Russian Winters: A Gersnet Q&A with Andrei Kanchelskis

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This week on Gersnet, we're working with our friends at deCoubertin Books to promote Russian Winters: The Story of Andrei Kanchelskis which is a fascinating new autobiography from the former Rangers winger.

As well, as the exclusive Q&A below, we'll have a full review of the book which will also include an opportunity to win a copy - keep an eye on the site over the coming days for this! In the meantime, please enjoy Andrei's answers to our questions which includes the time he was tricked into calling Alex Ferguson a 'Scottish b*stard'.

Q1: The Ukraine, England, Scotland, Italy and Saudi Arabia: to what extent is your own much-travelled playing career useful to your management work now?

You always pick up something from places where you have played; even in Saudi Arabia. I had gone there after Rangers. Like a lot of people at Ibrox I did not get on with Dick Advocaat and I had a strong dislike of his policy of bringing in too many players from Holland.

Anyway I find myself in Riyadh being managed by a Dutchman, Aad de Mos. My first thought was what have I done travelling thousands of miles just to be managed by another Dutchman. De Mos was fine, a lovely man. One of the lessons from that is that if you start prejudging people you will misjudge them.

Q2: During your time at the club, Rangers had an excellent manager and a squad filled with top international players. Why didn’t this team do better in Europe than they did?

Rangers should have done much better in Europe when I was at the club. David Murray had spent a lot of money, perhaps too much money, to make Glasgow Rangers one of the best teams in Europe. He did not get what he paid for.

Sometimes it was for reasons beyond our control. In one season we had Valencia, Bayern Munich and PSV Eindhoven in our group. Bayern had just lost the Champions League final and Valencia would be finalists in the two seasons that came after that. We finished third, which was a very good achievement which allowed us to qualify for the Uefa Cup then we got Borussia Dortmund. We lost on penalties. No Premier League club had it as hard. Dick Advocaat was brought in to improve Rangers in Europe and I don’t think he succeeded. He brought in too many players. You never felt that Rangers were a settled side. Sometimes, I felt Advocaat was buying players and then looking for positions to play them in when it should have been the other way around.

Frank de Boer’s knees were so bad that he could not play for two days after a game. There were too many Dutch imports. It sometimes looked to me as if Advocaat was trying to create a Dutch club in Glasgow. There were some Dutch players I got on with like Arthur Numan, who was a good guy and if Michael Mols had not had that horrible injury we would have done a lot better. But, sometimes, you looked at the dressing room and there was Advocaat’s Dutch players and the rest of us. I think there was very little togetherness by the time Advocaat left.

There is another reason and it is something that has always hurt Scottish clubs. I don’t want to be disrespectful but the standard of Scottish football is very uneven and when we played in Europe, we had to make a big adjustment to what we were used to. Manchester United had the same problem when they were winning the Premier League. They had it too easy in England and then when they went abroad they were surprised by how hard it was.

Q3: In recent times, Scottish football has fallen down the UEFA coefficient ladder. Can clubs like Rangers ever be successful in Europe again or is the financial gulf too big?

It is very hard for Rangers now. I was very upset when the club hit financial difficulties. I have played for two clubs, Fiorentina and Glasgow Rangers, who have been liquidated. You look at the money Paris St Germain are spending and see what Rangers’ budget is. When David Murray was in charge the club had a real chance to be successful in Europe and it was a shame we did not take it. I think because of economic reasons it will be hard for all Scottish clubs now.

Q4: As a player, how important was it for you to form good relationships with your managers and how does this affect the way you work with players now? For example, how easy was it to get on with people like Dick Advocaat and Sir Alex Ferguson?

When I went into management I never tried to act like Valery Lobanovsky or Alex Ferguson and it would not have worked if I had. They were extraordinary people. I liked both of them because they liked wingers. I was more afraid of Lobanovsky than anyone who managed me. He never raised his voice, but he could kill you with a single look. When I went to his office to ask for a transfer from Dynamo Kiev, I left with my shirt soaked in sweat. He had barely said a word to me.

Ferguson had a real temper in the dressing room but what was astonishing was how quickly he calmed down. He could scream at you in the dressing room and then come down to the back of the bus and join you for a game of cards. We took it from Ferguson because he was successful but also because he never went to the press with stories about us. We all respected him for that.

Dick Advocaat was successful at Glasgow Rangers but I never got on with him. He was more defensive-minded than Ferguson and off the pitch he imposed himself by worrying about little details. He had this thing about players wearing white socks, tucking their shirts in and wearing V-necked jumpers.

He signed far too many Dutch footballers. That created a clique at Ibrox which was the Dutch against the rest and I really resented that. Louis van Gaal did a similar thing at Barcelona. Some of the Dutch footballers were not that good. Colin Hendry had to make way for Bert Konterman, who was not nearly as good a defender.

Q5: Related to that, although you’d previously spent six years in the UK at Man Utd and Everton, how easy was it to settle at Rangers? Who were you friendly with in the dressing room and why?

There were two reasons why I went to Rangers. One was that they paid the money Fiorentina were asking for! The other was that I wanted to go back to Britain. Alex Mikhailichenko had told me Rangers were the best club he had played for and that really convinced me.

We lived on a housing estate on the edge of Glasgow with a quite a few other Rangers players and that helped me settle. We were told which restaurants to avoid and which we could go to but I once drove to Parkhead by mistake! That was interesting.

I got on best with the Scottish players. Barry Ferguson was a good guy, really open and honest and a very good player.

Q6: Many Rangers fans fondly recall you cheekily standing on the ball in a Scottish Cup semi-final against Ayr Utd as well as wonderful goals against Celtic and Dunfermline. What do you remember best about your time in Scotland?

I remember the derbies, how could you ever forget those games. I never in my career played in a match that had so much build-up or where there was so much pressure. I couldn’t believe how many days in advance the papers were talking about it. I remember the singing. I thought the singing at Celtic Park was beautiful, although I think some of you might not agree with me! But it did not intimidate me. The Ali Sami Yen in Istanbul was far worse.

The thing about Ibrox was the passion from the stands. They would never stop urging you on. Even when Rangers had clearly lost the game, they would support you, which would not have happened in Italy or in the Soviet Union. It would not have happened at Manchester United either.

Q7: As someone born in the Soviet Union, with Lithuanian parents in an area that became Ukraine you chose to play for Russia. Was that because you 'felt' Russian, because you didn't feel Ukrainian or Lithuanian or was it just a football decision where you thought they had the best team?

When the Soviet Union broke up I chose Russia because they were the only realistic option. I was born in Ukraine but they were not allowed to try to qualify for the 1994 World Cup which Russia was. They didn’t qualify for a major tournament until 2006 and by then my international career was over, so it was the right decision. I was in Manchester when I announced the decision and I got a lot of mail saying I was wrong but I don’t think I could have done anything else.

Q8: The media: how helpful and unhelpful were they during your playing career? Has social media made things more open or more problematic?

I have never had any real problems with the media. The problems you have with the internet is that people can claim things without having to prove them. The fans now are told far more than they were.

Q9: Who was the best payer you played alongside and against? And what kind of player did you prefer in your team – an unglamorous worker or arrogant goal-scorer?

The best team I played for was Manchester United in the year we won the Double (1994) but the best player I played with was Gabriel Batistuta. His consistency was everything. He scored at least 19 goals in every season for Fiorentina. If you know Italian defending, that is remarkable. He carried Fiorentina but he was a really modest man who came from very humble beginnings in Argentina and never forgot them. The best defenders were also in Italy. Paolo Maldini and Fabio Cannavaro were fantastic. In my 18 months in Serie A I only scored two goals.

Q10: In recent times both UEFA and FIFA have suffered from corruption scandals. Indeed your career was linked to controversial people and events. Just how difficult is it to stay on the straight and narrow when you earn millions of pounds?

I say in the book that money is a mask for footballers to hide behind. Underneath they are still the same people they were before. I did not have good advice in my career. My agent when I was at Manchester United was under a lot of pressure to get me a move to another club because Shakhtar Donetsk would make £1.5m from the move. My agent now is a guy called Sandor Varga, a good guy. If I had him around in 1995, maybe I would have stayed for another four years at Manchester United.

Q11: Let’s finish with a funny story. What’s your favourite anecdote from your time in the game?

When I first came to Manchester United, I knew no English and the players said that when you met Alex Ferguson in the corridor of the Cliff, which was our training ground, you should call him “a Scottish b*stard”. I did that once.

Gersnet would like to thank Andrei and deCoubertin Books for taking the time to answer our questions so candidly. Our book review will be online over the next few days and you can already buy the book direct from the publisher via this link.

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