Favbet Puma SCM

We go for all the trophies

Monday, February 12, 2024



Shakhtar head coach Marino Pusic gave the interview to journalist Nina Zivkovic from Arena Sport TV (Serbia/Croatia). Below is the test version of this conversation

– Marino, you had a chance to play against Shakhtar in March last year in the Europe League. What did you know about Shakhtar at that time? What were your first impressions?
– Exactly, I was in charge, among other things, of analysing the next opponents, so I saw Shakhtar in several games and prepared for that game in the Europa League Round of 16 against them, which we played in Warsaw. I had a very good impression of the club, I was able to have a look a little deeper, as far as the players are concerned, and not only the way they play, but also the specific qualities and characteristics of the players. What was important was the next step and the next decision.

– At that moment, could you have thought that you would be Shakhtar coach? If someone told you that, what would be your first thoughts?
– Honestly, I have not. My first thoughts would be: that's just impossible because I had a really good time in Feyenoord, I was in a great conditions and a good position, I enjoyed working there. So, it seemed just impossible.

– It suddenly happens that Darijo Srna invites you to head the team and offers the opportunity to become part of the club from Donetsk, and the club has rather chaotic situation, speaking not only of the structure but also of the circumstances in which it is. You mentioned that you had one successful season behind you, you led Feyenoord to the top of the table in the Eredivisie, but you still decided to lead Shakhtar as a head coach. How long did it take to make this decision, who did you consult with, to accept this invitation?
– First of all, I have to say that I didn't understand that it was a question for me at first, I thought that Darijo was calling me to consult with me about certain things about the club, football, etc. Colleagues in football often call each other, ask questions about football, certain things or players, different situations, so during that conversation I already understood that this question was actually for me. I was very surprised and confused at that moment and asked if such a proposal was really possible. Who did I consult with? I always consult with my family of course: my wife, brother, sister, parents, etc., but I must say that first of all I consult with myself. Whether this particular step is right for me or not, I only start a new story together with close people and make a decision.

– How did you understand that moving to Shakhtar as a head coach would be a good decision? Shakhtar is a multi-trophy club in Southeast Europe. How did you decide to lead a team that is in a challenging time?
The crucial part was the conversation with Darijo Srna and Serhii Palkin, where I felt an energy, their vision: they studied me to the maximum, knew everything about me, knew very well how to argue why I am that type of person, the solution for them. That energy and good emotions, that connection that I felt with them were very important for me, crucial for us to take the next step.

– The next step that you mentioned is that you decided to sit on the coach bench when the next opponents were the biggest ones in the group, Barcelona. At that moment, Shakhtar were in a position where the previous coach, who is being fired, did not achieve confident performance. You sat on the bench and faced your biggest opponents. You could not take this responsibility, but why did you?
– First of all, it is part of my character, I like challenges and I'm not afraid of them, secondly, what I ask and demand from my team is to play bravely, to play offensively and not to hide, so I have to be an example. That's why I did it.

– Can you briefly explain to us what it was looking like when you led the team in attack? Then Shakhtar scored one goal against Barcelona and you had a specific situation – you attacked, introduced your Dutch style of play.
– It's just DNA, I grew up in an environment with beautiful, attacking, dynamic football. Then it deepened and later developed in the Netherlands, which helped me. I don't want to play differently because as a coach I want to enjoy the game. I think that in this way the players will also enjoy football and I always want to do something at the highest level, to provide something beautiful, so that the fans can see their abilities on the pitch, and for me it's all done through attacking football. It does not mean that we are naive, that we concede a lot of goals. In an interview I said that attacking football can only survive when the team knows how to defend well, and that does not mean that you defend in your own half, but that you defend high in the opposing half, and I like that. I like to attack, to press and to be active and initiative in such situation. The situation was such that we took more and more initiatives, we got better and better possession, we put more and more pressure, we showed more quality and played more intensively. When you feel that the opponents are breaking down, there is a panic, as it was at that moment, because you also watch the gesticulations on the opponents’ bench. We lost 2-1, I agree, we lost the match. You can be satisfied with that defeat, but that is not part of my character either. I think it's better to lose 1-5 than 0-1.

– But there is a goal difference...
– What's the difference? You lost the game. I didn't want to give up. Since I did not yet know certain moments regarding the squad, certain players, because there were changes from the last meeting with Shakhtar, I simply had one idea in my head during that game: that we can play with eight attackers, with players who are able to go for the goal and create something. There are probably about 40 meters from the line to the goal line at the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, I went up and asked, what forwards can we take from the bench? They were all surprised. They said they had one or two more but what to do with them? I replied that everyone should warm up, everyone will be involved. We have to try to turn the game around, try to win, I had a feeling that we could win away. Because we were very close, we created chances, we were in the final stage... They still joke about that moment. Maybe that's a bit extreme. Playing with eight attacking players does not mean victory, but we still did everything to win. I had the impression that we could have taken a point there. I am sure that if the game had lasted longer, we could have done that.

– It is significant that even though you didn't know the guys, you had great faith in them. You took up your position ahead of the match against Barcelona, but did you believe in the team and its success?
– Exactly. I told that to the team at the meeting, we had one individual and one group meeting, and I had a meeting with certain players, where I had to convince them of their qualities very quickly, because I saw those qualities when I analysed them before the game with Feyenoord. Regardless of the fact that they had lost then, they also had a certain desire and ambition to prove themselves at that level. I tried to convince them that they are worthy of that level and to fight bravely and stand up.

– Did you, at least unconsciously, take a look at final results of Feyenoord vs Lazio match? Especially since you actually prepared a team for that match right before becoming Shakhtar coach?
– Of course I did, and it was interesting because it was a chaotic situation. At the moment when I received the offer from Shakhtar and there was an issue of becoming a coach, I was in the final preparations for the game against Lazio and immediately started watching Barcelona. I followed both Barcelona and Lazio at the same time. It was a double work at the time because eventually I had to be ready for Barcelona and on the other hand I was definitely ready for Lazio. So I watched and was in contact with my colleagues of course. Feyenoord ended that game with a 3-0 victory and played very well, which I was also happy about. It was a specific situation and very chaotic one that took me a lot of time since I was following two different opponents. I'm not a coach who only looks at the details, I watch 4, 5 or even 6 games, all 90 minutes, so it takes a lot of time.

– You said in previous conversation that you haven’t slept a day before you came into the team?
– No, no. I arrived very late, the same day I said goodbye to Feyenoord, had a final interview, went back home, got in the car, went to Amsterdam and flew straight to Barcelona from there. Everything happened very quickly, everything happened in one day. It's very chaotic, and we came very late, around 00:30, 1:30. I was full of adrenaline. Full of ideas, you think a lot about the speech, the first meeting and so on, and in addition you have the analysis of a big Barcelona and put together tactics to counter them in a quality way. So, I slept very little that night, yes.

– Later on, you met the president of the club, Mr. Akhmetov, in Ukraine. How was that meeting?
– I can only describe it in one word that says it all: fascinating. I got confirmation that I had chosen the right club. I had that feeling when I spoke with Darijo and Mr. Palkin, and meeting the president only confirmed it. Fascinating person, fascinating thinking, great love for the club, great love for Ukraine, Ukrainian football. A person who has a great vision and vast knowledge of football. I liked him very much.

– Did the meeting with him contributed to success in the next match as well?
– Undoubtedly.

– You have the opportunity to analyse the previous game now. Let's get back to facing the strongest team in the group, Barcelona. There was a lot of pressure, but you realized the mistakes and there was a turnaround when Shakhtar took three points. They will say that pressure creates champions. You entered the football arena through a big door, and after this triumph, you were name the person of the Champions League round 4 before it even ended. How much did this match affect your confidence as an independent coach and how much did it affect the team?
– Thank you. First, if we go back to the details that we changed to achieve success against Barcelona, we corrected some things both in defence and attack, and it worked out very well. I think the team played a heroic game at a high level in all football segments. That's number one, and all the compliments go to my boys who did a fantastic job. How did it affect me? I was just happy we won the game, I have to be honest. I was happy that the tactics worked. I was happy when I saw how happy the people from the club were and how much that victory meant to them, I was very happy because that victory gave us the opportunity to stay in European competitions after the winter break, which was the main goal, an important goal of the club at that moment. So I didn't think about other things at all. I'm just like that, I'm in a certain tunnel 24/7 and I don't come out of that tunnel until it's time to rest. I'm really not interested in everything else around. Only my team, work and people from the club. It just passes me by, I cannot explain it. I'm completely in that team and I'm all in that clash, I don't notice anything else.

– Talking about the game, were you able to implement the school of Dutch football on this example? What gave the result?
– Yes, the goal we scored is exactly the way we want to play: to build the game from the back, to create an advantage. We have certain strategies regarding that advantage – how to fill certain parts of the field, how to increase number of passes, which zones to enter, where our attackers can make certain differences. That goal where we had possession for a minute and a half with a fantastic finish, maybe it was the copestone of some work at that moment. I was very happy about it.

– You played a friendly match in Japan for charity – represented Ukraine and were its ambassadors. People welcomed you there. How important is it to represent Ukraine considering the current situation? What are your impressions of Japan?
– First of all, let me say something about my players, about my group. I think they are heroes. Of course, the real heroes are on the battlefields, they fight in the trenches for their country, but also these guys who have to achieve certain results at a high level under certain pressure under incredible circumstances, to present their country in the best possible manner. They are also heroes for me and I thank them for it. The second part of the question, our trip to Japan. I think that a country can promote itself and everything it wants to promote the most through sports, and especially through football, which is incredibly popular in the world. We invest in Shakhtar and develop Shakhtar to be at a certain level, not only to be able to compete with the top teams in Europe, but also to draw attention to the situation in Ukraine at the highest level, a situation that is still catastrophic, and something to do with this situation. That is our task, as athletes and that is one of our goals as athletes, to promote the country in the best way. The trip was very difficult because it was very long, we had to make two transfers, I think it took about 20 hours in total, and we also had a jetlag.

– But you were so warmly welcomed, we saw it.
– We received a fantastic welcome. We were really well received and had all the conditions thanks to the Japanese. Yes, we experienced a jetlag and so on, we had one training session, but in a park near the hotel, not in the stadium. Because I thought that this team travelled for so long. We are constantly on the road. Now we have finally arrived at the hotel after a difficult period, traveling and matches, and we need to be on the bus again and go to the pitch and train there... No. I simply asked where the nearest park was and the nearest park was only two minutes away. I said great: that's our training pitch for today. So we went to the park and did some training there, we stretched a bit, nothing special, for the team to recover and get some new energy. Because again, although it's a friendly match for charity purposes, I want us to always play in the same style and I want us to represent the club and the country at the top level and with quality. We take the game as seriously as possible. I gave everyone a chance to play, 22 players played there, which is not easy at all. Perhaps the best compliment for this team we received at the end is the question we herd from your journalist colleague (the game ended 2-2 in friendly manner): “Marino, how is it possible that completely different guys, the other team, play almost the same football in the second half , the same style in all segments as in the first one?". I am very happy because of that question, it means that everyone completely understands and develops football principles and that everyone is in the process.

– This is your first training camp with Shakhtar. After two months of getting to know the team, you have a chance to fully study the guys, scan them and learn their habits. The real results of the coach can be seen after the preparatory period. You said that you are building new Shakhtar, so what kind of Shakhtar should we expect in the near future?
– There will not be big differences In the vision of the game: it will be an attacking style as always, but we will try to improve our intensity of play with and without the ball. We should make a certain difference and progress. Now we have enough time to prepare in that segment and we will certainly make a step forward. Flexibility in certain segments, for example, in organisation of play, this is something new and we are going to introduce several innovations. Constant work with one team, especially during this preparation period, gives me as a coach the chance to introduce certain details. You can't introduce many new details, but I consider a few, analysing the guys first two months, to understand in which segments we need to take the next step forward. So I'm happy that we've been here for a month and that we can specifically train and work on those segments.

– Will you work on the team effectiveness?
– Of course, we are such a team, we will always play for one more goal. In order to score more goals in one game, it is necessary to be even better in the attack finishing stage. I think we still have work to do.

– The big Europa League match is ahead. It's interesting because there won't be any competitive games before that and you will go to Hamburg directly after the training camp.
– Yes. That is certainly one disadvantage for teams – not having competitive games. Competitive matches allow you to get a rhythm before the start of the European fixtures. It's definitely a flaw, but we shouldn't look for an excuse as I don't like it. That is a statement and through that statement we have to work to do everything, to turn it in our favour: through readiness, through freshness, through desire, as well as through a hunger to play at top level in front of a full stadium. So, it is a big and interesting challenge for us.

– Speaking of the next matches, then these are two Europa League meetings, and it is interesting that you met with Marseille in the 1991 European Cup final. You were part of the winning Crvena Zvezda side. Can you look back a little on that moment and events?
– I was a young player who trained with that generation, which was a great honour. I learned a lot from them – at the club, from those players and coaches. It was a very interesting period and extremely successful of course. They were great players and great persons, all of them, not to mention them individually, but really all of them. Dragan Dzajic was the technical director, he led the entire segment, everything was according to international standards. Now we face Marseille again. It is a coincidence and I am glad that we are going to play them because I like to play against strong teams. But that period at Crvena Zvezda was unforgettable.

– Speaking about the current Marseille, they have not lost since mid-November in the domestic championship. You have probably already analysed the team. What kind of meeting do you expect in the Round of 16?
– When a team change their coach during the championship, and this is their third coach since the beginning of the season, then they are in a certain chaos at the beginning until everything settles down, and they are already on the way to it because they won most of the games. I noticed that they also changed the style of play, so these are all interesting moments for us to analyse properly and find the possibility to beat them. They have very good individual players because it is Marseille, after all, they invest a lot in that team. Don't forget that when they played Feyenoord in the Conference League semi-finals, they were still in the final stage of the European tournament. If I'm not mistaken, this is a club currently 5th or 6th in the Ligue 1 table, which is very good, and has some quality to advance further. So it won't be an easy match at all. It's a demanding opponent under specific circumstances, especially when you're playing away, in Marseille. I can tell you that these are specific circumstances, I know that from experience, but we're also good. It will be a very interesting game.

– What is your contribution to the team, what was missing before? Maybe spirit, morale or physical fitness?
– Perhaps the best answer to that question is the players and people from the club. Me personally, when I join the club, I immerse myself in that business, I immerse myself in everything. Everything should be according to my vision, I'm not interested in what was and what wasn't, I'm interested in what should be at that moment. The style of play, the way of behaving, the way of working and certain mental abilities, the structure of the players and the so-called brave performance, the approach to the matches. That's all I want to see, not individually, but collectively.

– Speaking of the Ukrainian Premier League, we look at the current state of the table where Shakhtar are in 4th spot after half of the season, although having 2 games in hand. Fans are used to a dominant Shakhtar, even if it was only half of the season. What are your ambitions?
– First, that position on the board is not relevant at the moment. Spots are distributed sometime in March and probably April. The final classification is then decided. This team faltered in the championship as far as the points balance is concerned, we still managed to raise it to a certain level, we are the first in terms of the number of possible points. Of course, we have to win those two postponed games, but in terms of the number of possible points, we are in 1st spot. It is a specific league, demanding one. What happened? Two leading teams like us and Dynamo, which were traditionally always dominant and fought for titles, are no longer teams that can invest in top players who would make a difference at once. Now the situation is not like that, but the teams that were traditionally below them are also serious ones. There are about four or five, they have strengthened, they have become much better. Thus, this group expanded from two to exactly five, six and even seven opponents. The league has become very competitive.

– And challenging. Now you compete in the Europa League, previously it was the Champions League, while other clubs only play in the Premier League.
– Yes. It is certainly very good for us because we want to stay as long as possible in Europe, as it is a podium where we all want to play and be present, however we travel a lot, spend a lot of time and energy. Certainly, other teams in the championship have a certain advantage in terms of freshness and planning, etc. But that should not be an excuse for us, the circumstances are difficult, yes, we travel a lot, it costs us a lot of energy, however I always ask: what can we do the best at this moment, under these circumstances, to archive results. I think that we have to go and play to reach the top like every athlete, every ambitious coach. We go for all the trophies.

– Are you preparing to win the Ukrainian Cup? Shakhtar have not lifted this trophy since 2019.
– That's right, it's a very long period and I think it's a very important trophy, because it's a trophy that immediately gives you entry to the European arena. We are in the semi-finals so we definitely want to win that trophy.

– The next question, which you have already partially answered, is regarding work with Shakhtar's management. Can you share your impressions of your work with Darijo Srna and Serhii Palkin?
– I’ve got very good impressions. As I said at the beginning, that first feeling is important, whether you have a connection with people. I felt it right at the beginning of working with both of them, so it is a kind of foundation of our relationship, of our joint work. Communication is important, the distances are short, and we meet, talk and make decisions very quickly. For a coach, it is very important that the managers of the club share your vision and I feel it. So it is. I feel the support of people who really need to run a club under difficult conditions that has been without a home since 2014. and its constantly a guest somewhere (talking about stadiums), to keep the club at such a level. It's fascinating to me. And I feel that in talking with them, in working together every day and in making decisions. So I am very happy with the cooperation with both of them and I hope it will last for a very long time.

– Finally, let's go back to what you mentioned a little while ago. The club works in terrible conditions, difficult conditions, but manages to motivate the team and manage it under these circumstances. These players are somehow, as you said, heroes, and they are fighting many things that their counterparts cannot even imagine. Let's conclude this interview with a message to give encouragement to Shakhtar players and fans.
– Our games, our results in the European arena in the Champions League are perhaps the best reflection of the work of all those people. Perhaps also a reflection of the support of all fans because the whole world sees it and the whole world values it. I think that it is the best compliment for the people who work for the club, for our management, for our president and at the same time for all our fans.