"You have to do what you believe in yourself" – wise words from Russia's national team coach Stanislav Cherchesov to UEFA Pro licence coaching students during a recent seminar in Nyon.
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Stanislav Cherchesov is a coach who knows how to operate under pressure. He led his country during last year's FIFA World Cup finals – a tournament where he dealt with great expectation as the host nation produced arguably Russia's best performance since the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Before taking up his current role at the Russian national team helm, the 56-year-old coached a number of clubs in Austria, Poland and Russia, yet wherever the posting, his philosophy has remained the same – a steadfast belief in the need to believe in yourself.
"Both for coaches starting out and all coaches in general, you have to do what you believe in yourself. That way you'll convince your players. Think for yourself, as everyone has their own view," said Cherchsov.
"You can't watch something from my training sessions and do exactly the same thing. I know why I'm doing it, but [other coaches] should choose their own path. Of course they gather information along the way, but they must still choose their own path because they're the ones working with their players."
Cherchesov gave this advice recently in Nyon, where he was offering his expertise at UEFA's Pro Licence Student Exchange course attended by up-and-coming young coaches from Albania, Czech Republic, Montenegro and North Macedonia. The beneficiaries of his considerable know-how were given tasks such as how to design a training session on setting up tactically to face a counterattacking team, or how to break down opponents through dominating possession.
Cherchesov was glad to pass on insights learned during his own career, having been a grateful recipient of wisdom imparted by the top coaches he played for, including Valeriy Lobanovskiy, Oleg Romantsev and Joachim Löw. .
"I wasn't exactly a coach at the start of my career," he said. "If I see something good, I need to understand it. I need to see it all, analyse it, watch it for a couple of days, then see it in training, and then realise why somebody does it that way," Cherchesov explained to the students.
"You can't do [things] straight away. If I like something, I need to understand why, what, how and from where it's coming. You can't take something and play that way immediately; it doesn't work like that. With some things you need to see them through entirely."
Cherchesov, who as a player was an international goalkeeper with the USSR, CIS and Russia, initially found the transition to coaching difficult because he was so accustomed to observing the game from a different angle.
"When people say that the goalkeeper sees everything during every game, they only see it from one angle," he told the students. "And when I first started to look at it [the game] from this other angle [the touchline], I couldn't understand anything. I would go and stand behind the goal in order to understand something. I needed to learn things from the perspective of a head coach and over time I grew into this new role and position."
Since then, of course, Cherchesov has more than grasped the various tactical nuances that accompany top-level coaching. Indeed, for the former Spartak and Tirol Innsbruck keeper, a clear comprehension of ideas and methods is imperative if a coach is to be able to convey the information to his players.
"If you haven't [worked it out] yourself, it's hard to explain to the players why they need to do something, because footballers always have questions. One will step up and ask, while another will stay quiet, but the question is in everyone's eyes. And if you can't answer their question immediately, convincingly and confidently, then they'll say: 'He doesn't even know himself.' You have to understand what you're doing and you have to be credible."
Cherchesov certainly had his players' confidence when Russia exceeded expectations at the 2018 World Cup, reaching the quarter-finals before losing to Croatia on penalties. "We were disappointed because we were aiming for a better result. But we became world champions in the emotional sense, just not in the sporting sense," he said of their achievement.
The team also inspired a resurgence of support for the Russia side, with the public flocking to stadiums around the country to watch them, much as they had done after the run to the semi-finals at UEFA EURO 2008. Perhaps even more importantly, in terms of a legacy, a new generation of children wants to take up the sport.
"We know that after the World Cup a lot of children joined football clubs. This is pleasing. Children playing football in the yard used to follow [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Lionel] Messi, Neymar or other world stars. Now they say: 'I am [Aleksandr] Golovin, [Igor] Akinfeev or [Artem] Dzyuba.' This is really important for us and for me personally."
This wave of renewed interest coincides with UEFA launching its Football in Schools programme in September, following a successful pilot period which included Russia. The Russian Football Union was part of the initial pilot phase and also recently held their first ever national Football in Schools Conference.
Among the programme's numerous objectives is the promotion of football as a social and educational tool; increasing the number of registered players by creating links between clubs and local schools; increasing the number of lessons; and making football activities an integral part of children's physical education. The aim is also to train teachers and volunteers to provide quality football lessons, and to boost the number of coaches, particularly female ones.
For Cherchesov, any programme that raises the number of footballers playing the sport in Russia is a bonus.
"We can get more good players out of a million than out of 100,000 – it's simple maths," he said. "So if there is an opportunity for children to play football at school, and they don't need to go somewhere far away, then great. We will have more opportunities to give people a chance to show themselves and to select them."
Russia now go into their final European Qualifiers safe in the knowledge they have booked their place at UEFA EURO 2020 from Group I. Cherchesov is already looking forward to next summer's tournament – and is in no mood to relax.
"Of course we've achieved our main objective by qualifying for the EURO – that goes without saying – but we're still in a working frame of mind. We wanted to get there, we've done that, and come the summer we'll begin what we've been working towards.
"We've got time to work but we'll only know [the outcome] in the summer. We've got Belgium coming up [on 16 November] so we'll test how ready we are against a quality opponent. The mood is calm and focused."