Darijo Srna: It’s the toughest group we’ve ever had in six years

The Pitmen’s captain has granted an exclusive interview.

On draw

- Darijo, as soon as the draw was over, you shared you first impressions. Now, when emotions have settled, let's take a closer look at each of our opponents.
- It’s the toughest group we’ve ever had in six years. We have been drawn against Real Madrid, who won the Champions League two years ago. It's just an incredible team. PSG, who strengthen their squad with top players every year. But this does not mean that we give up. Shakhtar were striving to get into this competition to face great clubs. The draw could have been better, worse - no. Therefore, we will give our best. Yes, we understand that it will be very difficult to get into the knockout stage. But the ball is round, and while the games have not started, I can say that we will fight! We will play our first game at the Santiago Bernabeu, our players will enjoy playing there and will acquire much experience. There is always one favourite in this stadium – Real Madrid. Regardless of who play against Real Madrid there, be it Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona... It is a temple of football. Yes, there is Old Trafford, Camp Nou, but... Real Madrid are a royal club. And I would be very upset if I did not play at the Santiago Bernabeu during my career. For me and for Shakhtar it will be the first match in this stadium. To be honest, I wanted us to be drawn against Real Madrid. Our young players will enjoy it a lot, but they will play for their souls, for their hearts, for their lives and for their club.

- Taras Stepanenko said that the most difficult thing is to cope with the pressure caused by the opponents’ name, their stature. What do you think about it?
- In such a group, everything creates pressure: stadium, names, place itself, trophies won by the club and its history. It is natural. I've played against almost all the players of Real Madrid, but not against the team of Real Madrid. It will especially be nice for me, as the national team and Shakhtar captain, to face the Croats in their squad. We have already discussed the draw with Modric. I told him to get ready for a 0-3 defeat in the first match! He was laughing. We are going to talk about when we meet each other during international duty. By the way, I officially announce that after the European Championship in Paris, I will finish my international career with Croatia. This is my final decision. Physically, I feel great, but it's time to give way to the young. I want to concentrate on Shakhtar.

- What do you think about PSG?
- I would not say that they are as great as Real Madrid. Their level is slightly lower. They bought Di Maria for 60 million, someone else for 25 million, they have Cavani, Ibrahimovic... Shakhtar are the only club in the Champions League, who bought nobody, only selling! In our situation we cannot afford to sign players. But I believe that the current Shakhtar do no need anyone. Perhaps, in the future, but not now. I am proud that we have managed to qualify for the Champions League group stage for the sixth consecutive time. In the situation, which Shakhtar are in, none of the teams would reach that. It was nice to hear the statement by the Real Madrid director that Shakhtar are a very strong club. We really worked hard to be so respected in Europe. And I know that we are respected. No doubts.

- What's your opinion about Malmo?
- The Swedish team show football, which is characterized by long balls, areal challenges. They will also be difficult to play with. But here we have to be favourites and prove on the pitch that we are stronger than Malmo.

- Experts say that the Pitmen will fight with Malmo for the Europa League place...
- I do not agree with that! Maybe de jure, yes - but de facto, everything is possible in football. On December 8, we will see.

- By the way, what is your take on the calendar?
- It is fine. I am glad that we will soon face Real Madrid on the road. In general, the schedule is normal.

- Shakhtar traditionally play better against stronger opponents...
- It applies to all the teams. We are in the Champions League, we have already held four matches in this tournament. I believe that Rapid and Fenerbahce are no worse than Malmo, and perhaps are even stronger.

- What do you make of the qualifying round? Which match was the most difficult one?
- The second match with Rapid. We have managed to qualify for the Champions League group stage for the sixth time in a row, in such a situation there is an indication that we have had a good season, despite the fact that we lost the league title and the Cup final. At the same time, we have won two Ukrainian Super Cup trophies. We maintain our level, selling players to big clubs. Although, there are people who did not want us to reach the group stage. But Shakhtar have proved to be a strong, top team.

On Dynamo

- What do you think about Dynamo Kyiv’s Champions League group?
- Their opponents are not so serious. Porto are not what they were a year ago, without Jackson Martinez, right and left backs. Dynamo have a great chance to advance further. Dynamo are playing at home; there will be a packed stadium. They've been waiting for the Champions League. They are unlikely to be the group favourites, but Dynamo are of the Porto level, or even stronger.

- What do you think about Andriy Yarmolenko’s transfer story?
- He is a top player, you cannot argue with that. But approaches to football at Shakhtar and Dynamo are fundamentally different. In terms of player sales, they are completely different! Our club has set the bar high: we regularly buy and sell players. Moreover, we sell players to Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund, Marseille, Chelsea, Barcelona, Bayern, Milan. Shakhtar are known throughout the world and treated with respect. Even with all these transfers, we remain at the same level. Dynamo’s philosophy is different, I do not want to discuss this topic. Their first and last big transfer is Andriy Shevchenko’s move to Milan... And Yarmolenko? He is one of the strongest players in Ukraine. I understand his desire to leave. Just like I understood Costa’s desire. Andriy, as well as Douglas, grew bigger than the Ukrainian league. If he played every year in the Champions League, that would be another matter. I think that Yarmolenko deserves to play at a high level. Although, of course, Dynamo are a big club and I wish them every success in the Champions League.

- Is it true that when a player wants to leave, and is not allowed to move, he loses motivation?
- In the case of Yarmolenko, I do not believe it. He loves the club and repeats that he does not want to leave as a free agent. He acts very professionally and nice. I do not think that Stoke City are the team of his level. But it may be a stage before moving to another club. Andriy could move to a big club through Everton and Stoke City.

On refereeing

- Shakhtar have lost 5 points at the start of the championship. How has it happened?
- Dnipro deservedly beat us. But we should keep in mind that the current competition is not what it used to be: one refereeing error - someone calls it ‘accidental’ - decides the fate of the entire championship. It's not an alibi, but I still say about refereeing: I consider it unfair from the beginning of the season. I remember how Vaks was refereeing in Lutsk: he awarded a penalty kick against us and did not do the same in another similar episode. Then he ruled out our goal. But we won the match with a large margin, so we are no arguing! Zhabchenko has also been punishing us in a number of occasions. Yes, he was officiating well in the Super Cup. But not with Dnipro! I have a great respect for Collina, he is an eminent arbiter, but his words after 10 days that he recognizes a Zhabchenko error do not change anything. The match cannot be replayed. This is unfair and dishonest. Again, we do not complain, we demand justice! I have been playing in Ukraine for 13 years, and am well aware which way the wind blows. Let the referees perform their job, and we, in turn, - ours, and may the strongest win. Of course, referees are human beings and can make mistakes. But when you work at this level, as a match between Shakhtar and Dnipro, and the referee does not notice a penalty while standing five metres from that place, this is not an accident.

- Were penalty kicks in the match with Metalurh clear?
- The referee was excellent in that game. No complaints, everything was all right. We created problems ourselves. Two days before that match we played a tough game with Rapid, maybe we did not recover fully. And, of course, an empty stadium for a game with Metalurh had an effect. In the Champions League we had incredible support, the crowd was driving us forward. And the league game saw only 1,5000 people. You could say the game took place in silence.

- What about refereeing in the Champions League qualifying rounds?
- I am unhappy with refereeing in European competitions too. The refereeing in the game with Fenerbahce was fine. But two games with Rapid... Let’s not discuss this topic.

On fans

- Last season, the Pitmen were often upset with Lviv fans. What do you make of the situation in this year?
- Sometimes we say something while being overwhelmed by emotions. It all happened after the matches with Dnipro and Dynamo. We have become accustomed to it. It is the second time that we have brought the Champions League to the city. Unfortunately, not to Donetsk... We expect good support, as in matches against Fenerbahce and Rapid. We deserve it. There is no conflict, we are well received in Lviv, I would like to thank the fans. But still our home is in Donetsk!

- Kyiv and Lviv have got used to the presence of Shakhtar during a year?
- Of course, we are used to our team, to the situation in the Donbass. But...For example, I have switched professionally, but deep inside I cannot come to terms with what is going on. I have one home - Donbass Arena and Donetsk. It'll be this way forever. We look forward to returning. I thank Kyiv and Lviv, but Donetsk is in our hearts, we feel part of only this city.

- When the results of the draw were announced, did you regret about the fact that you would not entertain those opponents at Donbass Arena?
- Of course, this is not even discussed. I have many friends in Donetsk. If we played at home, it would be extremely difficult for PSG or Malmo to take points! People from Donetsk phone me, forgetting about the situation, asking us to play at Donbass Arena. They are waiting for something good, good news. People do not trust anyone: they read the news – politicians promise something, they say something every day. But it is yet to lead to some proper actions! I think that you first need to do something, and then talk... A man is characterised by his actions, not words. When children play with a shell, but not with a ball, this is the end for me. I have gone through the war myself! I do not know how politicians can then be inactive after that. I would take any step for kids to live normal life and for mothers to walk safely with prams along Kalmius... As an example for everyone, our club president, who doesn’t flaunt in front of the cameras; he really helps. He does it with heart and soul. Football is not so important for him now as peace in Donbas.

- When was your last conversation with Rinat Akhmetov?
- After the second leg with Rapid. He congratulated the team on reaching to the group stage, I passed it to the guys. For him, it is a great success. Unfortunately, at Donbass Arena... But we all hope for a quick return to Donetsk. We are waiting for it.