Miguel Cardoso: We have established communication with first team

The head coach of Shakhtar U-21 team and the coordinator of Shakhtar Academy summed up the past season’s results.

- Miguel, you have been at Shakhtar for two years now. What’s your impression about it? Are you satisfied with the work performed?
- Those were, I would say, two very full years: full of emotions, full of experiences and full of work. In both plans. Both in coaching terms, where, I think, we have achieved a lot. And the best way to evaluate the achievements is to listen to the words of the players, when we finish to work with them. It’s about their pleasure and how thankful they are when we say goodbye to them. Basically, I’m the last step of all the Academy work as a coach. So we finish the process. We are very grateful when we understand that, for instance, this year, in the U-21 national team we have three players, at the FIFA U-20 World Cup – four U-20 players. In the U-19 European Championship – we also have there four players of the reserves squad. So all this is the bright side of our coaching work. So, I think, when you ask me about the biggest achievement, I cannot forget the work with Viktor Kovalenko. For two years he played for the reserves, where he developed a lot. That allowed the coaches of the first team to believe in his capacities. And with the level he showed both in the championship of reserves, in the U-19 Champions League games and with the national team, because he is showing now our unbelievable level at the U-20 World Cup, we feel proud to develop a player to the level of first team. Of course, it’s a never ending job for a coach, because every year I have new players, every year - new ambitions.

- The question about your philosophy. What principles do you follow and what are considered fundamental values?
- When I came to Shakhtar, I learnt about the serious intention on the part of the club's CEO Sergei Palkin and head coach Mircea Lucescu to improve communication between the first team, the reserves and the Academy. During these two years, I can note a very positive attitude on the part of Mister and his coaching staff. It's really important for the Academy. We have established communication, we share our work results, we ask Mister for advice. We even use similar exercises in the training process! This benefits the players, it helps them to shorten the path to the first team. The product of this work is Viktor Kovalenko. Definitely in the near future, the other guys will follow the same path. The most important thing is that we want to fully follow the vision of the game of the first team. We want to show attacking game with ball control, that is football, in which we have possession of the ball from the goal area through to the attacking third. It is also necessary to develop a tactical culture of our players.

- What was the main goal of the 2014/15 season, and what has been achieved?
- Speaking in general about the Academy, our objective is forming a complete identity of the first-team performance. Mircea Lucescu has been working at Shakhtar for more than ten years now, therefore this model of work of the Academy is fully justified. And that is exactly what the Academy coaches and I have been tasked with by the Shakhtar CEO Serhiy Palkin.

- U-19 and U-21 are important ages, because the players already cannot be involved in the first team, in the adult football. What is special about their football education at that age? Have they matured as players by then? What is your focus in their development?
- Two strong coaching teams work with those ages. For their part, they are really good players (because only the best ones reach the U-19 and U-21 sides) they must understand the requirements to them. They're already at the professional sport level! This means that they should have a special approach to their individual performance, their leisure time, their nutrition and maximum focus on the training process. And the coaches should have a major influence on the boys in those areas. Details sometimes decide a lot, but the key word is discipline.

- A lot have been said about the European success of Shakhtar U-19. You watched all the matches of the team. Is there anything that distinguishes our players from those of Chelsea, Anderlecht, Benfica and other European clubs? What is your assessment of the boys in terms of technical, physical and tactical training?
- Valeriy Kryventsov has an incredible ability to unite the team around an objective. In the course of the entire UEFA Youth League campaign, the team were united and focused on a common goal. Discipline prevailed. Our players were no worse technically than their opponents. Perhaps, only Chelsea were stronger. Shakhtar U-19 is a great team, which means that the work was pure quality actually.

- What do you make of the past season for the Academy, one part of which is in Poltava, and the other - in Kyiv? What teams have made substantial progress over the past year?
- I think it is very important to notice that we had to move from Donetsk and the club made incredible effort in order to provide the best conditions possible for all academy to work. This was priority when we had to find our location. We could not find conditions to work in one single space making more difficult our work together. Anyway I travelled often from Poltava to Kiev in order to have the chance to make the technical coordination work, attending training sessions and watch games. This is also one major reason why we need to be physically together in order to increase this work, make it daily, in similar way we had it before in Kirsha. Regarding the moment of the teams, we can understand easily that our U-16 is a very balanced team, with a very good group of players that allow, also due to the work of coaches, to play in a high level in a regular basis. The teams of U-14, U-15 and U-17 have been improving during the season, show now better game level and we are working in the aspects that need to be improved, both in the individual quality of players and also in the game principles. S-3 made a better second part of the season, also increasing the quality of the game played all long the season.  

- Could you, please, sum up the performance of U-21 team?
- That’s definitely an achievement for Shakhtar. But once we claimed the fourth spot, we must analyze why. I can give a simple example: before the last three rounds we were going in the third spot, but then some of our best players left to join U-20 national team. After losing them, we found it tougher. Before the winter break in the league, we were sitting in the second spot and at that point we decided to strengthen the U-19 team, which played in the Youth League. After the training camp in Turkey, we passed Boryachuk, Matviyenko, Zubkov and Kiryukhantsev to the U-19 team. Let's just say, we passed them to perform in the league, as it allows us to once again take part in the European competition next year. As you know, there is no such sporting principle in the reserves champioship. But it was a loss for the U-20 team. Besides, being a long distance away from Kyiv, we could not involve first team players in the games, in contrast to, for example, Dynamo, Dnipro, Vorskla, who used their players in the reserves.

- You said that one of the factors of success is that the older teams are already playing according to 1st  teamsystem. Have you achieved the same goal with Academy teams?
- Achieving a common identity in our academy teams is a goal of our work. It´s a process where we gradually introduce the game principles according to the maturity the players show not only in their technical and tactical development but also in their physical capacities. For example, it´s difficult to ask a player of 13 year old to make a change of flank with a long pass, when they don’t have strength enough to perform it. Anyway we have similar tactical system, we use common major game principles but it´s also a learning process and quite normal that in the older ages, such as U19 and U21 we can identify more common aspects on the game, compared with first team. Also it´s important to understand that the technical level of the players of first team is so high that even if we want, in some aspects is almost impossible to achieve such performance. We identify the game principles of first team and work on them trying to show similar identity on the games. 

- 19-year-old Victor Kovalenko made his debut this season for the first team. Today he is the team leader in his age category and one of the best young players of the Ukrainian Premier League. Owing to what factors did you manage to move the Academy player to the first team?
- I think the people from football will understand if I use the expression ‘a modern midfielder’. He is a box-to-box player. He has a wide range of playing on the pitch, using a lot of spaces. And he is a very intense player. With the ball he’s quite technical, able to make good decisions, he is the player who can score goals. And he has one very important feature: He is the player who deals very good with pressure and stress. He is the kind of player that when you are in a difficult situation, he says: “Give me the ball, it’s my moment.” He’s not afraid of difficult moments in the game. He is the last pass player, and it is very important. He can score, and he can also assist.

- Do you plan to seek enforcement in other teams or the Academy reserve will be sufficient for you?
- Of course, we need to work with the best of the best. We will try to make our players such, though we are aware that there are some performers in Ukraine who can strengthen the team. Naturally, the first thing we have to attract players from other teams of ours. But, as we set ourselves the highest goals, we can work on strengthening the team with some players from outside.

- What are the Academy plans for the next season? What will change in the organization of work?
- In the new season we will be closer to the first team. Mister’s requirement is this: we must work together and be connected not only via philosophy, but also through practice. To do this, we need to create appropriate conditions and stay closer to each other. So, initially the reserves team will move to Schastlivoye. Then we plan to move the U-19 team. By doing so, we will strengthen our communication channels with the first team.

FC Shakhtar