This past week I had the fantastic opportunity of getting an interview with former USSR & Spartak Moscow forward and two-time Russian Football Union (RFU) president Nikita Pavlovich Simonyan.
Mr. Simonyan was active as a player in the late 1940s and through the 1950s, featuring for Moscow’s Krylya Sovetov before moving on to Spartak, where he is still the all-time leading goalscorer with 160 strikes. He is also the top scorer of the Soviet Top League with 133 goals, and won the title four times in addition top thrice capturing the golden boot. With the USSR Simonyan reached the quarterfinals of the 1958 World Cup, won gold at the 1956 Olympic football championships, and was capped 20 times in total. He is currently serving as the 1st Vice President of the RFU.
Out of all the players with whom you had the pleasure to play with, who was your favorite, for club and country?
“Undoubtedly, Lev Yashin.”
Considering the strong performances of Zenit St. Petersburg in the Europa League, particularly against PSV, do you think the club is one of the favorites for the trophy?
“I would certainly like to this so.”
Once again, there were no teams from the Russian Premier League reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League. What changes, if any, do you think are needed so Russian teams can be competitive in the competition?
“Unfortunately, at the moment our teams are below those from other European countries in terms of quality. That being said, the Russian Football Union is developing a strategy to significantly improve the quality of the game of Russian clubs.”
At the moment, Russia is third in its Euro 2016 qualifying group and has looked very shaky. Do you think the team has what it takes to qualify for the competition?”
“I certainly think so, yes. Our national team should be able to make it through, taking into account that we still have three home matches remaining.”
Do you consider [Henrikh] Mkhitaryan and [Yuri] Movsisyan are the most talented Armenian footballers of the post-Soviet era? Additionally, what reasons do you think are behind Mkhitaryan’s not entirely successful adaptation to Borussia Dortmund and Germany?
“Yes, and Mkhitaryan is more talented than Movsisyan, this is why he wears the captain’s armband for Armenia. Unfortunately, at the moment both of them are going through an unsuccessful period in their careers. Let’s hope that their both find their former form soon.”
During your time as a player you lined up shoulder-to-shoulder with many Soviet greats. Who do you think is the best footballer in the history of the USSR?
“There is a list of many fantastic players: Lev Yashin, Igor Netto, Eduard Streltsov. In first place, nonetheless, is Yashin.”
What are your thoughts on the development of the game in historically non-football oriented nations such as the United States and China?
“Obviously, football in these countries is developing very rapidly. I especially would like to highlight the United States, where despite the competition from hockey, american football, and basketball, european football is enjoying amazing progress.”
What changes, if any, do you think need to be made in the process for selecting World Cup host nations? Additionally, do you think the choice to give Qatar hosting rights is a correct one?
“FIFA policy is aimed at developing football all over the world. For this reason the World Cup hosting rights were given to nations Qatar and Russia. I attended the FIFA Congress in December of 2012 when the former was chosen as the 2022 host, over countries such as England. In our case, we still have a lot to do, while England were ready to host it right away.
At the moment, what do you think is the most pressing issue in Russian football?
“There are a lot. The main one- the development, or rather lack of development, of youth football. This is a problem that must receive a lot of attention [and be rectified as soon as possible].”
Of all of the young Russian players that are fighting their way into the starting lineups of their respective clubs, who do you think is best primed to become a future Russia star?
“Unfortunately, there are not that many. I would single out Aleksandr Kokorin, of whom even Fabio Capello speaks.”