SAYAN KHAMITZHANOV: SUCCESS OF ASTANA IS FORMED FROM THE ONE WHOLE CHAIN OF PLAYERS, COACHES AND OFFICE WORKERS
Kazakhstan football this year was one of the most criticized sports. The reasons for this are the extremely incomprehensible game of the National Team, as well as the failure of most of our teams in European club tournaments. However, the Football Club Astana, literally, pulled our football out “by its ears” of the quagmire and made us believe that Sports No. 1 has excellent prospects in Kazakhstan. Let’s remind that Astana won 4th Championship title in a row, but, most importantly, made a real breakthrough, for the first time in the history of our football, qualifying to the 1/16 of the UEFA Europa League, entering the spring stage of the European competition. President of FC Astana Sayan Khamitzhanov gave exclusive big interview specially for our portal, answering very sharp questions.
20 декабря, 2017
- Sayan Zhaksygeldievich, first of all, let me congratulate you and the whole staff of your club with a great achievement – reaching the play-offs of the UEFA Europa League! On the eve of the match with the Czech Slavia forecasts of bookmakers, professionals, and ordinary football fans were not in favor of the Kazakhstan club. How did Astana manage to win? Did you believe yourself in this?
- Yes, you are right – the pre-match deal was not in our favor. And this was the explanation – Slavia, which had in its squad a whole scattering of stars, played at home, ahead of us in the group standings by points and had already, as they say, one foot in the 1/16 finals of the Europa League. In addition, the Czechs would be suited by a draw in the match with us. All these “cons” spurred the team, and I, of course, believed in players and believed in the coaches of the club, but relied on the Almighty. I thought that if we are worthy of qualification from the group, the Almighty will help us, and if we did not deserve such a privilege, then he would not have given us the opportunity to win.
- Judging by the fact that Astana advanced to the play-offs, God judged that your club was worthy of such an honour?
- It turns out that, so. In the Prague match, our players clearly carried out the directive for the match, played disciplined, well-coordinated and won, despite the fact that everyone was talking about a “serious relocation vibe”.
- Over the past three years, Astana has achieved three achievements in the international arena, which none of the Kazakhstan clubs could have come close to before. Astana qualified to the group stage of the Champions League for the first time, three times in a row the capital club enters the group stages of the European Competitions and, finally, we emphasize the last achievement – the qualification of the Kazakhstan club in the spring stage of the UEFA Europa League! Uncover, at last, the secret of Astana! Due to what it is possible to achieve such heights?
- First and foremost, we owe our success to the players. For the last three seasons, they are working on wear and tear, not sparing themselves and their health on the football pitch. If you remember, during one of the last matches at once two of our players came out in protective masks – both Igor Shitov and Yura Logvinenko got fractures of the malar bones and nose, but were eager to fight! We picked up a unique team of players – they are all not only real professionals, but also with heart and courageous guys. With any of the players of Astana I would go to the recon! (Means trusting life – Translator’s note) And, of course, it is worth noting the Coaching Staff of the club, headed by Stanimir Stoilov. Our coaches have done a great job in all three seasons and with full confidence we can say that we have the best coaching staff in the country! I would also note the administration of Astana, the real team of like-minded people – the daily painstaking work of our office workers was also very important for our achievements. Therefore, I note that success consists of a single interrelated chain of players, coaches and office workers. If at least one of these links is not strong – the whole chain is torn. And of course, our successes would not have been possible without two important people – the ideologist of our victories, the Head of the Presidential Administration Adilbek Jaxybekov and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Presidential Club Astana Darkhan Kaletayev, who does a lot for the development of our club.
- During the current European Competition campaign, such strong European clubs as the Polish Legia, the Israeli Maccabi from Tel Aviv, the Czech Slavia, were eliminated by Astana on the sum of two matches. Budgets, titles and regalia of these teams are many times superior to the achievements of Astana. Is this the case when order beats the class?
- Yes, absolutely true. In theory, if we look at budgets and the level of clubs, we should not have passed these opponents. But the game discipline, moral and volitional qualities of our players and ability to play on the result allowed Astana to surpass the opponents, superior to our club in the class.
- As a result of the draw, Astana will meet with the Portuguese Sporting in the 1/16 finals of the Europa League. How would you assess the lot, and what are the chances for Astana to eliminate this opponent?
- When on the eve of the draw we found out potential opponents, we did not have any special likes or dislikes. Just at this stage of the European Competition, all clubs have passed through the “millstones” of the group stages, and there can not be any casual clubs here. Sporting is one of the three best clubs in Portugal, a proven European Competitions fighter. The team has many experienced players of the national team level. Sporting has the best youth academy in Portugal with Figo, Nani, Cristiano Ronaldo and Rui Patriciu, the current Lisbon team goalkeeper and the Portuguese National Team, and William Carvalho – the real gem of our opponents, the player whom the best clubs in Europe are “hunting” for. Astana is waiting for very difficult matches.
- Astana continues the performance in the Europa League, though could play in a higher level tournament – the UEFA Champions League. Did not shake your faith in the team and the coach the insulting away defeat from Celtic? What happened on August 16 in Glasgow?
- That devastating defeat, in fact, already in the first match deprived us of the Champions League is, above all, my fault. As the first manager of the club, I will say that I assumed responsibility for the defeat from Celtic in the first leg of the Champions League play-off. I think that in the event of failures, first of all, the first manager is to blame. Hence, was mistaken somewhere in the communications, control or organization of our club. But even such a major defeat did not take away my faith in our Head Coach and his assistants, and most importantly, in our players. What happened then? There was an accident when “everything that could fly” had flown into our goals. Celtic made three shots on the target of our goal, and eventually scored five goals. This happens in football.
- Four years ago you took the reins of the Football Club Astana. If, then, in 2014, you would have been told that the club would qualify into the group stage of the Europa League and reach the spring stage of the Europa League, would you consider these achievements as fiction?
- Not at all. We planned these achievements. Set tasks and found opportunities for their implementation. All the successes of Astana are the results of our systematic work for 4 years. Throughout this time, we built a team that step by step, from season to season, became stronger and more experienced.
- In the clubs rating of UEFA, Astana made the fastest acceleration among European teams – for 3 years the capital club jumped from 452 to 67th place! No one in European football history could overcome almost 400 steps in three years! At present, Astana is ahead of the Russian clubs Spartak Moscow, Lokomotiv Moscow, Rubin Kazan, the French Olympique Marseille and Bordeaux, the English Everton, the German Stuttgart, the Spanish Real Sociedad. Objectively speaking, is Astana stronger than all these clubs?
- Astana is a young club, which is not even ten years old. Our traditions, history, achievements, and most importantly – budgets are not even close to the clubs that you listed. The budget of the same Everton exceeds 200 million Euros. Olympique is almost 120 years old; this club won the Champions League. The Moscow Spartak has army of fans around the world nearly 20 million people. All of the above clubs are real corporations, which have their own stadiums and training bases, fields. We have nothing but players and a coach. How can we be stronger? But the situation is changing. Not so long ago, an order to build a base for the Football Club Astana was given personally by Head of our state Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev. After we have acquired this infrastructure object, we will move one step closer to the big teams that you mentioned.
- The words of Stanimir Stoilov, said at the post-match Press Conference in Prague, excited all fans of the club and fans of football in Kazakhstan. Stanimir said that he was leaving the team. Why did not you offer a new contract to the Bulgarian specialist?
- Stoilov has an active contract with the club till the end of December, and we will discuss our further cooperation. At present, we entered the negotiation process with his agents.
- At the level of insider information has leaked in the media of the RK that the KFF plans to propose Stoilov to lead the National Team of Kazakhstan. And how would you react to such an appointment?
- In my opinion, Stanimir fully adapted in Kazakhstan, knows the football of our country, the level, opportunities and prospects of Kazakhstan players, studied and accepted our specifics, and has long proved his high qualifications with brilliant achievements and results. I think that the best option for this post to date simply does not exist. So, if the federation makes a proposal to Stoilov, then it will be the best candidate of all. And if it happens that it will be necessary to choose where Stoilov will continue to work – in Astana or the National Team of Kazakhstan, even to the detriment of our club interests, I would also support Stanimir’s candidacy for the position of Head Coach of the National Team, where there is no end to the job. I consider myself a patriot of my country, and always put the interests of the national team higher than the club, because it is on the results of the national team in the international arena that the opinion about the country’s football is formed.
- But in fact, the National Team of Kazakhstan has an active coach – Aleksandr Borodyuk. Somehow it is not correct to talk about the candidates, while Borodyuk remains on the position in our national team.
- Both the fans of the national team and football experts in Kazakhstan are unanimous in their opinion about the sports results and prospects of the National Team of Kazakhstan under its current Head Coach. Obviously, Borodyuk’s appointment was a mistake. It is painful to look at our main team of the country and perceive that the National Team of Kazakhstan in football has recently become an object of jokes and ridicule. This is simply unacceptable and our National Team needs a new helmsman.
- What do you think, what is the secret of the successful work of Stoilov in Astana? After all, there were other strong foreign specialists working in Kazakhstan, such as Weiss or Dimitrov, for example, but no one came close to achieving achievements of Astana.
- Both Vladimir Weiss and Dimitar Dimitrov are also very good specialists and their qualifications are beyond doubt. Speaking about the success of Stanimir Stoilov, I note that, among other things, he was lucky that Astana is staffed by strong players. You understand that without the availability of quality players, it would be difficult to achieve results even for the most successful coach. In one of his interviews, the Head Coach of Kairat Carlos Alos Ferrer, arguing about his role in the team, noted that “players are more important in football, not coaches.” I respected this specialist after his words, but, in my opinion, the success of any team is explained by the successful balance of the two components – the high level of team players and the degree of qualification of the head coach. And, while talking specifically about Stanimir Stoilov, I can not fail to note his professionalism, dedication and strong personal qualities. The results of his work in Astana speak for themselves.
- In your interview, you once said that it is very important for the serious club to “guess with the right coach”. How did you guess with Stoilov in your time? Did the appointment take place simply because Stoilov’s club Botev beat Astana at that time?
- I saw how Stoilov’s team played against Astana in two matches. I was interested in this expert and analyzed his coaching path. First of all, I was interested in the game of his teams in European Competitions. We “led” him for almost a year. We made inquiries, asked through third parties many aspects of his work. And when we realized that Stoilov – this is the person whom Astana needs, we made him an offer.
- Throughout the year, rumors about the possible transfers of the African forwards of Astana Junior Kabananga and Patrick Twumasi to European clubs have not ceased. Now, after the qualification of Astana to the spring stage of the Europa League, do you still plan to part with this productive duet? Will Astana be able to find a replacement in the shortest possible time, because in the middle of February the matches of the 1/16 finals of the Europa League will be played.
- I had an agreement with Junior and Patrick that they fully worked this year to the end and helped the team to solve all the tasks set. And our conversation with them took place because, this summer a number of clubs showed interest in them, and there was a threat to lose them during the year. I promised our Africans that the club would let them go in the winter transfer window if there was an offer that would suit both the club and the players themselves. Anticipating your question, I will say that negotiations are currently underway.
- Forecasting the outcome of the negotiations, can we say that both Kabananga and Tvumasi will leave?
- The issue is still open on Kabananga, but I think that Tvumasi will leave us. I estimate the probability of Patrick’s transfer in 90%. Twumasi spent 5 seasons in Astana, and this is the deadline, according to experts, when a player and a club can be useful to each other. To his growth and to update our club, Twumasi obviously needs to change the team, especially given the desire of the player to play in Europe.
- It turns out, we still see Kabananga in the matches of the 1/16 finals of the Europa League?
- I would really like to see him in these matches. It is very difficult to find a center forward of the European level. Moreover, to find the forward in a short time – in case of a possible transfer of Kabananga, we would have only a month to adapt a new player in this position. We are thinking. There is no clarity yet about the transition Junior to a different club.
- Twumasi and Kabananga, undoubtedly, the best foreign players of Astana. And who, in your opinion, is the best Kazakhstani players of the capital club?
- I think it’s worth noting two players of our club who made the greatest contribution to achieving the goals of this season. This is, first of all, Dmitri Shomko and Yuri Logvinenko. Shomko’s contract was ending, but at the cost of difficult negotiations with his agents, we managed to keep him for the club, re-signing Dima for another three years. This year, Shomko attracted the attention of serious clubs and now we have proposals on him, both from Russia and from Europe. We are offered 2,000,000 Euros for him.
- Is there any chance that Astana will part with Shomko?
- We really want to keep Dima in Astana – he is one of the key and most expensive players of the club. His estimated value has risen from 600,000 Euros, at the time he moved to us in 2014, to 2,000,000 Euros recorded this season. To find a wing attacking defender of this level with a Kazakhstani passport is an unrealistic task. Therefore, we expect that Shomko will progress, and if we sell him, then only to the European top club.
- Uncover, please, the secret of the transfer activity of Astana. Who is looking for players for the club? Who makes the final decision? After all, it’s not a secret for anyone that Astana almost 100% lucky guesses with acquisitions.
- Astana has a group of very high-level scouts who are looking for players for specific positions. Before, we begin to discuss alternatives with coaches, we form a shortlist, which includes 3-4 players. Then we deeply analyze the specific chosen person with our coaching staff.
- In the end, does Stoilov take the final decision on the transfer or lease of the player in Astana?
- No, Stoilov does not engage in selection work of our club. He is focused on the training process. The last word in the field of staffing the team is within the management of the club.
- Over the last season, experts agree that only Albanian player Azdren Llullaku was a transfer mistake of Astana. This player could not show himself either in your club, or in Tobol, where he was given for lease. Will Llullaku be put on a transfer?
- Yes, Azdren will be put on a transfer. This is my selection error. The man was the Top scorer in the Championship of Romania, and this is a very serious tournament, which is higher than the Kazakhstan Premier League. Llullaku is in fact a good player and his regular call ups to the Albanian team, a country that, for example, is higher than Russia in the FIFA ranking, proves that. Apparently, Azdren needs a longer time to adapt. But our club can not keep a foreign player so long and wait until he opens up.
- A year already, as there is a ban for Astana to the purchase of players – the sanction of the financial FAIR PLAY of UEFA applies. The capital club can sign either free agents or take players on lease. Is there any chance that the restrictions will be cancelled next year?
- We really hope so. The only claim of UEFA to us concerns not the expenses, but the structure of the club’s income. To form the budget, we receive funds from the National Welfare Fund Samruk-Kazyna, but UEFA does not recognize the entire amount of funding from our sponsor exactly as sponsorship, counting part of these funds as charity. And there are certain restrictions on UEFA to the level of charity for the clubs. Work is ongoing throughout the year to address this problem and Astana regularly sends reports on the work done. Also, on the recommendation of UEFA, a contract was signed with an international sports consultancy agency that helps us change the structure of the sponsorship agreement with NWF Samruk-Kazyna and determine its real market value. We hope that sanctions will be cancelled from the next transfer window and the club will be able to conduct full-scale selection work.
- Squad of Astana was joined by young and promising Kazakhstani players – Yuri Pertsukh and Bakhtiyor Zainutdinov. Are there any other players with a turquoise passport, which Astana would like to see in its squad, however, for some reason can not sign them? Naturally, except the players of Kairat.
- At the moment, there are no such players, but our scouts are closely monitoring not only the external, but also the domestic market. Therefore, if a worthy player appears in the Kazakhstan Premier League, according to his playing and personal qualities suitable to Astana, we will try to conclude a contract with him.
- Astana is one of the few football clubs in Kazakhstan, which itself earns money due to a successful performance in European competitions. You could reveal some secrets and say what percentage of the club’s budget is covered by UEFA’s money earned by Astana? For example, over the past three seasons.
- In 2015, when Astana performed in the group stage of the Champions League, we independently closed 55% of the club budget. In 2016, the figures were lower, well, this year we continue to earn in Europe.
- Obviously, the successful performance of Astana and the qualification to the play-offs of the Europa League requires an increase in the budget, if, of course, the club wants to develop further. Will your budget be increased next year? –
- Naturally, we want to grow and develop. Look at our opponents in the Europa League. The budget of Maccabi is 40 million Euros, Slavia’s is 55 million Euros, Villarreal’s is 175 million Euros. Ours is 25 million Euros. As they say, feel the difference. Increasing the budget, we could sign higher quality players, and strengthening the team, we could solve even more serious tasks in continental tournaments. But the question of increasing the budget is the prerogative of our sponsors.
- Everyone is always interested in the amount of contracts. Could you at least, without naming the sums, name who is the highest-paid player of Astana this season?
- Junior Kabananga, who became the Top scorer of the African Nations Cup - 2017 and got into the symbolic team of the continental tournament.
- In the middle of the season, when Kairat was eliminated from the European Competition, after the defeat from Albanian Scanderbeu, you gave an interview in which you questioned the correctness of the new development vector of Kairat, which plans to bet on the preparation of their own students. What was behind your words? Fear that your principal rival will weaken and because of lack of competition Astana will also become weaker or a sincere desire to help Kairat Boranbayev, with whom you are connected by friendship?
- Both. I really was afraid of losing a serious rival of Astana in the face of Kairat, and without competition, the level of our football is not growing. Plus I really want Kairat Sovetayevich not to be disappointed in football, and I hope that he will continue his important mission. I always sincerely wish him luck in business.
- If there was no Astana, Kazakhstan football, both at the club level and at the national team level, can be graded a solid “D” for the season. What do you think should be done to make our clubs and national teams competitive in the international arena?
- This is a very large and comprehensive issue. First of all, all the Premier League clubs need to install normal turfs, and due to the climatic conditions of our northern and central regions, it is necessary to lay synthetic surfaces of the last generation with heating everywhere. Take the last two matches of Astana in the Europa League – both in Israel, and in the Czech Republic – two “gardens”. Even our opponents admit that it was a pleasure to play at Astana Arena. A perfectly smooth turf, which is abundantly watered on the eve, provides an incredible speed of play, which can not be disliked by the spectators. Compare our home match with Maccabi, which was super-spectacular and the matches in Netanya and Prague, where we and our opponents suffered, fighting not only with the adversary, but also with tussocks, bumps and patches of the turf. To keep a natural turf in an ideal condition all year round is a troublesome business, expensive and, as it is found out, hardly achievable. Therefore, the choice of synthetics is just the best option.
- You have been in Astana for 4 years and all the successes of the club, both in the Kazakhstan Championship, and in the European Competitions are in the period of your work. Knowing your ambition, you probably plan for the coming years a new plan for the development of the club, which will put even more serious tasks before Astana.
- I am sure that Astana will progress, and will reach new heights in the near future, but I decided to leave the club in a year. I have been working for a long time in one position and in one place, and for all the written and not written laws of the management area, the maximum term of a top manager in one organization is 4-5 years. I’ve been in Astana for 4 years and the upcoming 2018 will be final for me in the chair of the capital club’s head. At the end of next season I plan to leave. It will take me a while to rethink my experience, take a look at what was done and what was achieved from the side, and then reload. In the current information world, when knowledge quickly becomes obsolete, it is extremely necessary to be effective and to have a fresh, innovative view of the sphere that you serve.
- And what do you want to devote yourself after working in Astana?
- The Almighty will direct me. As He wills.