Insight

Sergei Semak on Leadership

The 43-year-old captained both CSKA Moskva and Rubin Kazan to league titles as a player before leading Zenit to the crown last season as coach. Here he explains what he demands of his players – and himself

INTERVIEW Evgeni Polyakov

What motivates me? It’s a thirst for victory. To win. I’m an emotional person and this motivates me to win every match and to give everything in every training session. I have to: it’s in my genes, passed down from my parents. If you do something, you need to not only put all of your strength into it, but all of your soul too.

I think that it’s recognised by others when you live and breathe your work, when you’re anxious about what you’re doing, when you’re concerned about the results, the atmosphere and quality of your work. For me, this is something that hasn’t changed. At the start of my playing career, when I was a captain, sometimes I’d try to fight on behalf of every team-mate. In fact, not all of them were deserving of that effort but it was hard for me to set myself limits back then.

It’s something we try to instil in our training sessions at Zenit. If players don’t give their all in training, they might then struggle to do it on the pitch. You can get a swing – they’ll perform with real confidence in one game but not in the next, and this happens because there’s no habit of winning and giving your all every day in training. That’s why we try to play every game to the maximum: so as to reduce these variations.

With players at the elite level, UEFA Champions League football in itself should be motivation enough, but that’s not always the case. Each player has his own level, his own career path. It’s not a bad thing if they’re not emotional, that’s just the approach that allows them to perform to their best.

Sergei Semak took over at Zenit  in 2018

In my eyes, leadership is included in our emotional make-up. It’s about that desire to win all the time. The most important thing is to give your all. It’s not right to think that somebody else has to do something for you. You need to understand that you’re responsible for doing all you can to achieve victory. First and foremost, you need to rely on yourself. Then others will reach out to people like that.

These qualities are more innate than anything else. Some players become leaders after gaining experience and achieving things in the game, but in terms of the emotional aspect, I think you’re born with it. You can spot a leader from their spirit and character within a club. To use my players as examples, Artem Dzyuba and Branislav Ivanović have qualities that set them apart as leaders of our side: character, experience, emotional experience.

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

What motivates me? It’s a thirst for victory. To win. I’m an emotional person and this motivates me to win every match and to give everything in every training session. I have to: it’s in my genes, passed down from my parents. If you do something, you need to not only put all of your strength into it, but all of your soul too.

I think that it’s recognised by others when you live and breathe your work, when you’re anxious about what you’re doing, when you’re concerned about the results, the atmosphere and quality of your work. For me, this is something that hasn’t changed. At the start of my playing career, when I was a captain, sometimes I’d try to fight on behalf of every team-mate. In fact, not all of them were deserving of that effort but it was hard for me to set myself limits back then.

It’s something we try to instil in our training sessions at Zenit. If players don’t give their all in training, they might then struggle to do it on the pitch. You can get a swing – they’ll perform with real confidence in one game but not in the next, and this happens because there’s no habit of winning and giving your all every day in training. That’s why we try to play every game to the maximum: so as to reduce these variations.

With players at the elite level, UEFA Champions League football in itself should be motivation enough, but that’s not always the case. Each player has his own level, his own career path. It’s not a bad thing if they’re not emotional, that’s just the approach that allows them to perform to their best.

Sergei Semak took over at Zenit  in 2018

In my eyes, leadership is included in our emotional make-up. It’s about that desire to win all the time. The most important thing is to give your all. It’s not right to think that somebody else has to do something for you. You need to understand that you’re responsible for doing all you can to achieve victory. First and foremost, you need to rely on yourself. Then others will reach out to people like that.

These qualities are more innate than anything else. Some players become leaders after gaining experience and achieving things in the game, but in terms of the emotional aspect, I think you’re born with it. You can spot a leader from their spirit and character within a club. To use my players as examples, Artem Dzyuba and Branislav Ivanović have qualities that set them apart as leaders of our side: character, experience, emotional experience.

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Today, in my role as coach, the key thing is to be understood. There are many ways to transfer information to a player but the most important thing is that this information reaches its destination. I can be harsh when needed and at times can be really nice. I want my players to feel completely relaxed. There shouldn’t be any psychological pressure, as players get enough of that during matches.  

The main quality I want from any new player is understanding. This means training drills need to be understood and the same goes for what’s required on the pitch. To understand something, you need to know why it’s necessary and then it’s easier to implement it. What we need is complete professionalism from our players – 100% during every game and training session – while from our side, as the coaching staff, we set the intensity and choose the focus of each session.

Semak looks for a mixture of qualities from his players, including emotion and discipline

Beyond that there are fundamentals any team needs, starting with speed and thought. Without pace it’s very difficult nowadays. Speed encompasses quick thinking, as well as when you have the ball at your feet. I’d also add quality, meaning game intelligence and nous.

Another fundamental is discipline. Only a few clubs can achieve good results without putting a big emphasis on discipline and that’s largely thanks to the quality of their players. It’s very hard for teams to achieve results without following tactical instructions to the letter.    

And finally, I come back to emotion. And emotion, in my mind, means passion, aggression. It’s about pressing, feeling that emotional charge from the stands that gives the players energy, and the players giving it back in turn. Emotion makes the game more watchable too. Without emotion, no amount of quality, tempo or discipline will give us that feeling of huge joy and satisfaction that a good match can bring.

What motivates me? It’s a thirst for victory. To win. I’m an emotional person and this motivates me to win every match and to give everything in every training session. I have to: it’s in my genes, passed down from my parents. If you do something, you need to not only put all of your strength into it, but all of your soul too.

I think that it’s recognised by others when you live and breathe your work, when you’re anxious about what you’re doing, when you’re concerned about the results, the atmosphere and quality of your work. For me, this is something that hasn’t changed. At the start of my playing career, when I was a captain, sometimes I’d try to fight on behalf of every team-mate. In fact, not all of them were deserving of that effort but it was hard for me to set myself limits back then.

It’s something we try to instil in our training sessions at Zenit. If players don’t give their all in training, they might then struggle to do it on the pitch. You can get a swing – they’ll perform with real confidence in one game but not in the next, and this happens because there’s no habit of winning and giving your all every day in training. That’s why we try to play every game to the maximum: so as to reduce these variations.

With players at the elite level, UEFA Champions League football in itself should be motivation enough, but that’s not always the case. Each player has his own level, his own career path. It’s not a bad thing if they’re not emotional, that’s just the approach that allows them to perform to their best.

Sergei Semak took over at Zenit  in 2018

In my eyes, leadership is included in our emotional make-up. It’s about that desire to win all the time. The most important thing is to give your all. It’s not right to think that somebody else has to do something for you. You need to understand that you’re responsible for doing all you can to achieve victory. First and foremost, you need to rely on yourself. Then others will reach out to people like that.

These qualities are more innate than anything else. Some players become leaders after gaining experience and achieving things in the game, but in terms of the emotional aspect, I think you’re born with it. You can spot a leader from their spirit and character within a club. To use my players as examples, Artem Dzyuba and Branislav Ivanović have qualities that set them apart as leaders of our side: character, experience, emotional experience.

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.