that I spent many years with. It still employs people with whom I have a good relationship. When the Rostov Arena was being built, the team left the first division for the RPL, won the Russian Cup and made it to the Champions League. It was a very cool time, and I never regretted that I spent it at Rostov.

– What motivated you to come to Rostov when they were playing in the lower league, and not to wait for offers from other RPL clubs or from another championship?
– It didn't bother me that the team played in the first division. I liked that the head coach Oleg Dolmatov and the sporting director Aleksandr Shikunov were interested in me: they themselves called and invited me to the team. I was also promised playing time, but I wanted to play and prove that I could be useful to the team. They were in first place, and were tasked with entering the RPL. I liked it, so I didn't go anywhere.

"I myself never wanted to leave Rostov”

– You played for a long time at FC Rostov with Timofey Kalachev. When did you become such close friends?
– From the moment when we started living in the same room at the training ground and on training camps. We have a small age difference of three years. Our sons are now playing for the same team, and his wife christened my youngest son. We continue to be friends, always meeting whenever possible or, as now, communicating by phone.

– Who else are you very close friends with at Rostov?
– Only with Kalachev. Over the years, Kurban Berdyev only kept the core, and so every season seven or ten players changed, and we did not have time to get to know each other better.

– Do you have any contact with anyone?
– With everyone who remained in the club: the doctor, the masseur, the managers. We communicate now and again, once every six months.

– Over 11 years, the team has changed a lot of managers, coaches and players. Why have you remained loyal to FC Rostov all this time?
– It is better to ask the coaches and managers who worked all this time (laughs). I think they appreciated my character, my attitude and fighting qualities, which I always had at the highest level. I've never wanted to go anywhere myself. My family liked everything, we were always close, and we made friends here outside of football.

– Whose departure from FC Rostov was the most painful for you personally?
– This was, of course, Berdyev. We had a cool team that achieved great results in a short time. The team was just fantastic: this applies not only to the players, but also to the coaching staff, management, and even the employees of the training ground. There was a good atmosphere around the team, everyone was working for the same goal. Berdyev's departure is one of the most painful moments. If he had stayed, we could have always fought for the highest places.

"Kalachev and I supported younger players”

– Until FC Rostov won the Russian Cup and became RPL runners-up, they were a long way from titles and European competition. How did you motivate yourself to play in a bottom-half team for several years?
– It was necessary to play and fight for the city, for the family that lives here, and for the Rostov fans. They have high standards and want the team to always win. Yes, the players can lose, but the fans should see that the players tried and fought. When the team doesn't give its all on the pitch, the fans immediately hold us to account for it.

– Have you had conversations with the fans about this?
– It must have been about 2012 when we were at the bottom of the table, and they came to the training ground, climbed the net, and shouted not the most beautiful words. Then Roman Adamov was captain, so he explained the whole situation to them and promised that the players would try to fix the situation. After that, everything went back to normal.

– When you were the captain of FC Rostov, you spoke about the status in this way: "It's being a dad and mentor to young players." Who among your younger teammates often addressed you?
– Kalachev and I tried to support all the younger guys and not to push them for everything. But, for example, we did not like it when a player ran forward, lost the ball and stopped working for it. For this we shouted harshly. As it was, we supported them more and tried to praise them, so that they would feel good morally.

– Who did your words help?
– Dmitriy Skopintsev, and Khoren Bayramyan when he was still younger. I remember Valeriu Ciuperca, who’s now at FC Tambov, loved to play on clean balls, and I told him: "You should still go into challenges, because you are a holding player." Here he broke the record for red cards [Ciuperca earned three dismissals in 14 matchdays – this is an RPL record, which previously belonged to Gatcan, who took 15 matchdays - Premierliga.ru]. This, of course, is not because I told him so at the time. It just happened.

– How often did you take the floor in the dressing room?
– I tried not to analyze any points - for this there is a head coach, and he decides everything. Kalachev and I tried to take the floor on the pitch, where we could see what the coach might not pay attention to: we encouraged, made suggestions, and were able to make some changes. I used to say some motivational words before the match when we gathered in the huddle. Each time I improvised and said something new.

"Bozovic looked at the actions of the team, not individual players"

– When Miodrag Bozovic came to Rostov, the team played transitional matches for a place in the RPL in his first season, and took the Russian Cup in his second. How did he manage to transform the team so much?
– Then we gathered very qualified players, which we lacked when we played the play-offs, such as Artem Dzyuba and Jano Ananidze. Plus there were already me, Kalachev, Lolo and Stipe Pletikosa. Bozovic is a coach with a European approach: he motivated us and we had a good season. But then the team changed again, the loaned players returned to their clubs, and not all of them played there.

– How do you understand what the European style of work of a coach is?
– A more loyal attitude to the players, so that they decide when to relax and when to work. The head coach can't be like a dad following players everywhere. Bozovic always said that the hour and a half when training is going on, we should work at the maximum and then we can decide what to do in our free time.

– You remembered that Bozovic got the most out of Vitaliy Dyakov and Dzyuba. How?
– We missed a lot, and Dyakov lost his position at some points, so Bozovic paid a lot of attention to this. But Vitaly stood out for his attacking qualities like good passing and free kicks. As for Dzyuba, everyone knows that he talks a lot, sometimes even too much. It was necessary to put it in order, so that he was more tuned to the football and the result.

– Have you been criticised for conceding goals?
– Of course, it could have happened to anyone if they made a mistake somewhere. However, in general, Bozovic looked more at team actions than at individual players.

– Dzyuba scored a lot under Bozovic at FC Rostov and Arsenal Tula. How did they develop such good chemistry?
– I think Dzyuba likes those coaches who are more loyal to the player, who give him freedom of action both on and off the field. During the week, you can afford to rest somewhere, work somewhere to the maximum, but the main thing that the coach is waiting for is results in games. If you produce them, it means that you are a top player.

"The championship would be cooler than a victory over Bayern"

– After Bozovic, Berdyev came to FC Rostov. What did he do at first to get the team out of the relegation zone?
– First of all, he began to analyze our defence, paying attention to our unsuccessful moments. Berdyev said: "One starts building a house from the foundation, so a team must build from the defence. If we concede nothing, one point is already there. Plus, each team has two or three chances, and if you score one, the three points are yours." He also emphasized a battling mentality: the more you win the fight, the more chances you have to win.

– How quickly did the team adopt this philosophy of Berdyev's game? You'd already worked with him at Rubin.
– Not right away, of course. We had long theoretical classes, twice a day. He could still stop training and show the players how to move.

– The next season was the best for FC Rostov in the RPL when you took second place. When did you realize that a team that had just narrowly escaped relegation could even fight for the championship?
– Looking back at the first part of the season, I can't say that we, the players, saw ourselves in the Champions League. As Kurban Bekyevich said, the team took each match at a time. When the championship resumed in the spring, we saw that we could achieve a good result. But even at the first meeting, Berdyev's assistants - Aleksandr Matsyura and Ivan Danilyants - said that they came to achieve great results and wanted to get into the Champions League within two years. 

At that time, we laughed and did not believe that this could happen. The staff was filled with professionals who gathered players to help us achieve results, and in the second year we got to the Champions League, where we looked good.

– Since Berdyev's staff was so ambitious, it must have meant that they had to work on the psychology of the players. How did he change it?
– First of all, by winning every match at every training camp. Berdyev said that it is necessary to start achieving positive results at the training camp, and at any training session you need to psychologically set yourself up for victory and cultivate the spirit of a winner. The more you win, the stronger it gets.

– When did this spirit develop at FC Rostov?
– I think when we secured safety from the relegation zone. We had already scored 18 points in the first third of the season and were in the Champions League places.

– You once said: "I will never take my foot off, even if the opponent is Messi, Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic." How did you explain to your teammates that they should not be afraid of such rivals as Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid in the Champions League?
– We were serious about it, but in the first match, when we lost 5-0 to Bayern, we saw that we could play against everyone. If you do not make mistakes and do not give your opponents a chance, then you will get a result. You can't say specific words that everyone believes at once. Everything came with games. We looked at the defeat in Munich and made sure that we did not repeat these mistakes.

– FC Rostov beat Bayern at home, and you said that this euphoria did not pass for two months. How would you describe this state?
– I once said that it was like flying into space, there was a feeling of weightlessness. We then beat one of the absolute best teams in the Champions League; Bayern had played in the semi-finals a season earlier.

– What would be more satisfying than a victory over Bayern?
– Winning the championship.

"I hope FC Rostov don’t stop and reach the top of the RPL"

– You re-signed a contract with Rostov before the season. When did you realize that you would have to leave the club?
– When I realized that I would have less playing time. At first, this idea arose at the end of last season, but in the off-season I thought that I could be an assistant coach in the dressing room and go out at specific times to give tips to teammates, so I re-signed the contract. However, I later realized that I still wanted to play and not just be a substitute player. I have the strength for this.

– Kalachev is already working at FC Rostov as a youth team coach, and you have a coaching license. Do you see yourself there after your playing career ends?
– I spoke with the president of Rostov, and he said: "When you've had enough, we'll be waiting for you at the club." But there is another point – whether I want to be a youth coach. I haven't decided that yet. I would agree to be an assistant in the first team if I had the opportunity, or to work in such a position at another club to learn and gain experience.

– You have a category B coaching license, and you were going to study for the next category.
– It can be done at any time. When I decide to finish my playing career, I can easily apply and continue studying in Moldova, and then help any coach.

– FC Rostov is 90 years old. What do you want the club to achieve for its 100th anniversary?
– First and foremost, that FC Rostov do not stop developing and always try to be at the top of the RPL. I also hope that after some time we will see academy graduates in the first team.

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