Becoming a footballer, growing up. Aleksandr Kokorin tells his story, from past to present, to his objectives with Fiorentina.
"I started training very early. I don’t remember when I was young. I would start playing at six or seven, then at then I would go to the sports centre. I had school and training there. I lived alone, without my family. That was it – just training and playing.
I started very early, at around five. I always had a ball. I always wanted to be a footballer.
We had maybe two or three training sessions a week. Each session would be two or three hours, but where I was living you had the option to go and train in the evening if you wanted to play with your friends there.
In the morning I would go to training, go to school and then come back to training.
At the end of the day I’d be finished. Asleep."
"I realised when I was maybe 14 or 15. Because before I played but I didn’t think about it – I just played because I loved it. And later I realised it was possible for me to become a professional football player. I think I was 14 or 15, something like that. I made my debut when I was 17.
It's not easy because I trained for many years and had to wait to break into the first team, then when I got into the first team I kept working to try to earn a call-up to the national team. When I was in the national team, I tried to perform well so I could come to Europe.
Dinamo Moscow was my first club. My youth team was Lokomotiv but my first club as a professional was Dinamo Moscow.
It's about talent and hard work. I've seen throughout my career that whether you have a small or a big talent, you need to work every day if you want to achieve something. Eat, sleep, recovery. Recovery is very important and I only started doing it properly when I was about 24. When you're young, you don't understand the importance of it. You train and then go put with friends.
If I'd understood the importance of recovery at 18, I might not have some of the small injury problems I have now. Plus we have a lot of machines now that we didn't have when I was 17 or 18.
At Fiorentina we have somebody who creates special menus for us to eat, and I try to eat what he recommends.
Of course I liked eating McDonalds sometimes, fast food…
I like beer, but I don’t like spirits. After the game I have a beer, sometimes.
I don't like vodka. Foreigners think Russia is all about vodka rather than beer, but that’s not true. Of course, if you like vodka you drink it – it doesn’t matter if you’re Russian or Italian. I’ve seen that in Italy it’s normal to have a glass of wine with dinner. In Russia you just eat.”
Working on nutrition and recovery is fundamental".
"Football is important… Football is what I can do. I think it’s my life. Training and playing is all I’ve done for 20 years.
It's the most important thing because of all the emotions I have when I play, when I score, when I see people when I come to the stadium.
In my career the past months are maybe the second-most important moment, because in 2018 I had a tough ACL injury and now I have had this muscle problem.
I think football is my life.”
"I don't miss Russia, because I lived in Russia for many years.
No. I was born 600 kilometres outside of Moscow, in a small city. After I started my career, when I was young, in Moscow, I was ten. Then I left when I was 15. That’s why I don’t miss it, because I lived in all the beautiful cities in Russia. I know them all in Russia and I want to see some European cities.
If Russia play in a big tournament like the World Cup or the Euros, that’s very important. They are memorable games. I played in the Russian league for 10-12 years and my first two or three were important because I started to play. The first, second and third were really important and after that I adapted, I understood how to play in Russia.
When big tournaments come around, they’re very memorable for me."
"Before I signed, I spoke with [Joe] Barone and [Daniele] Prade and everybody said that Florence is a beautiful place. Then when I came, of course it’s a historic place.
I think in Italy the fans are more fanatical about football. Everybody spends two or three days before the game talking about football, and it’s the same after the game.
Of course I didn't see much of the fans so far. At training they’re unbelievable. I don’t know how many – 20, 30 guys… It sounds amazing. Everybody has said to wait and see when it’s possible for them to come to the stadium, that I’ll see the difference.
When the stadium’s full, it’s amazing.”
"I’d been to Italy before, but just Milan for two or three days, just for a small holiday. In 2012 I was injured for two months and lived in a clinic in Rome for two months.
I’ve started learning Italian. Now I continue, I started learning online, and now I continue. I understand some words, but I don’t understand how to construct [sentences].
I understand what the coach wants, I understand what my team-mates say, but I just understand.
Yeah, I talk to [Bartlomiej] Dragowski, because he’s from Poland and it’s very close to Russia. He understands me. Polish is very similar to Russian. [Dusan] Vlahovic, [Aleksa] Terzic and [Nikola] Milenkovic too. They also understand me very well and speak English too.”
If I want to communicate I try my best with Italian and English".
"For me right now the most important thing is to be ready physically. And I want to play. I don’t mind if it’s at forward, on the right, the left, centrally, as a defender…
I just want to play and find consistency."
"For me, family is first and then football. Those are the two options in my life. If my family is all OK, I concentrate on football.
When my son was born I changed because before I didn’t understand life 100%. When my son was born, I started to be a father, I wanted to play with him…
I think you have to be more concentrated on him and stay at home more. Before we had a baby, we weren’t at home so much – we went to the cinema, to a restaurant. When he was born, we just stayed at home.
My parents and I were together for nine years, and of course that was important for me.
As I said, for me my family – my father, mother, brother, wife and child – that’s the most important thing."
"Being famous in Russia was very hard for me, because whenever you made a small mistake that was all everybody would talk about. It was a big problem… You might think what you're doing is the right thing for you but other people can judge you or think it's not good.
Footballers need to think twice before doing anything.
Yes we're human beings like everyone else, but I think when you're a professional footballer you understand these things.
When you start becoming famous you have to be aware of what you're doing."
"I'm lucky to have friends in my city. We try to stay among ourselves and we don't make many new friends.
I have many friends. From all over the world. When I was playing in Russia, there were many international players and coaches too, including some Italians. Also when you play for the national team, against France for example, sometimes you talk to the opponents afterwards.
So I have many friends."
"I think it's like that everywhere in the world: if you're rich, there are haters who want to bring you down. You have to be aware of everything you do. If I make a small mistake, everyone says it's a huge problem.”
You have to be aware of what you're saying and doing, of where you're going. For example, if you go to a restaurant after a bad game, someone will take a picture of you and that will cause problems for you. Those are the 'rules' – not just for sportspeople, but famous people in general.
Footballers need to be clever and understand how it works."
"I want to win every time.
In training and away from football too: basketball, ping pong, PlayStation...
I don't want to win against my son on the PlayStation, of course.
Yes, it's true that sometimes it's good to switch off and relax. But if I lose a game, I don't feel good afterwards anyway so I stay at home.
That winning mentality is the mentality you need in professional football."
"Ronaldo Nazario. I chose No.9 after watching Ronaldo play. I wanted to be like him.
He was an amazing player."
"I keep quiet now, compared to before. I used to be more emotive. Before if a journalist said something about me, I'd try to talk to him but now I just focus on training and on listening to my coaches.
What's important to me is what my family wants."
"It's amazing here.
I've never seen a training centre like this before, where we have the offices and training facilities all together. So Commisso or Barone are very close to us. I'd never seen that before. In Russia, the training centre is one thing, and the management is another.
It's very nice. The chef comes in as well and asks what you want to eat. That's amazing.
If possible I want to win a trophy with Fiorentina.
From what I saw last year, Fiorentina played well but in some games we were unlucky with penalties or red cards. I don't think the final position was a fair reflection. That has to change this year. We should be aiming to get into Europe and maybe win the Coppa Italia if we can.
I like to play more aggressive, more attacking football and that's what I've seen from the new coach."
"Now I'm living in a new country and when I get the chance I like to see new cities. When I have time, I want to go to Venice. I want to learn the Italian language better. We have three dogs and one thing I think is great – and which I'd never seen before – is those places where they wash your dogs.
Everyone seems to have a dog in Italy – they love animals. It's not the same in Russia."
"t's not because I feel cold that I wear long sleeves. I just like to wear long sleeves! The weather in Italy is perfect. And I like it when it rains. Not like the rain we had the other day but I like 'normal' rain.
When you're a football player and you first have money, you want to buy nice clothes and cars. That was me when I was 21, 22. I had all sorts of cars, but then I got over that phase. Now the most important thing for me is my son.”
A long time – nine years. We decided to start a family four years ago. In two or three years our son will be at school,
and then I can relax!"
Interview by Vieri Capretta