Former Lokomotiv and Krasnodar midfielder gave his first exclusive interview after leaving Russia.
“There were no offers from Russia”
Manuel, have you decided on a new club yet?
I’m still on vacation, going to the south of Portugal and have not yet chosen a new team. There are several proposals, but I don’t know where I will spend the next season. Was there any interest from Russia? Not at the moment.
Before signing the contract with Krasnodar, did you understand that it was for the season or was there an option to extend the agreement for another couple of years?
I initially realized that it would not be possible to sign a contract for more than a year, the age is not the same, plus I am taking the place of a legionnaire.
Krasnodar has been trying for several years, if not to win the title, then at least to get into the Champions League, but so far it has failed. Do you have an opinion why?
Based on my experience, I will say that just desire and good football is not enough to win titles. We need stability. With just words about victories and beautiful football, it will not work to win titles. Yes, the team has ambitions and some experience. And she will definitely compete for trophies in the future.
What prevented you from fighting for the second place with Loko already this season?
I think our unsuccessful game in several matches affected more here, we lost important points, in some meetings there was not enough intensity. I’m not saying that Loko didn’t deserve second place. But in this confrontation, Krasnodar created problems for itself.
Everyone celebrates the Krasnodar Academy. Can you compare with what Benfica is doing?
Speaking about infrastructure, Benfica has everything at the highest level – the club has been raising top young players for many years. Plus the strong point of the Portuguese academy is the mentality of the youth. They are all focused only on football and not distracted by other things. In Russia, the mentality of football players is different. In my time, any draw for the young was tantamount to defeat. We have always wanted to win. I think the main difference lies in the culture of each country – the mentality is different.
Name three promising Krasnodar players.
Utkin, Shapi, Safonov – they are all already playing, they cannot be called promising. But they have huge potential that needs to be realized. All three can add significantly.
Did you like Krasnodar’s style of play more than Loko?
It’s hard to talk about what you like – one club builds the game on possession of the ball, shows beautiful football, the other – works for the result, on fast attacks. So it all comes down to the fact that you win. You may be delighted with the style of the team, but you can’t win anything with it. And vice versa.
“Herkus and Eric said one thing and did another”
Weren’t you disappointed that after five years you left Loko like some kind of reservist? Even Yuri Semin said that you deserve a different attitude.
I can honestly say that I was neither upset nor disappointed by the imperceptible departure from the club. I won titles with Loko, got the opportunity to return to the Portuguese national team. I can’t regret anything. Yes, when I think about it now, it could probably be somehow different. But I had an excellent five years at Loko, and there was definitely more good than bad.
Tell us how the contract negotiations were going?
It all started when Ilya Herkus was still the president of the club. I think we could come to an agreement, especially since they told me that they would make a specific proposal. But time passed, and Herkus and Erik (Stoffelshaus) said one thing and did another. There was a lack of transparency and direct communication.
But then Vasily Kiknadze came. Did he offer you a contract?
I had a conversation with him on this topic, I thanked him for his frankness and said that I was not ready to renew the agreement. In general, we have developed a respectful relationship with him. Conflict? No, I don’t remember that we differed in views.
Were you surprised that Loko did not renew the contract with Semin and changed the coach right during the season?
The fact that the contract was not renewed was not surprising – this often happens in clubs. But changing the coach at the end of the championship, when the team is fighting for second place, was a risky move. But everything ended well.
Loko wants to stake on the guys from the academy. Did you notice a lot of good youth when you were in the club?
Yes, especially when I was exiled to the second team, I met everyone. Many guys have great potential. And if given a chance, they will succeed – that is, they will easily join the team and add qualities to the current roster.
“Smorodskaya? I wanted to answer her. Then I thought – why? “
I can’t help but ask you about Olga Smorodskaya. She spoke a lot about you, said that a good club would not take you. At first you wanted to answer, then you changed your mind. Have something to say now?
No. I remember when talk began about extending the contract with Loko, Smorodskaya often said something in the press. At that time, I really wanted to answer, and then I thought – why? She just gets attention. After she left the club, the team made a giant leap forward and won more than one title. It’s better without her, it’s obvious. As you can see, I also played in Krasnodar. So now I do not see any reason to reply to Smorodskaya.
What do you think of Semin as a coach?
An excellent specialist who cannot be disrespected. I remember there was an opinion that we had a conflict with him. All nonsense. I have always respected Semin. His methods of work have always worked.
Which Portuguese coach would suit Loko?
Yes, almost any! It is difficult to choose one candidate. The first name that comes to mind is Pedro Martins from Olympiacos. He successfully works in Greece, plays in the Champions League, and achieves good results. Its level corresponds to the ambitions of the Russian club.
Name the top three Loko players who played the biggest role in the championship?
Me, Farfan and Igor Denisov.
Alexey Miranchuk may soon leave for one of the Italian clubs. Will he be able to open up there?
I think so. It will definitely be a big challenge for him. But I am sure that Lesha will be able to show his football and his best qualities in Italy. He’s a super talented guy. It’s time to take a new step in your career.
“Putin is associated with the word power”
Have you noticed changes in Russia during the six years that you played here?
The first thing that comes to mind is the euro rate. When I signed the contract, it was at the level of 45 rubles. What else? It is difficult to notice something, because every day I went to training sessions or matches, there was not much time to get to know the country better.
As a foreigner who has lived in Russia for a long time, what can you say about Vladimir Putin?
I associate it with the word power or power and with great authority. It’s hard to add anything else as I don’t follow politics closely.
Since we started talking about associations, choose by word for “Loko”, “Krasnodar”, Russian and traditions.
Easy! Titles, heat, cold, borscht, buckwheat.
Describe Moscow in three words.
Cold and does not sleep!
The most talented player with whom you played on the same team in Russia?
Brothers Alexey and Anton Miranchuk and Wanderson from Krasnodar. I chose this three because they are still young and incredibly talented and can add.
What is the most beautiful goal you scored in Russia?
To Tula Arsenal in the 2016/17 season. This, of course, is not the first goal from outside the penalty area, but for some reason it was he who was remembered more than others.
Most memorable match?
Against Nice in the Europa League, we lost, I scored a hat-trick and Loko won 3: 2 away.
Weirdest away game?
Khabarovsk! Everything was confused there: a long flight, a serious difference in time zones, minus 15 per game day. We then won in the last minute after Farfan’s goal.
The match you were ashamed of?
On the individual level – both matches against Porto. In general, I still remember the game against CSKA in 2017, which we lost 0: 4. Although a few days later we took the Russian Cup.
Your closest friend in Russia?
Eder, we communicated well with the Miranchuk. In Krasnodar – with Wanderson, Kayo, Vilena.
Have you ever had any crazy story in Russia?
The craziest thing is the transfer to the second Loko team! I did not understand what was happening at all, I was very surprised at that moment.
The most beautiful city in Russia?
I’ll name Moscow, as I don’t know other cities very well. Although I still really liked Kazan, which I once managed to see. And so in many cities we were passing, especially in winter, there was little to appreciate.
Which of the Loko coaches surprised you the most?
Bozovic! He came to the team from a fairly average club, but brought interesting, clear ideas for the game. To be honest, I did not expect that a coach from a middle peasant team has such clear ideas and is able to convey them to the players.
What have you learned from Russian players?
There is buckwheat! I didn’t know what it was before. I tried it – I liked it. Now buckwheat is included in my diet. You can easily buy it in Portugal.