“Olympic gold remains my goal – now as a coach”

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World volleyball superstar, long-term libero of the Russian national team Alexey Verbov completed his playing career a year ago and focused on coaching. The first full-fledged job as a head coach for the honored master of sports was Kemerovo “Kuzbass”, with whom he went directly to the “Final Six” of the last national championship and stopped one step away from the medals.

The two-time Olympic medalist returns to Zenit Kazan next season, for which he played for the last six years of his career, three of them as a player coach. Verbov will replace the head coach of the legendary Vladimir Alekno, who won four Champions League with the club, the World Club Championship, and the Russian national team, which led to the gold of the 2012 Olympics.

In an interview with Izvestia Verbov spoke about the Kuzbass season, the arrival of the star volleyball player of the Italian national team Ivan Zaitsev, the support of the Kemerovo fans and the reasons for his absence from the “golden” Olympics in London.

– Is it correct to say that your first independent coaching debut took place last season? Or was the baptism of fire in Kazan, when in the 2019/2020 season you replaced Alekno, who went on vacation for health reasons?

– Yes and no. I felt the coach’s bread when I was a player coach for three seasons. Last year, Romanich (Vladimir Alekno – Izvestia) entrusted me almost completely with the management of the team, but he was always there and looked after us… Thanks again to him for his help and for gradually letting him know all the delights of coaching. (smiles)… And “Kuzbass” is already a full-fledged work “from and to”.

– How would you rate Kuzbass at the end of the season?

We completed the minimum task in the regular season, but, unfortunately, we were unable to get to the medals in the final. And in sports, it just doesn’t count. You are either on horseback or under it. In the game with Dynamo in the Russian Cup, we also lacked the smallest strength, but they are the Cup holders, and we only watched it on TV. We did not perform well in the Champions League, and I, as a coach, did not play it the best way.

– What did and did not work out in the last season as a whole? After all, only one tie-break separated the team from the medals.

Overall, we did a good job, if we take the result out of the equation. “Kuzbass” was in a difficult situation at the end of last year, and I think we managed to create a friendly and efficient team almost on call (just before the start of the season. – Izvestia). The team, as you said, was separated from the medals by one tie-break. And it happens that even one second, or one centimeter on a video challenge. But lucky is the one who is lucky. So, they could have done better somewhere. But As a coach, I am proud of the guys and happy with the way they treated the work. I promised at the beginning of the season that the team will not be ashamed, they will love her, and she will give everything she can. Except for rare moments, this is how it was… I am convinced that each of us got better after this season. Some may be insignificant, but some are perceptible, and this was also one of the goals for the season.

Of course, Kuzbass can be classified as home teams, both in terms of a difficult location and in connection with simply crazy fans who love their team. What to say if only one and a half thousand people came to the open training. Our fans are really the seventh player on the team. It’s a shame that neither in the Champions League nor in the playoffs was able to take advantage of this advantage. Taking this opportunity, I want to once again apologize for the result and convey my regards to all the fans and deep gratitude for everything.

– Ivan Zaitsev has adequately replaced Viktor Poletaev. How did you manage to convince a player who was accustomed to a different standard of living and everyday comfort in Italy to come to Kemerovo, and not to Moscow, St. Petersburg or Kazan?

– There are many factors: the difficult financial situation in Italy, the professional management of Kuzbass and no difficulties in negotiations, as well as the trusting relationship between me and Vanya. Ivan has the image of a superstar, but in life he is an absolutely modest and simple guy. It seemed to me that there is even more Russian in it than European (smiles)… He joined the team perfectly. Like our other legionnaire Petar Krsmanovich. We can say that the last season “Kuzbass” spent without legionnaires, and this is not always possible.

– At what point in the semifinals of the “top-6” Ivan broke down, and was there a chance that he would still play in the match for third place?

– He felt discomfort in the middle of the fifth game. The medical staff did everything and even more to restore it, but, unfortunately, Ivan could not play for the bronze medals.

– Zenit-Kazan has become your home club, but isn’t it emotionally difficult to leave Kuzbass? Did you have even the slightest doubt whether to stay or leave?

– Sure, Kazan is a special place for me on the volleyball card… A lot connects me with this club and the city. And, of course, now I will have a return home. But also Kemerovo received so warmly and sincerely that during this season I looked at Siberia in a completely different way. To be honest, I have never seen myself that far from home, either as a player or as a coach. And today I think and choose between two, as it seemed to me, incomparable things for myself. Thanks again to the team, management and everyone involved in this wonderful club for everything. This season will stay with me forever.

– How should our volleyball develop more correctly: so that there is a base club, how Zenit and the national team formed around it? Or is the maximum competition better, as in the last three seasons, when the national teams play in almost all Super League clubs?

– There is no single correct answer to this question. On the one hand, nThe presence of collectors in one team and, of course, together with a bunch, and not as it was in St. Petersburg, makes it possible to establish game connections and feel each other, as they say, with their backs throughout the whole year, and not a few months when there is not much time. This practice was at one time in CSKA and Uralochka, which were the base clubs of the national team. BUT recent examples include Belgorod. But the ease with which these teams won domestic championships, in the current competition on the international arena, could play a cruel joke with them. Now many teams have caught up. Everyone knows how to play volleyball correctly. All information is publicly available. And now the result, in addition to technical-tactical and physical moments, often depends on confidence, character and willpower. BUT these qualities are developed, trained and tested in elimination games, when every point, set or match is worth its weight in gold, when there is no clear favorite, as was the case in the last Final Six, when the best players of the country play against each other and fight for trophies… All systems have their pros and cons.

– Who do you see in the national team as a libero at the Olympics?

– There are serious questions about this position. HI do not see among my colleagues in the role of a clear applicant for the trip. It seems that the candidate will be determined at the last moment. I hope that the national team’s coaching staff will make the right choice.

How far is Alexei Obmochaev, who played in your club this season, from his optimal form for the main libero of the national team at the “golden” London Olympics?

Lyokha has a very difficult fate. I am glad that Kuzbass helped him get another chance… He can play even better than now. He certainly has talent, but everything depends solely on him.

– Are you still upset that you did not get into the “golden” London squad? Why, in your opinion, did this happen?

There is a grudge against oneself. I missed it because I was worse at that moment. But this situation changed my life in many ways for the better and made me stronger. And Olympic gold remains my goal – now as a coach… And this is a great motivation for further work.

– What real goals should the Russian national team set for themselves in Tokyo?

– Everyone and the team as a whole should have one goal – to give 100%, to be a single mechanism, to be able to endure when it will be difficult and not to set any global goals. You need to play and tune in for each match, as for a separate tournament.

– How would you rate the “Final Six” in Moscow in terms of the level of organization. And how – the new arena of Moscow “Dynamo”?

– I like the arena. Very comfortable room. And here there were problems with the organization, although perhaps there were reasons for that, I am not an expert in this. For example, coaches were not allowed to attend matches, they were sent under the roof to the stands… Tuomas and I (Sammelvuo, head coach of Zenit St. Petersburg and the Russian national team – Izvestia) wanted to watch the game, but never got to it. Okay, me, but the head coach of the national team? Tickets were expensive for regular fans. Us it is necessary to attract spectators, young people, and we, on the contrary, scare them away. Previously, a part of tickets for sports schools was allocated in Moscow. Now even the Olympic champions had a hard time making their way to the matches.… Invitations for the families of players and coaches were also not provided. And as a result, there were few spectators, especially in the group stage. To “sell” volleyball, as it should be, you first need to ensure the demand for it.

– Dynamo made a treble, although few expected it from them before the season. How did this become possible?

It is worth noting the work of the management and the coaching staff. They did everything at five. Selection of players, team chemistry, desire, confidence – wherever you go, everything worked like clockwork… Tsvetan Sokolov finally got into the team, where he really felt like a leader and leader, sometimes he just dragged the team on his own. Pavel Pankov made a huge step forward in everything, he made a very good impression. They were ready to give up Ilya Vlasov at the beginning of the season, and now all the top clubs were fighting for him. Anton Semyshev is the opening of the season for me. Yaroslav Podlesnykh looked stable as before. Sam Deru kept his level despite injuries. Even Romanas Shkulevichus, having little playing time and replacing Sokol, did not fall below 60% in attack. Congratulations to Dynamo, good job.

– What are your expectations from the 2021/2022 season? What tasks will Zenit face?

– Everyone knows the goals and objectives of Zenit. They do not change from year to year. We start from scratch. From match to match, from tournament to tournament, we give our best and gradually move in the direction we need. We have every opportunity for this.

You have won the Champions League four times as a player. When and from whom can we first expect that the Russian club will again take the main trophy of European club volleyball?

– I would like to return this trophy to Russia as soon as possible, but it will not be easy. I wish good luck to the Russian teams next year. I don’t want to make predictions, because I miss all the time (smiles)