This is probably the first ever interview released by FC Infonet president and owner, Andrei Leshkin.
He admitted that he prefers to be away from the spotlights, an attitude that also reflects on the way he lives the matchday.
Andrei comes from the IT world and, after being personally involved in organizing a local football team for kids, decided to take the ‘giant leap’ and go on with his own club and organization philosophy.
The fact that his IT company (Infonet) brands the football club, it’s not a mere channel of promotion for his own business. It’s Andrei’s concrete wish to bring the same professional approach he has implemented in his work experience.
Andrei accepted to chat with Rumori as he is one of our proud readers.
We touched FC Infonet’s target for this season and for the seasons to come; his relations with the coach (Aleksandr Pushtov) and the players; his personal approach to the club things and the upcoming plans for enlarging the audience.
Andrei spoke broadly about all aspects of his ‘football life’.
We also took a glance at recent events: the upcoming game against Tammeka and the ‘jersey affair’ that shook the Estonian medias and rose several controversies.
Andrei, the season has not started very well.
Did you expect this considering the many changes the XI underwent?
When comes to the result yes, we were expecting a better beginning.
Referring to the changes brought to the game and the squad itself, everything justifies the expectations.
The squad became much more stable and balanced, features that lacked during last season. Also, we’ve got some additions in many other aspects. The result is expected to come.
FC Infonet have not scored a goal yet.
Last season you scored 4 goals in 3 games, and 3 were all against Tammeka. Tammeka are visiting Tallinn on Premium Liiga resume on Saturday. Optimist that goal(s) will come again against the Tartu Blues?
From the goals side, it might look strange – 3 games no goals scored. But personally, I don’t see any problems in the game.
The team plays well, and the goals should come, it can’t be the other way.
Psychologically, it is indeed unpleasant. I hope that during the next game the team will have a specific spirit for the result. The coach and the team understand everything perfectly.
Nothing personal against Tammeka, but it turns out that they are coming to play us again this time. It won’t be easy for them, I can promise that.
FC Infonet was very active on transfer market immediately after season 2014 was over. In November you already announced 4 big signings, this is quite unusual for Estonian clubs who wait for February to confirm their XI…
I think there’s nothing unusual in it. We had positions which we needed to be filled. There were players whose contracts had ended and we were able to offer them a place in our team. We start to prepare for the season in December. There is no point to wait till February (for signings –edit). We think it is better to start preparing for the season quietly and systematically and the earlier the team will be completed the better it is.
As for the international players – yes, the transfer window opens a bit later, it happens that players wait until they get a better offer, and again they need to be checked, which takes time as well.
That is why February is the contract-signing month. If the team is not complete, the closer it is to the season the more everybody gets nervous.
‘Quality is our goal’ it’s FC Infonet motto. Can you explain us what this means for you and your working ethics in football?
There are few things, which I would like to be fundamental in our club. We were announcing that in the very first statement when being promoted to Premium Liiga.
Quality and professionalism - they are certainly the aims that we are trying to achieve constantly. Goals, wins, successful transfers and etc. all this is the result of how professionally we work. It means that championship is not the aim itself. Initially our goal was to bring the structure of the club to a professional level. It is hard work indeed.
However, if you don’t know, we started right from children football. Once our players were 4 years old and now they are all 18-19 and they play in top league. 14 years is a long way, consisting of thousands of compromises and choices between the result and the development of the player or the team. For the coaches it is not easy to keep the balance. We have a quite good school for children, which are the fundament our club is based on.
In the past there was only Flora stockpiling titles. Then Levadia started to challenge too and won a lot. Nõmme Kalju managed to get in between there and established rivalry with both. Eastern Estonia had his role with Narva Trans first and Sillamäe Kalev later. Are FC Infonet the next one?
We wish to be so (smiles –edit)
Among the coaches in Premium Liiga, I think Aleksandr Pushtov has shown to be committed to a certain type of game (attacking football and good exploitation of overlappings in 4-2-3-1 system) and he is always willing to implement that beyond the result. What do you think of your coach?
I think that we got lucky with our coach, especially young players. However, I see him from a different perspective than players.
Those things that he is trying to explain and teach are correct. Sometimes the understanding and the comprehension do come afterwards, with personal experience.
I know that as a president you would say you like all of your players. However, at any club, there’s always a favourite player. To quote some famous examples: Inter’s Moratti favourite was Recoba, Agnelli (Juventus) loved Platini and Berlusconi (AC Milan) could not resist in declaring his preference for Van Basten. Who is your favourite player currently or from the past seasons?
(Thinks a bit –edit) … I can’t really pick someone specific out. There are players, who are more open and easy in communication; ready to have some fun and sometimes they are not even shy to joke with the president. From those who left, I’d say Lipin and Manucho, connections were good and still are.
In my season’s predictions, I wanted to dare and I offered FC Infonet reaching the podium (2ndplace exactly). Is it feasible?
Why not the first? (smiles –edit) Theoretically, it is possible of course. Before the beginning of the season all five teams were looking on a pretty similar level to me. First games should have shown a lot but for me personally many things are still unknown. One thing we know for sure, that it is not going to be easy.
Let’s say you have the chance to take one player away from each rival to make your life easier: Flora, Levadia, Kalju and Sillamäe. Which player would you take from each?
Flora – Alliku, Levadia – Antonov, Kalju – Wakui, Sillamae – ...he’s been already taken by us (smiles –edit)
What do you think about the general development of Estonian football, is it moving in the right direction? Have you got any suggestion?
The direction is correct however, it will take long time to develop. The football needs to be popularized with the help of everybody, but this topic is too wide.
FC Infonet will move to Lasnamäe in May. Are you hoping to increase attendance and enlarge the fan basis? What are the club’s marketing plans connected with the home ground?
Yes, audience is one of the priorities for this season. We are already preparing for this event. For us working with audience and fans will be quite a challenge. Many hopes are connected with this.
Who would be the average FC Infonet fan as opposed to other fans from other clubs?
It’s hard to say. There are different groups, which we intend to work with but if our purposes will work or not it is hard to say now. They are people who are close to football or parents, basically we start from the scratch. However, it is understandable because first, there were other targets to prioritize more. Also, it was hard to do something without an own base.
If you shall invite a person to come and watch an Infonet game, what would you tell him/her?
If I want the person to come and continue coming to our matches, there should be three different conditions in my opinion.
First, I will try to make it so that the rival will be someone who plays an open football. Not to abuse anyone and our club as well, but there were games during which even I was falling asleep. The game should be interesting.
Second, weather. Person must feel himself comfortable when visiting for the first time.
Third, game shall be scheduled preferably at a comfortable time. Additionally, a buffet shall be offered and he shouldn’t be alone on the stands.
If all of those conditions apply, then I will invite him to see his first game live.
Once there was a stereotype that Estonian football is boring. It has not been like that for quite a long time already. Of course Estonian Premium Liiga it’s not a competitor to English Premier League, but at the same time, there are Italian Serie A matches that are even more boring (we both smile and agree -edit).
The main thing is that we shouldn’t apologize to the person after the game (smiles –edit).
Since you have founded this club, what was the biggest emotion you lived through? Both positive and negative.
The most positive emotions are related to children, to their achievements. Otherwise, everything is the same as for your work: you get satisfaction if something goes right as you planned or negative emotions if it didn’t. Just the emotions are increased by many times (smiles –edit)
It looks like, either as recipient or victim, at every start of season FC Infonet is protagonist of some funny episodes. Last season you got three points after losing to Kalju due to a bureaucratic blunder committed by Sergei Terehhov. This season the ‘jersey affair’ hit the headlines after Infonet-Flora. What you think about this episode that involved Mashichev and the referee, was it handled adequately?
I think it was the 4th official fault in this situation.
He could have told the coach that Mashichev can put on a different jersey with any number. But all he said was “the player can’t play without a number”. Take it how you want. I know that last season we have played with Narva and all Narva team was playing with training bibs. Different rules apply?
In big football countries they say there is some kind of ‘psychological pressure’ on referees when they officiate big clubs against smaller ones.
Do you think there is something similar in Estonia?
I think so, yes.
I have seen you often at the games.
How do you handle your emotions during the match knowing that you cover an official role?
I try to sit somewhere away from others (smiles –edit)
Andrei, I know that you are a loyal reader of Rumori.
Can you tell us what you like to find here in general and what you like specifically?
I like the neutral position and good understanding of what is happening on the field and out of it. I like your energy; you guys actually put a lot of effort for the popularization of Estonian football. I haven’t seen either any English-speaking specific website or good source about Estonian football before. However, I don’t like that the website has not a user friendly interface, sorry... (smiles –edit).
Coming from an IT expert, we take your precious remark and we will improve the looks in the future, thanks!
I close this interview with a long-term question.
Do you see FC Infonet winning the title in the next 3 years?
We consider a 5-year time including the past two, as it needed 5 years for Kalju to win (2013) after promotion (2008).
I have no idea, that is what I am interested in as well…
After the friendly match between Estonia and Iceland (1-1), we had the chance to speak to the captain of the Icelandic team, the midfielder of Serie A team Hellas Verona, Emil Hallfreðsson.
Emil, what are your thoughts about the match (against Estonia)?
It was a good match, very competitive. We played with 11 new players that haven’t really played a lot together and the result is as it is.
Did you expect such a resistance from Estonia?
We knew before the match that they are a team that doesn’t concede a lot of goals, especially in front of the home crowd and we were prepared for that. In the first 15 minutes we played very well. We scored one goal and we could have scored another one, but after that I don’t know what happened, maybe we got distracted or we just weren’t concentrated enough and we allowed Estonia to take over control and the final result 1-1 is a realistic one in my opinion.
You are on a good run in the European qualifiers lying just one point behind Czech Republic and in front of powerhouses like the Netherlands and Turkey. If the playoffs for the World Cup were surprise to many, now everyone sees Iceland as a serious opponent. What do you owe this success to?
We have very good coaches and we prepare for our matches very well, there are a lot of quality players in the squad and we are playing good as a team. There is a good chemistry between us, we stick together and that is quite important for success.
You are going back to Italy now for the final games of Serie A.
What are your expectations with Hellas Verona?
Our goal is still to remain in Serie A (Hellas Verona are sitting at 16th spot, 11 points from relegation spot -edit). Last season was great for us, we finished 10th after 11 seasons in Serie B but we are still humble. Our aim was to get 40 points as early as possible. We have 32 at the moment with 10 games left and Saturday’s match against Cesena is very important as we both fight to survive and if we win that match I think that we will be on the right path to stay up.
What are your future plans? Staying put or moving to a different club?
No, not really. Only this summer I signed a 3-year extension, I am very happy so there is no reason to move anywhere. Verona is a beautiful city and me and my family are happy there - we have lived in Verona for 5 years now - and it really feels like home. To be honest, I can’t wait to go back “home” tomorrow. It has been a tiring campaign and playing on the artificial turf in Kazakhstan wasn’t really the greatest experience, but it was okay in the end as we won with 3-0.
Thank you very much Emil and good luck!
By Deni Delev
This interview appeared originally on Calciomercato.com in November 2014 by Giovanni Scotto.
Translation and adaptation into English by Angelo Palmeri
It’s like opening the book of memories.
A picture from 15 years ago.
Mid-August evening, a preseason game in Spain for SSC Napoli against Real Madrid.
Napoli takes the lead and the Real pulls level.
It was Zdenek Zeman’s Napoli.
A boy who should have not been even called up for that game, was given a start and scored the opener: Giorgio Di Vicino.
And what a opener! (check the video of the header goal here).
Di Vicino’s destiny parted from Zeman when the Bohemian coach was sacked by Napoli in season 2000-01. Zeman called back his pupil at Salernitana, in Serie B. Di Vicino was a bit unlucky, he could have been what Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile are today. However, it doesn’t matter.
Giorgio is 34 now and now he is embracing a new adventure in Estonia at Sillamäe Kalev.
Zeman hasn’t forgotten about you. He said you were the symbol of his unlucky Napoli. What do you think?
I am glad. Honestly, I didn’t know he said that. But I checked and I smiled. I thank him and I think he was right. The one in Alicante was a nice evening of football for us, we played very well. They should have trusted the coach more, he needed time.
How did you end in the starting XI against Real Madrid?
I was from the youth sector and participated in the first team training camp. Honestly, I was just hoping to be called up to travel to Spain, however Zeman didn’t tell me anything. When I got known that I would have joined the first team to Madrid I celebrated with my family. Then he fielded me and I scored. Maybe it’s trivial, but this was like a dream to me.
Later on, that Napoli sank…
The situation was very difficult, the club was not as stable as it’s now. Corbelli (a former Napoli owner who followed Ferlaino, historical Napoli owner who brought Maradona –edit) had just arrived and at the club there were sliding doors for management members. Results were not satisfying, this is true. However, I really think Zeman deserved a bit more of trust. He would have fixed the situation.
What about you?
I was sold in January 2001 to Crotone, this was made against my will as I would have stayed in Napoli, however the decision was made. In season 2001-02, Zeman wanted to have me at Salernitana, where I performed very well. I owe him.
What does it mean to be a Zeman’s disciple?
He is a ‘maestro’, he taught me many things. They say that he his grouchy, that he doesn’t speak. It’s not like that. He is a normal person. During my times, also friends were telling me ‘how can you get along with that silent guy?’, it was not like that. He makes you work hard, however there’s nothing strange in that. He is an excellent professional.
What does Di Vicino do now?
Last season I played in Aversa Normanna. I’m 34 now and I am a free agent, I am waiting for a interesting offer. I got proposals from Serie D (fouth tier –edit) and from abroad. I wait for January and then I will decide. I am physically fit and I am satisfied with my career. I always wanted to play football and I managed to.
What about your future?
I have taken the first coaching licence. This is my target when I’ll hang the boots. But for now, I still want to play.
Obviously, you will implement a 4-3-3 like Zeman, or maybe you will be part of his staff?
Certainly he is my inspiration, I don’t hide it. I have learnt a lot from him and I would like to develop a similar football. I know his staff, they are extraordinary people I really love. You never know, if a hand is needed…I’m in!