Russia assistant coach Igor Shalimov recalls his 1990 Under-21 triumph with the USSR and looks at how Nikolai Pisarev's side can improve on their 2013 campaign.
Igor Shalimov knows what it takes to triumph at an Under-21 tournament having done so with the USSR in 1990. With Russia on their way home, the assistant coach had his say on changing times in Russian football.
Russia's early exit was confirmed after an opening game defeat at the hands of Spain and a 5-1 defeat by the Netherlands. Following a disappointing campaign Shalimov was keen to have his say on how Russian football can improve as they bid to reach the 2015 edition in the Czech Republic, when just four of the current vintage will still be eligible.
The former FC Internazionale Milano, Udinese Calcio and SSC Napoli man also recalled the glory days of 23 years ago when he featured prominently, scoring twice in the latter stages. "Football was different at that time," said the 44-year old. "We were playing with a sweeper and football in general was not as organised, players had more freedom than they do now. Individual skills have a much bigger influence on the game than they do now.
"Almost all the players from that team [in 1990] were already playing in the starting XI at their club by the age of 17 or 18," continued the deputy director of development at the Russian Football Union (RFU). "In the current team not everybody has had enough playing time. So, if we compare this team to our team back then, we were stronger individually. However, that is not that important any more as balance and team work are more important, there is much less room for creativity on the pitch."
In a bid to aid progress at international level all Russian age group sides have implemented the same formation and playing system. The hope is that this will promote a similar style and make the transition from youth to senior football a smoother one. "In Spain all the teams play in the same manner, they do in the Netherlands and Germany too," he said. "We do the same in Russia – now we have one formation for each team so that the demands in each position are the same in every team.
"It would be good if the [Russian] clubs could do the same. The most important thing is to have playing practice. If this team played in the Russian Premier League they definitely wouldn't be relegated."
The lack of competition for first-team places in the Russian domestic game is something that Shalimov admits is a hindrance for players when they go abroad. After UEFA EURO 2008, Andrei Arshavin joined Arsenal FC, Roman Pavlyuchenko signed for Tottenham Hotspur FC, Yuri Zhirkov sealed a move to Chelsea FC, Everton FC acquired Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and Pavel Pogrebnyak went to VfB Stuttgart. However, they all failed to have the expected impact.
"In Russia they were all in the starting XI for their clubs or the national team all the time, they didn't get used to the competition which they faced after their transfers," he said. "It is psychologically difficult because if you are not used to it you don't really know what to do."