Lokomotiv’s defender Roman Shishkin was 20 when he was summoned to the Russian national team was for the first time. Dutchman Guus Hiddink was the team’s coach then, but Hiddink’s successor Dick Advocaat didn’t overlook him, either. Shishkin was all set to play Euro’2012, but right as the team got together for pre-tournament training, he had to go to the hospital on account of some health problems. The Italian coach Fabio Capello, who took the national team’s helm post-Euro’2012, ignored Shishkin. At this point the 28-year old Loko defender, always considered one of the best right-backs in Russia, has only six national team games under his belt. "This is so not what I had hoped for,” he confessed to welcome2018.com.
Earlier this autumn, more than two years on, Roman Shishkin was called to the national team again, but only after the new head coach, Leonid Slutsky, took over.
“I certainly feel unfulfilled in regards to the national team,” Shishkin admitted. “I remember being beside myself with joy when they first asked me to join. I thought, now it begins: so much lies ahead for me and there’s plenty of time. Well, I’m 28 now. Yes, they did call me a few times, I played a few games, but this is not what I had wanted. The mishap before the Euro had derailed me a bit. Then Fabio Capello wouldn’t call me at all. I kept working, playing, but these thoughts haunted me. If the coach doesn’t see me as part of the team, that’s up to him. I can’t just show up saying, I’m a good player, put me in! (laughs) All you’re left to do is keep working.
– Are you setting sights on the “home” World Cup in 2018?
– Sure am. Every football player wants to play on the national team, which brings together the absolute top 20 to 25 players in the country. You get a name, a ranking, they notice you. And it’s natural to want to play a World Cup. It’s a once in a lifetime thing. You’re happy just to be there. But to get on the national team, first I’ve got to play well for Lokomotiv. It all depends on me.
– Any particular teams or players you’d like to play against?
– Never thought like that. I just want to make that tournament, feel the vibes. Maybe I would like to have the Argentinean player Lionel Messi on the opposing team. They say he’s like an alien. Can’t stop him unless you throw a fishnet on him (laughs) .
– Did you get a chance to talk to Slutsky during your latest national team call?
– Not a whole lot, and it was mainly chitchat. But I’ve known him a long time, since we both worked at Krylya Sovetov. I feel all positive about his coaching. The last time I was with the national team I only stayed two days. He didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, and he couldn’t have. We were getting ready for a definitive qualifier, so it wasn’t exactly the right time for a heart-to-heart. The whole focus was on team play. But I hope we’ll work together again going forward.
– They say Slutsky’s secret know-how is he trusts his players…
– That’s one of his qualities. I think Leonid Viktorovich is a good psychologist. He knows how to talk to each player individually.
– Would you want Slutsky to stay with the team?
– Definitely. He’s already done a lot for the team, pulling it out of a very difficult impasse. He was brave enough to double his responsibility by taking on the national team in addition to the club. That’s a reflection on the kind of man he is. And he’s achieved the best results he could possibly hope for. We’ll see how the higher-ups decide, but I think he’ll keep coaching the national team.
Calmer and wiser now
–UEFA Cup’2016 is coming up. What are the team’s aspirations and your own?
– First of all, I’ve got to play my best game for the club. Only then can I hope to get summoned to the national team. UEFA Cup is not inferior in status to World Cup. You’re very fortunate if you can get there. You’ve seen how the teams celebrate, when they pass the qualifiers. The team’s potential? Last Euro everybody kept telling us we were such a strong team. They told us we were going to win the tournament, almost. It really was a strong team, got through the qualifiers smoothly and all. But in the end, the Russian team never broke out of the group. I would rather keep my predictions to myself. All we’ve got to do is realize we’re a great team, and try to play our very, very best.
– Who would you like to play?
– I don’t think there are going to be any “weak” teams. Whoever we get to play, it’s going to be hard work and it’s going to be fun.
– Do you watch the media? Do you react in any way to what they say about you?
– I do not watch the media too closely, but some things I can’t help reading. When you read something someone wrote about you, you try to make conclusions, but you should keep your professional distance. I think I’m past the age when I would react without thinking. It’s true that when I was younger, I would sometimes take criticism very badly. I’m a lot calmer now.
– Your club, Lokomotiv, is off to a good start in all the three tournaments it’s playing, and you’ve been asked to the national team again. They say that yours is the age when football players reach their peak shape. Don’t you feel this season could be special for you in some way?
– Won the Russian Cup last season. Drew a lot of empowerment from that. And then, when you see that the coach trusts you, you feel calmer inside, and all the good things start coming your way. I’m 28 and wiser now, more experienced, both in and out of the playing field. With all that in mind, I would really want the season to end exactly as it had begun.
– We’ve been seeing you increasingly in the role of defensive midfielder, Roman. Philipp Lahm has, with age, migrated from right-back to centre midfielder, and he won a World Cup in that position. It doesn’t seem right to compare you with Smolnikov, either. It seems that you favour combinatory football, not this “vertical” kind.
– I’m really right-back. But ever since I played for Spartak, whenever someone’s out they’ve known I can cover the centre half, so they’ve put me there. At Lokomotiv, Leonid Kuchuk was the first to take advantage of that. In the Cup finals (Cherevchenko had already taken over), I played midfield. I got comfortable in that position, and stayed there till the season’s end. I’ve played centerfield again a few times so far in this championship. A long time ago, I was defensive midfielder when I started playing on the backup line-up of Spartak. It’s a really “happening” place to play. Nowadays my mid-fielding is strictly conditioned on by club-mates’ injuries. As regards my playing style as right-back, I try to join in the attacks every chance I get.
Never give up
– Now will you please help the World Cup Russia guests out a little, Roman. You’ve played in Samara, which is one of the host cities. What did you think of the city? Any advice on what to see there?
– That was my first tenure with the regional team. I was on lease to Krylya Sovetov for the whole season. I loved the city. The people are friendly. The thing about Samara is the base is located in the inner city. Living at the base, I spent most of my time in the city centre. When my girlfriend visited, I would take her out almost every night for dinner or the movies. I wouldn’t say the city is packed with nightlife establishments, but there’s plenty to do. I also fondly remember the stadium. It was always packed, and the fans were active. For all I know, none of this has changed.
– You travel a lot. Which Russian cities are your favourites?
– You know, we, athletes, don’t usually get to see much of the cities where we play. So, I’d say Voronezh, my hometown. I go there every year to run a kids’ tournament. It was a regular town when I left it years ago. Today, seeing that most construction in the regions is by developers from Moscow, it looks like a Moscow suburb (laughs). I like that.
– I know your home stadium is your favourite, but what guest stadiums do you like?
– The new Spartak arena is impressive. A classy stadium. The stadium in Kazan is good, the one that recently opened. We played the local FC Rubin at the opening, by the way. They’re pretty good, compare well to Spartak even.
– Do the players really care what the stadium’s like where they play? Doesn’t it only make a difference to the fans?
– Of course, they do. Playing in some old stadium, like the one in Armavir, for example, is okay, but playing Spartak on their turf is quite a different story, a level up, feels like Europe. I think the fans can’t help feeling the difference also. Spartak Arena has everything you need to have a good time. You can kick back, have some food. It’s so great you don’t want to leave.
– We all hope that the World Cup will kick-start kids’ football in Russia. You are a self-made man, who has always worked hard to achieve everything. Any advice for the young football players and their parents?
– If you want to get somewhere in football, you’ve got to love it, almost from the day you’re born. You’ve got to have a great desire to work hard, and the resolve never to give up. You fail sometimes, but someone will usually turn up at those moments to set your straight. I’ve seen many young, promising footballers who played really well, but then suddenly something happened in their life, and they couldn’t go any further. What can you do about this? Hard to say… but I think you’ve got to be straight in your head. If you have a vision, you must persevere till you achieve it. Only you can make it happen – you and a little luck.