Mircea Lucescu: We counted on youngsters and claimed wins
The head coach of Shakhtar traditionally took several young players to the mini training camp in Turkey. Mircea Lucescu does not just watch young talents at training camps, but also actively works with them. Among other things, he gradually prepares the young players for the first team role. How does that process happen? We cover it in an interview with the head coach of Shakhtar.
- Mister, Shakhtar have a strong Academy. However, only few of its graduates get into the first team. What is the reason behind it?
- The Academy was established primarily in order to attract more kids to doing sports. Branches of our Academy operate not only at Shakhtar’s training centre in Donetsk, but also in other places. Above all, this initiative belongs to the club's president Rinat Akhmetov: children must be healthy, their leisure must be well-organised. In order to learn to play football, one does not have to be exceptionally gifted – this sport is for everyone. The talented young people come to the fore later in the learning process. And only then, perhaps, some of them will make it to the first team! Naturally, those who have passed the selection process, have more responsibilities: they should win titles, win major competitions and so on. The most talented players of the Academy are tried by us, the first team. We take them to training camps, give them the opportunity to participate in friendly matches against the senior clubs. In the process of planning games and analysis of matches, they have to understand our philosophy, the principles of the game, the requirements and methods. For them, a training camp is a kind of test. As a result, we make decisions about their future. Naturally, the best of them stay. Unfortunately, during those breaks when we conduct mini training camps, many of our young talents play for their national teams – so we cannot involve them and check their form. Therefore it is necessary to wait for a training camp, but I cannot take more than 4-5 young players there. We cannot experiment with the youth in the league, because every point is worth its weight in gold.
- What happens to the rest of them - the talented ones, who did not impress you enough though to stay at Shakhtar?
- When we see that a player is promising football wise, but he still needs to improve, he goes on loan to other clubs. And there we continue to monitor his growth. If a player proves well while on loan, we invite him again to the first team for trials. Unfortunately, for many years we had virtually no players of the first-team level. Only Chygrynskyi, Rakits’kyy, Fedetskyi and Seleznyov. The rest didn’t succeed. Even those who chose to become free agents, did not succeed at other clubs.
- But gradually the situation changed?
- Exactly. The no-talent period changed for a new generation of young players - those players who currently represent Zorya: Malynovskyi, Budkovskyi, Karavayev and others. All of them, without exception, went on training camps with us, some of them even more than once! We have watched them and took the following decision: all together they will go to another team to develop there. So these guys stay at Zorya so far. I would like to note the great merit of our Academy – they prepared a group of good players. I want to address these kind words to Zorya, who gave them the opportunity to play. It is important that the boys improved in an environment with less pressure than in Shakhtar – as here they should win the league title and do well in the Champions League. At some point they will return to us. We believe in them, so no one is rejected and we extend the contracts with them. The fact that there are such players is also a merit of Shakhtar first team, who took them to training camps. This raises a question: Why didn’t we leave them to develop in the first team? The fact is that in the period when those players were starting to become promising, the club acquired a very talented group of players of the same age, 18-19 year-olds: Douglas Costa, Teixeira, Fernandinho, Jadson, Willian. They also needed time to get into the first team. Adriano, for example, became the first-team player only two years later. It was very difficult to form a team from young guys. But they fulfilled the expectations – they helped Shakhtar win titles. Subsequently, from selling those players to other clubs Shakhtar received a substantial financial gain.
- Why was priority given to the young Brazilian guys instead of Ukrainian ones?
- The reason lies in their natural talent. They get, first of all, talent, and only then this talent is developed. The difference also lies in the fact that we picked the Brazilians on the transfer market, when they had already made themselves. Still developing our home guys. But as soon as we noticed in someone those special qualities, we immediately tried to get them. At the same time it is more difficult to work with young Brazilians as they come from a different world! We take them for their very good skills. But, unfortunately, they have major issues in terms of upbringing - a very different culture and habits which are different from those in Europe. Brazil is an open country, where all people smile and everyone does whatever they want. There's no strict discipline, which must be adopted by a professional football player. They need to learn to be flexible, to instill punctuality in them. They need to develop the basics of a professional attitude to the training process! I want to stress it: often young players are just amateurs - it is important to make professionals of them. We must demand it of them! And besides, we also need to properly control what they perform. Fernandinho, Adriano and others have gained all that only by the age of 23 to 25. The same is true of today’s Teixeira: players become leaders when they get a lot of experience not only in football, but also in all the other areas of life. Until then, I'm fighting for their mentality! All the players who now grab the headlines - Fernandinho, Willian, Adriano, Douglas Costa and others – were initially fielded by me for some 15-20 minutes. They played 30-40 games per year. But I prepared them gradually.
- Last season, the U19 players proved themselves well.
- This is another generation of players - those who played last year in the UEFA Youth League final against Chelsea. They are also constantly under our supervision: Matviienko, Zubkov, Boryachuk, Korobenko. We analyse now how this group can grow faster and get into the first team.
- You almost never invite the ready, mature players to join the team. Why is that?
- That's my strategy, I have always enjoyed working with young people. Even when I worked at Hunedoara, seven of my players won national team caps. Similarly, at Brescia, where Pirlo was my charge, who at a young age made it to the first team. If a player has an incredible talent, I do not wait until he gains some experience, I just try to involve him. The current example of that is Arabidze. He is 17 years old, but I give him the opportunity to play both in the Ukrainian Cup and in the league. The opposite example is Metalist: the club invites just top-notch players. They were much more experienced than our youth! But, unfortunately, they did not win anything significant in Europe and even in the Ukrainian league. And we have got Taison, Marlos and Azevedo for a reason now. There also were Villagra, Torsiglieri, Blanco, Xavier, Sosa, Edmar and Cristaldo. That's a different approach. Meanwhile we counted on the youngsters and claimed wins.
- Until recently, you had Shakhtar 3, where young people could gain experience.
- Right, but Shakhtar 3 by and large never had any major goals. They did not fight for the championship, or, say, for making it to the other division. Therefore, we have decided to loan our talented players out to some top-flight sides. There they can experience what it means to really fight for 3 points for some spots in the top flight! This is important: to develop as individuals and as professionals. Initially, we used to loan our players out to Illichivets. When the club appeared to have some issues, we switched to Zorya. Naturally, major credit belongs to Yuriy Vernydub, who entrusted the guys with a place in the line-up and helped them grow. But we should not forget that those are our players - we have always valued them dearly! And now we wait that they return to where they were brought up, and rise to a higher level. They should take a step forward - they are supposed to play in the team who must every year win the league title and play to the highest standards in European competitions. Plus, it is important for them to become the players of the national team. Many of them win caps, but no one, unfortunately, plays among the first XI there. I am sure that if they get to Shakhtar and continue to develop, they can expect to play for the country’s national team.