"Many people asked when they would see me score". The Sochi forward led the team to the RPL, but only played in the top flight a year and a half later

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Sochi striker Maksim Barsov is a Lokomotiv youth product who went on to play for different PFL and FNL teams for a long time. In the 2018/19 season with Sochi, he earned the right to play in the RPL and became the top scorer of the FNL with 19 goals.

Only in May 2019, when there were four rounds left before the end of the championship, the forward suffered a cruciate ligament injury to the knee. Due to an unsuccessful operation, the recovery eventually lasted for a year and a half: during this time, Sochi avoided relegation from the RPL in their first season, and rose to the European contenders in the current one.

On 27 February 2021, he finally made his RPL bow for the Leopards, coming on in the 82nd minute of the 4-0 home win against Arsenal. On 19 March he scored his first goal in the league in the 5-0 win over Tambov.

“If I had scored against Tambov at 0-0, the emotions would have been different”

– Since your recovery, you have played four matches for Sochi’s main team. How are you feeling?
Now it is much better, easier, freer, and every week I get in shape. You could say that my whole body is waking up. The movements that were difficult to do at the training camp are now much easier to perform. So I am just working and waiting for a chance to use it.

– Do the conditions allow you to get more playing time?
I think I'm ready for this, but it all depends on the team and the coach. No matter what time period is given, I will try to prove myself and give everything.

– You played your first match after your return for the Sochi youth team [on 24 February, Barsov played for Sochi in the Youth Championship against Rostov and scored in a 1-1 draw – Premierliga.ru]. Whose decision was it?
We discussed with the coaching staff and the management that there was such an opportunity to get a feel for the game. I had missed a lot, and any match is worth something - for example, to distribute my strength and physical condition. The main thing was to get game practice, to feel the ball, to feel myself on the pitch, and it didn’t matter whether the match was at RPL or youth team level. I think we made a good decision.

– You made your debut in the RPL in the match against Arsenal and then noted that there was no excitement. With what emotions did you enter the game?
When you wait for something for a long time, you imagine this moment, but at the end there were other feelings. It's just that by the minute I came out, the match was different in intensity. Therefore, it was easier for me psychologically, there were no worries or fear, as if I had not missed such a long time.

– After the match, was there a feeling: "I’ve reached the goal that I set for myself for a long time"?
I was happy that I came out, but I understood that it was a small step to finally get on the pitch having recovered from an injury. I also immediately realised that now there are other goals; to score, get into the matchday squad, get more playing time. There was no euphoria that I had completed the goal and calmed down.

– Is the goal against Tambov, your first in the RPL, also a small step?
Yes, again, the intensity of the match was not such that I experienced any strong emotions. Yes, it was psychologically easier that I came out and scored, but I need to work even harder and get in shape to constantly play and score.

– What was in your head when you managed to score?
I was happy, but if I had scored at 0-0 for example, the emotions would have been more vivid. In any case, we can say that I exhaled, the first goal has gone in – and now I will continue to work to increase the number of goals scored.

– Did you get a lot of congratulations that night?
Yes, my family and friends wrote to me, and the whole team congratulated me. Many fans who know me have also written to me. I am grateful to everyone who watched and experienced this whole long period – many people asked when I would play, when they would see me score on TV.

"There is no panic in the team because of the defeats against Rubin and Lokomotiv”

– After the winter pause, Sochi lost two matches in a row, dropped out of the European places in the top four, and were eliminated from the Russian Cup. Is there an understanding of how to handle the situation?
I think we are not in the mood to fail matches, to play poorly. We played very well against Rubin, but there are some matches when you go a goal up; unfortunately, we conceded. Against Lokomotiv, we played better in the first half, but we conceded an unnecessary goal. In the second half, we went out to equalise then go ahead, but the sending off changed things. It is harder to play with a numerical disadvantage.

In the games we looked no worse than our opponents, but sometimes we need a slice of luck. When you can see that we are playing poorly, then you clearly need to change something. If we have some mistakes, we correct them in training. Now we have a difficult schedule, and I hope that in the upcoming matches we will be able to reverse this situation and not drop points.

– Last year, Aleksandr Kokorin spoke about Vladimir Fedotov when Sochi lost the first match under him: "The coach did not panic, and this is a big plus. He calmly explained everything, did not shout, and continued to believe." Is the situation the same now?
100 percent, there is no panic in the team. It is clear that everyone wants to win, it is unpleasant when you lose. It puts some pressure on us, but not so much that we sink under a dark cloud and think about what to do. We know that we have a game plan, we have a plan that we have to execute, and the result will follow. It is necessary to correct the mistakes that were made, and not to make new ones.

– You were injured under Aleksandr Tochilin, and Fedotov joined the team in the winter of 2020. He then said how important it is to communicate with players who get less time on the pitch. How did he build a dialogue with you during the treatment?
Mostly he asked how I felt, and how my leg felt. He just told me that I needed to work so that I wouldn't worry if something didn't work out, because I needed time to adapt, and my leg needed to reboot. In general, he told me not to worry and to continue working.

– When you returned to the general group, did you quickly get used to his requirements?
It was harder for me at first, because I had missed a big period. Now I absorb all his ideas and try to perform on the pitch.

– How do his ideas differ from other coaches?
Each coach has his own tactics, ideas, and plans. He is the boss, he decides how the team should play, and the players should fulfill his requirements. I have the same requirements as any other striker: put in a lot of work, create openings, make runs, and of course score goals.

– When Kokorin played in the team, he singled out Soslan Dzhanaev and Christian Noboa as leaders. Are they taking the lead now, too?
Yes, they are very experienced, well-travelled players who’ve played for many clubs and won many matches and trophies. Soslan is our captain, and Chris also helps. They try to maintain the atmosphere: sometimes just talking or spurring us to work more and not relax. They feel these moments and suggest them.

– Noboa is Sochi’s top scorer this season. When Fedotov congratulated him on his birthday, he joked that  "Chris is 18 again." Does the team joke about him the same way?
We don’t joke about his age at all, we just congratulated him on another 18-year anniversary. I hope he can play for many more years and help the team.

– What helps him to play so effectively this season?
His skill, and his experience. This season, he uses all his football qualities: he holds the ball, shoots, or passes when it is necessary – it all translates into goals.

– Your direct competitor is Anton Zabolotny. Do you feel the level of the national team?
Yes, Zaba is now in very good shape. He was deservedly called up to the national team, now he spent a great stretch. Plus, we don't have any disagreements. Anton proves that he is better and should play, I also show my abilities to the coach. This is how we push each other to make progress. Now the coaches see that Anton is better, so he plays.

"The surgeon from Spain periodically asks how my leg is"

– Kirill Zaika went through the same situation as you: a serious injury, a prolonged recovery and a long-awaited debut in the RPL last spring. Did his experience help?
I spoke with Kirill when he was recovering. We did not write to each other every day, but when we saw each other, we supported each other, asked about how we were feeling, and what actions to take next. When I first played after the injury, he supported me, and said: "It’s nothing, it takes time." In this regard, we always have support in the team.

– What words helped the whole period pass?
I had to make the best effort myself and work every day. Therefore, I set myself up to want to recover and show myself how I could play. That was my motivation; the desire to play football.

– You watched Sochi’s debut in the RPL from the stands at the Otkritie Arena, then remembered: "I felt that I was ready to show myself at RPL level". What inspired this self-confidence?
At that time, I was in good shape physically and mentally. Mentally, I was ready to play, I was confident in my abilities, but I got injured. This is life, it happens, but it was a shame that I couldn’t be out there on the pitch, but unfortunately I had to undergo rehabilitation.

 Did you draw conclusions for yourself? What did this period teach you?
I am basically a patient person, but the main thing is patience and daily work. It does not happen that everything resolves itself in one day. When you want to achieve something, you have to monotonously do hard work every day, and only through it will you get results.

– How did Sochi support you during this time?
The club has always kept in touch with me and tried in every possible way to help my rapid recovery. First I was recovering in Moscow, then I came to Sochi, I was examined and sent to clinics. They also sent me to Spain, after that I recovered in Sochi - we just had a rehabilitation specialist.

– Erlan Ibrahim, who became Sochi’s rehabilitation specialist, is a master of sports in track and field athletics and a former coach of the Kazakhstan Olympic team. What did you discover while working with him?
I learned a lot of new things. You learn something from each specialist. Erlan and I communicate very well, and he continues to help me get into shape as quickly as possible.

– Did he use his knowledge from athletics?
He knows how to push, how to run, and how to use your body to sprint. In principle, this is what I need as a striker. I have such a style of play. Plus, he talked about how to maintain your body, what vitamins to drink. He tells any football player that.

– You said that you could return to the general group before the January training camp. Why did you decide not to force it and wait until the winter break?
I already went out in the general group, but I did not play in full contact. Then I did not do full training and stuck to individual exercises. It was the right thing to do, because I had to adapt, but since January I have been able to work at full strength with the team.

– What was the separate program?
Some days I worked with the team and then went to the gym, and sometimes I worked separately from the team on the pitch with the coach and worked out the elements that I needed: changing direction, shooting, turns, and jumps. To be ready to go out in the general group, you have to do all these elements without pressure.

– According to you, in the first weeks of training camp, your legs didn't seem to obey you. What was particularly hard?
The first month was hard for me, both physically and psychologically. In my head I knew what I wanted to do, but with my feet I couldn't do it the way I saw it. If you look at what I could do then and what I can do now, I feel much better and perform more actions with more volume. I think it will continue to be so, it just takes some time for me to reach the peak of my form.

– You remembered that you kept contact with Dr. Cugat, a Spanish surgeon who performed your operation in Barcelona. Does he continue to help with advice?
Yes, we periodically keep in touch. He asks how things are, and how the leg is. We communicate very well, because he helped me a lot. He also congratulated me on the first goal, and wrote that it would only get better in the future.

"I worked a lot with Maminov – it helped me in the future"

– You got the most playing time in the away game against Lokomotiv – half an hour. What was it like to play in the stadium of a club where you’d played for many years?
Lokomotiv is my native club, because it brought me up as a football player. I spent nine years in the academy, and I learned all the basics there. I was pleased to take the field in Cherkizovo.

– Why was Lokomotiv your favorite team as a child?
I remember my uncle turned on the football on TV and they showed Lokomotiv, of whom he was a fan. Since that time, I also began to support the team, then coincidentally, I got into the youth system.

– Who was your favorite player of that team?
Then I liked Sychev.

– You remembered that a couple of times you joined the main team’s training sessions. Did you cross paths with Dmitry?
No, I don't even remember any moments. I didn't interact much with the first team.

– Now you played against Lokomotiv, who are using a lot of young players. In your time, according to you, there was a different attitude towards the students. In what way?
When I was at the Lokomotiv academy, in football, everyone looked at their youth a little differently. Then it was happiness just to get into the main team and train – without considering actually playing. Now they have started to pay more attention to youngsters, giving them more chances and inviting them to train with the main team, so the guys grow faster and play.

– When you were at the heart of Loko, Sychev, Odemwingie and Maicon were the forwards, then Caicedo and Pavlyuchenko came. Looking at them, did you realize that you would not be able to break into the side?
Lokomotiv have always had good strikers, but this did not mean that if there are good forwards in the squad, I have nothing to do there. If you want to play, you have to be better, work hard and prove it. At every age, Lokomotiv had strong forwards: Kokorin was involved in the academy, I played with Poloz and Nurov in the reserve team. Only a few people played for the main team; the attitude was not the same as now. If they had been treated differently at that time, a lot of people would have featured for the first team.

– You crossed paths with Vladimir Maminov at Loko – because of him, you joined Solaris in the second league.
Then I was leaving KAMAZ and could have joined a FNL team, but I knew that Vladimir Aleksandrovich worked at Solaris. I decided to go play for him, because this was the best option from a striker’s point of view.

– What was the result of working with Maminov? Under him, you were the top scorer in the second league [in the 2016/17 season, Barsov scored 15 goals, as did Mikhail Markosov from Dynamo St. Petersburg, but was ahead on goals per game - Premierliga.ru].
I like his vision of football and how he worked with me. We did a lot of individual work, especially for me as a striker: we stayed after training, working on shooting and the game in the penalty area. In the future, this helped me.

– Is he following you now?
Yes, I also follow his work [Maminov works on the coaching staff of PFL side Olimp-Dolgoprudny, who are managed by Aleksandr Tochilin - Premierliga.ru], we are periodically in touch. We recently met at the training camp in Turkey. He told me not to worry and not to rush, that it takes time to get in shape. You always want everything at once, but it doesn't happen that way. Two or three months have passed, and I understand that I really need time and work, and everything will get better.

“I want to prove that I deserve to play in the RPL”

– You left Solaris for Dynamo SPb, which later became the foundation of Sochi. What attracted you to the option with this club in 2017?
Dynamo came to the FNL, I saw how the team had played in the third tier, and I knew that they are based in St. Petersburg. I was satisfied with everything, and I decided that I should go there.

– The most important match of Dynamo that year was the derby with Zenit in the Russian Cup. What memorable moments remain about the game?
The match itself was memorable, the atmosphere too with almost 40 thousand fans; it only gave us strength. The match went well, and I scored. I still remember those impressions.

– You admitted that Dynamo were not afraid of Zenit, who were then on a powerful run. How was this achieved?
Maybe it's the psychology within the team. We came out to show ourselves and, above all, to play football. It wouldn’t have mattered if the opponents had been from the RPL or the PFL. When you play against the league leaders, you are even more motivated, because you will definitely not get an easy ride, and you need to make every effort.

– When the club moved from St. Petersburg to Sochi, why did they decide to stay with the team?
I did not consider it necessary to change anything at that time. When you change a team, you always need some time to adapt, and sometimes it is not easy to find your game right away. I was satisfied working with Tochilin, his staff, and the club's management. I thought that here I could develop as a football player and achieve something more. In principle, it turned out.

– When the team started playing in Sochi, you said that the fans still didn’t trust the team. How has the attitude changed in three years?
The fans are slowly becoming more numerous. Our recognition will depend on our results and position in the table, and then more people will start to be interested in the team.

– The leaders of Sochi want to see the team in European competitions, as Artur Yusupov recently said. What gives you confidence that Sochi will be able to solve this problem?
We see how we play against other teams, and we feel that we can do everything. I think with our game we can safely qualify for European competitions. If you play poorly, how can you fight for the title and high places? Everything is based on our game. In the team, all the players have ambitions, everyone wants to win, to rise higher in the standings. Now we have a good team in Sochi that is getting results. If everything goes well, I don’t see why we can’t improve this and not get into Europe.

– You said after returning: "I want to shake things up in the RPL". What was meant by these words?
In a word – goals. I want to prove that I am a good striker, that I deserve to play for an RPL team and, perhaps, become the league’s top scorer.

Photo: Sergey Kulakov/FC Sochi; Darya Konurbaeva/Lokomotiv Moscow


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