Serhiy Kovalyov: Boys are eager to fight

Head coach of Shakhtar U19 has talked about the team preparation for the UEFA Youth League group stage.

- Serhiy, how did you react to the offer to take over at Shakhtar U19?
- To some extent, the proposal was unexpected. Of course, after last year's success of the team in the UEFA Youth League, and in the domestic championship there is a big responsibility. Taking over at this team, I clearly understood that there is a lot of work. Almost all the guys who have already participated in the UEFA Youth League, carried most of the load, with the start of this tournament moved to the reserve team, or even in the first team! Now, there is a new team. I will say this: hard, hard work, but it is quite interesting.

- Could you tell us how the team assembled?
- The boys born in 1997 remained in our team, and a group of players from U17 teams joined. Plus, for a month, which we have had during the preparatory stage, there was held a permanent selection for the U19 team. We have signed some more players; I think very good players born in 1998. One can work with these boys, they are really top players, with a good prospect.

- How important is the presence of players who played last season in the UEFA Youth League? Do they help you prepare these youngsters?
- Of the guys who played in this tournament last year, unfortunately, there are very few players. Today’s the main group of players almost did not participate in the competition. But given the new regulations of the tournament, which allows to use three older players, it will strengthen us. Those guys who have already experience of playing in the Youth League will have to lead.

- Valeriy Kryventsov’s team raised the bar high. Does it pressure you?
- Any coach coming into the team starts to build his team. Especially taking into account the realities of the U19 team, every year there is a new structure, new players are coming. So, there is nothing pressuring me. There is just a vision of football. Of course, the bar, which has been put by the team, should be maintained. But, once again, different players come, with different levels of the individual level, so you need to assemble a team of like-minded people and, above all, psychologically. Because the transition from youth to senior football is very, very hard for players.

- When you were a player, there was no such tournaments and preparations. Is it good that such games take place at youth level?
- Of course! I think that UEFA Youth League is simply necessary for players. It helps to compare the individual quality of our boys with the qualities of the athletes from other countries. This time we've got Real Madrid, PSG - teams that are among the top five teams in Europe. The tournament allows you to put specific goals, objectives, look at what we have to work on, compare players. It is very important for young players and their development.

- Could you tell us about the style of play that you are instilling the team with?
- Me and my assistant coach Gennadiy Orbu are focused on combinational style. Guys pay much attention to control the ball with a quick transition from defence to attack. We try to practice it in the domestic championship matches and in training. Of course, it is not always possible, but we're working on it.

- Have you noticed any progress since you took over at the team?
- Only now we can feel the beginnings of the implementation of those goals and objectives that we set. There is a very big problem in psychological terms. It is necessary to rebuild the guys who came from the U17 team to senior football. We're working on it every day, and I think that there is progress, but not one as we would like it to be.

- Have you set some specific goals before the team in the Youth League?
- We will have some kind of a mix between Shakhtar U21 and U19 teams. Our goal is to win every match.

- What would you like to achieve in the tournament?
- To reach as far as possible and get to the level that U19 team showed last season.

- Will Grachyov, Gladchenko, Fursov take part in the games?
- No, they will not play.

- What opponents would you like to have if you could choose?
- I am fully satisfied with the draw and those opponents whom we got.

- If you compare the youth teams of our opponents with their first team, in your opinion, how different are these teams?
- I have watched three games of Real Madrid U19. Of course, the Spanish players are very technical, perfectly controlled the ball moving quickly from defence to attack. These same qualities are inherent to Real Madrid senior team. They have one philosophy.

- How the youth players should cope with pressure from the opponents’ big names?
- Yes, there is a problem, but a lot depends on the coach, who should motivate the boys for the match. We always tell the players that their psychological preparation will affect their play.

- What is the mood like right now?
- All guns blazing! Players are eager to fight. Everyone wants to show their best individual qualities and team quality against such opponents as Real Madrid.

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