The CEO of FC Akron gave a long interview to Metaratings.ru.
– Tell us how you got into football and specifically to Spartak.
– I got to Spartak in 2008. At that time, he studied sports management at the RMA school, wrote a diploma using the example of Spartak, and at the same time sent letters to football clubs about his desire to work. Spartak responded, I passed the interview. He started as an assistant to the head of the ticket department. Then there were a number of promotions, and in 2015 I left Spartak in the role of business development director.
Then for 3.5 years I worked in the Russian office of FIFA on the World Cup project, where I was responsible for marketing activations of FIFA partners and the federation itself. After the 2018 World Cup, he returned to Spartak as a commercial director, after a year of work he left the club and was engaged in his own projects, including those related to the football industry.
– It turns out that you have a new role in Akron – before joining the club, you did not touch the sports part.
– Yes, and in Akron my main areas of influence are commerce, marketing, IT, finance, and the club’s operations. The sports direction is behind the sports block. That’s one of the reasons why we hired Chris Docherty as athletic director. I play a role in selection, selection of a coach, but this role is not the first.
– Who invited you to Akron, the club owner Pavel Morozov himself?
– Yes, we have known Pavel Anatolyevich for several years, we discussed building a long-term model for the development of the club based on his vision. Even then, there were plans to transfer the Konoplev Academy under the control of Akron and the construction of the stadium, which, alas, is now on pause.
– Has Pavel Morozov often expressed dissatisfaction lately?
– The current place is polar from the plans, and this cannot please the owner. There is dissatisfaction – and it is on the case. We are doing our best to remedy the situation.
– What type of owner is Morozov in terms of involvement in the affairs of the club and the team? Closer to Galitsky, who went to training, or to Abramovich, who delegated control?
– I think it’s in the middle. Pavel Anatolyevich has a busy schedule, besides, the road to Zhigulevsk can take 2 hours round trip. Whenever possible, he is chosen to train both the first team and the Academy, he is also present at all the games of the football club, and he also comes to the matches of the Academy.
We are available by phone as many times a day and week as needed. He is keenly interested in business, he has complete information on transfers and other issues. We discuss key decisions and investments with him.
– Is Morozov losing interest in football with the next season in the First League, is he ready to continue the project with the same enthusiasm?
– He is a very ambitious person and wants to see the project through to the end. Plus, the Konoplev Academy is a very important project for Pavel Anatolyevich personally and for the Samara region. Now the mood is also absolutely fighting, in order to reach the minimum goal in the near future – the Russian Premier League, and move up the table there.
“With the same license, which is not recognized by the RFU, like Tribulletch, Quique Setien coached Barcelona”
– How did the club choose sports directors – Chris Docherty and Aram Zadoyan, who replaced him?
– In the case of Chris, we brought in an independent consultant. Under the terms of the contract, I can’t give a surname, but this is a person who worked as a sports director and consultant for many clubs. He has an agency with which we collaborated.
With him, we determined the profile of the candidate. It was not a closed selective selection, the vacancy was presented, including on foreign sites. We received a great response, conducted several stages of the interview. Chris was attracted by his multicultural experience – not only in Scotland, but also in China and Croatia, experience in clubs with good academies, like Hajduk and Dundee United. All the moments were quite suitable for us.
Aram Zadoyan was invited by Chris Dockerty to play the role of Deputy Athletic Director and Chief Scout. If I’m not mistaken, they met when Chris was still working at Hajduk, and Aram was in charge of coordinating CSKA scouts and was responsible for foreign markets. We needed a person who would help Chris on various issues, including negotiations, on the Russian market.
According to Chris, Aram could eventually become a full-fledged sports director, but in March, Chris and the entire coaching staff left. It was necessary to urgently look for a head coach, help him infiltrate the team, work on breeding plans for the summer, look for a new head coach for the Academy. Aram was already inside all these processes, and the search for a new person would greatly slow them down.
– Was the change of the coaching staff of Igor Pikuschak to the staff of Ramon Tribulletch during the pause of last season a decision by Docherty? What analysis was carried out when choosing a new coach?
– Yes, Chris argued the decision to change the coach to the owner of the club. He analyzed the games, showed with specific examples that in order to play in the style that we wanted to see, a change of coach is necessary, using advanced statistics, a “fairness table” with expected points. Initially, we were going to put a lot of emphasis on data analysis, we attracted one of the best analysts in Russia, Nikita Vasyukhin (he left the club in the spring – approx. Metaratings). Now it is more difficult to work with data, because analytical programs block access.
After Tribulletch left, we wanted to find a coach with a style similar to what he built at the training camp. Volgar Vitaly Panov in his last full season there was in the top 6 in ball possession, according to the scheme and stylistically similar to what Ramon’s staff played at the training camp, we also took all this into account.
– And the players on the contrary said that Vitaly Panov has a completely different football – simpler, more vertical.
– Due to circumstances – Vitaly Nikolayevich took over the team a couple of days before the resumption of the tournament, Panov’s task was to stabilize the team, the game, but at the same time, in some matches there were both possession and exit through a short pass. In the new season, the game was far from the ideal picture that we wanted to see – attacking football with possession of the ball, pressing. But there were no cardinal differences in intentions.
– Were you aware that Ramon Tribulletch and his assistants do not have the necessary coaching licenses, which is why he had to be announced as technical director?
– Ramon has a license, which the Spanish Federation recognizes as similar to UEFA Pro. With the same Quique, Setien coached Barcelona, there was such a practice in other championships, including in Portuguese. Our and my fault is that we did not make sure that these licenses are sufficient for the rules of the RFU. But this would not have affected the decision to appoint Tribulletch. In Spain, there is a procedure by which Ramon’s license could be changed to UEFA Pro. If everything worked out, in 2022 he could take the post of head coach according to all the rules of the RFU.
The presence or absence of UEFA Pro does not say about the quality of the coach. I’m talking in general, not specifically about Ramona.
– Judging by the poor results and reviews from the training camp, it turned out even better for Akron that the Spaniards left before the start of the championship. Do you agree with this opinion?
– In the summer we had a good training camp, and we are going to the relegation zone. It is very difficult to assess what did not happen, not ready to do it.
“Before the season, we thought that Akron, with an already good lineup and pinpoint reinforcement, should claim at least the top 4. And now we think so”
– I heard only good things about Vitaly Panov. Why didn’t he succeed?
– It is hardly possible to single out one thing, a combination of factors. Vitaly Panov is a good coach, a person. We were called contenders for entering the RPL: we had a good training camp, and we had good contact with the team, and the end of last season was encouraging.
– Was Akron too ambitious? The club was constantly talking about the struggle for the Premier League, although according to bookmaker quotes before the season, you were considered a 7-8 team.
– In our opinion, no. We discussed this with the management, the coaching staff. We took into account the wishes of the head coach to preserve the backbone – about 70% of the squad was retained, including at the request of Vitaly, they understood the requirements. Point reinforcement was required, we discussed positions for strengthening. We thought that a team with an already good set of players and point reinforcement should claim at least the top four. We still think so, we believe in the team, but we found ourselves in a different situation.
– Did you manage to fulfill all the wishes of Panov? In his last home match against Baltika, only 2 newcomers out of 6 started, except for Maksimchuk and Korolkov, who immediately left. What does it say?
– This does not mean anything – this is part of the rotation, the microcycle, someone could not be completely healthy, not fit the game plan.
The sports department, in conjunction with the head coach, for a certain time before the end of last season, determined the players who will leave us and the positions for which new players will need to be taken. First of all, it was a left-back, a central defender, a defensive midfielder, a versatile striker with a lot of volume. Taking into account Korolkov and Maksimchuk, we closed all the positions we wanted.
In the spring, we were forced to adjust the expenditure side, so that in the summer we had an available budget, which was freed up from the departure of eight players. Not to say that we had great opportunities, we had to choose flexibility and versatility, strengthen the bench and sign young players, since we only had two “limiters” left. We did not have any types of players at all – for example, like Sergey Makarov. The head coach spoke very well of Pavel Shakuro.
By surname it was possible to take not all. We didn’t agree on finances with someone, but the players who came were, if not the first numbers on the shortlist, then in the top three for the position. Each nomination was agreed with the head coach.
– Is it true that Kamil Mullin has already undergone a medical examination for Akron, but Rubin offered twice as much? No one in the First League can compete with Rubin on a budget?
– Indeed, the player was one leg with us, but we received a better offer from Rubin. I don’t think it’s twice as high. I don’t know Rubin’s payroll, so I don’t want to get into a debate, although it’s probably better than ours and many other clubs.
– How many teams in the league significantly outperform Acron on a budget?
– If we talk specifically about the cost of the team, then I would place us somewhere in the middle, in 6-8th place. But I don’t know for sure the numbers of other clubs. Last summer more players came to us, the payroll increased significantly then. This summer they behaved much more modestly.
– What did the club lose on the transitions of Maksimchuk and Korolkov, with whom contracts were terminated almost immediately due to violation of the regime?
– Absolutely all summer newcomers came to us either as free agents or on loan. We did not pay any money for a single player. The only exception is the first professional contracts, including with students of the Konoplev Academy, when there is compensation for school preparation. The lease agreement with Spartak for Maksimchuk was terminated. Korolkov came as a free agent, it was not a transfer from Rodina. There are no losses as such.
– Does Akron have an advantage over budget clubs with budgets fixed back in winter? Is it possible to come to Pavel Morozov and get additional funds for the right player?
– In March, the main parameters were announced, which we finalized in April. I will not say that our budget is very limited – it depends on whom to compare with. But last summer a lot of players came to us, and now there are much fewer. For ourselves, we determined the internal salary fund, it remained at the same level. Our budget is tied more to the football season than to the calendar year. If there are moments where we are approaching the upper limit of conditions, then we collectively discuss whether we can afford it.
– Although you do not seek to interfere in the work of the sports block, as a general director, can you assess the work of sports director Aram Zadoyan?
– Pavel Anatolyevich and I should give him grades directly. In the situation in which we found ourselves in March, we managed to do a lot. Despite the youth and lack of experience as a sports director, it worked well. Now there are moments about which we are discussing, but we will give estimates inside.
“We are not interested in another rotation of the coaching staff”
– Evgeny Kaleshin could not reach the RPL with Baltika. Why did you choose him as head coach?
– We approached the process from several sides, including from the side of personal communication. This is a system trainer who pays attention to many aspects in terms of training, recovery, nutrition, delves into many nuances.
For him, as well as for us, it is important that victory is achieved with an understandable game. Yevgeny Igorevich did it both in Tver and in Baltika. In terms of expected points in his full 2020/21 season, Baltika should have been in second place. Also, my personal opinion was influenced by the fact that in Kuban he had the experience of entering the club in a stressful situation during the season. Consistency, experience, attacking play influenced our choice.
– The squad was going under one coach, now another has come. Is the current line-up suitable for Kaleshin?
– We discussed with Yevgeny Igorevich “on the shore” that there should not be any cardinal changes. In the coming weeks we will already be planning for winter. He knows the line-up, he invited some of the guys or wanted to invite them to his clubs. Naturally, while adaptation to the requirements of the new coach is required.
– You weren’t going or weren’t able to take on more newcomers after the arrival of Kaleshin, given the standings in the tournament?
– There were thoughts and developments, they discussed them with Evgeny Igorevich, but they preferred not to rush. There was very little time left before the transfer window closed.
– Can you guarantee that Kaleshin will start the spring part of the season, regardless of the results of the autumn part? Were there any specific tasks assigned to him?
– Now it is important to work, regardless of the standings. We believe in the team, our coaching staff and are definitely not interested in his next rotation.
“A pause in the construction of a new stadium in Togliatti is a matter of costs”
– How were the negotiations on the transition under your management of the Konoplev Academy? What has already been done and what is planned to be done in the near future?
– Negotiations began even before I came to the club. The main tasks were solved in the winter. Many thanks for the trust to develop such a big brand as the Konoplev Academy to the leadership of the Samara region.
At the moment, repairs have been carried out inside the educational building, a new head coach of the Academy, Efren Peteiro, who worked at the Rubin Academy, has appeared, but there is a much larger amount of work ahead. New football fields have been ordered. The plans include an arena, the construction of a new administrative building with modern infrastructure solutions for recovery, a training hall.
We are discussing the use of the Konoplev Academy in the future as a base for the main team. Pupils should see the landmark – the players of the first team.
– And the first team, probably, is not very convenient to go to training in Zhigulevsk?
– This is a sore subject. On the one hand, everything is clear and pleasant at the Kristall stadium, but a 30-40 minute drive from Togliatti leaves its mark. From the point of view of logistics and recovery, it is convenient to have a base in Togliatti.
– What are the reasons for the pause in the project to build a stadium in Togliatti?
– The situation, the conjuncture with the cost of materials has changed a lot. This is primarily a question of costs and expediency right now. The issue with land for construction was resolved at the end of 2021. Further events put the project on pause, but no one says that we completely forgot about the stadium, we do not refuse to implement this project, the club and the city need the stadium.
– What is the earliest possible date for the construction of the stadium, if we imagine an ideal situation?
– In the case of a stadium for 10-15 thousand – 3-4 years, depending on whether we include the design stage.
– As a marketing specialist, do you see what else Akron can do to attract spectators to the stands? Is it impossible to do this without a stadium in Togliatti? Or does it all depend on the results of the team?
– All of the above have an effect. Zhigulevsk is a very hospitable city, but Togliatti can generate more traffic. There is a barrier for Togliatti residents to drive 40-50 minutes one way, there are traffic jams. We had planned marketing activities for the spring of this year, but due to well-known events, we cut the expenditure side. Now we plan to move more actively in this direction both in Togliatti and Zhigulevsk. You can fill the entire stadium for free, but such a story does not help the club develop much. If we move in this direction, then with certain goals, sections of the population, children from the Academy.
– Are there no options to play at the Torpedo stadium in Togliatti?
– No, he does not meet the requirements of the First League. In a reasonable time for reasonable money, cosmetic repairs will not help there. Probably easier or comparable in terms of costs to build a new stadium. You can train at Torpedo – we did it when we had an away series on natural fields, but nothing more.
“We are satisfied with the effect of the new form, the high cost is behind the price”
– Your main marketing success is a new uniform from Kappa. True, its price of 6300 rubles “bites”. Are you satisfied with the effect produced, how are sales going?
– Satisfied with the effect. Our marketing and designers are great fellows. As for the cost, for most of Tolyatti and Zhigulevsk it can be high, but behind the price there is a high cost. The main sales are not in Togliatti, although they also exist, but this is more of a federal story. By the way, before the match with Ufa we will present the third kit, which will not be so unique, but more affordable for purchase.
Now we are negotiating with potential suppliers for next season. Maybe it will be possible to optimize the cost at the expense of our partners.
– There is still a myth that top clubs can beat off the purchase of top players by selling shirts. Is Akron making any money selling uniforms?
– Like other First League clubs and some RPL teams, we pay for uniforms, and the outfitter provides a discount depending on the status of the club. There is a plus from what we take for implementation, but this, of course, is not commensurate with the amount we pay for team equipment.
– It is difficult to fight for the RPL after such a start. Are you thinking about making the Cup the main goal and putting up the strongest squad in it?
– Pavel Anatolyevich Morozov is an ambitious person, the club is trying to comply with his principles. We will fight for victory in all tournaments and matches. But now we need to progressively improve the game from match to match.
– For you, as a marketing specialist, Amkal’s departure from the Cup was bad news?
– Maybe, from the point of view of the media – yes. But you need to understand that Amkal opposed professional teams with a different level of resistance. By the way, our marketing was in close negotiations with Amkal about their visit to us last season. If they came to us, they would definitely see an audience here that loves them. Now the choice is getting wider. We do not exclude the possibility of a friendly match.
– Rubin announced their team to the Medialiga, are you not going to go in this direction yet?
– Not. We are moving primarily on the first team, the Academy, we are considering the possibility of creating a Second League team in the future. Today, the issue of the Medialiga is not yet on the agenda.