Alexey Spiridonov can be quite a polarizing figure. On one hand he is an outstanding outside hitter. He is explosive in his approach, and has an attacking prowess that landed him on the Russian National Team. The other side of Spiridonov is a firecracker who is always one incident away from being ejected from the match. He taunts the opponents, he taunts the crowd, he kicks chairs, he kicks pole pads, and probably has done many more things that coaches teach young athletes not to do.
Ever since his return to Zenit Kazan was announced by the team, a lot of volleyball fans keep asking themselves how can any coach in the world deal with a team that has in it Spiridonov and Earvin Ngapeth. The first gave out an interview to Sportsdaily.ru saying that if anything, Zenit Kazan inviting him back can only mean that he is not that hated in the volleyball community:
“I heard I was being called the leading PR man of Russian volleyball. Perhaps this is good for the popularity of volleyball, but I often suffer because of this image. It hurts many managers and coaches when a player has an independent opinion and says what he thinks is right. Team leaders do not like unusual behaviors, they want everyone to be the same. Over the past year I paid fines for red cards for about three hundred thousand rubles (about 5,000 USD). Plus, I was disqualified for two matches, one of them in the playoffs. But I have always been like that! I am accepted this way, why should I change? If nobody wanted me, one could still speculate on this topic, but I just signed on my return to Zenit Kazan, not the worst club in the world. This is probably a good indicator. Alekno can not be indulged in training. Be you a youngster or a veteran – there are no exceptions. But he is without quirks. When you can rest, he himself will say: “Guys, today you can sit.” I’ve seen different coaches. Some of them went to training as a disgusted routine work. Alekno does not. I probably have never met a coach better than him.”
Spiridonov also commented on a story of how coach Alekno once took his players for a tour in a Russian prison and recounted his own experience in jail after being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, which also led to a six months suspension from the Russian Volleyball Federation:
“No, I was not in Zenit at that time. Although the practice is useful, to see another world with your own eyes and not just from people’s mouths. I was in jail already without Alekno. I had enough of an individual tour to think deeply about life. It was a long time ago, in 2011. It was because of a misunderstanding, one of my friends was driving under the influence of alcohol. I was detained for more than a day. I had a couple of looks around to understand it all and say “there’s nothing to do here, it’s better to sit at home in your armchair in the evening, drinking tea or something else and watching football than to be in this cell.” My friends then helped me, dragged me out of there. It was easier to settle this situation back in 2011, now it would have had much more severe consequences.”
Lastly, he touched on one of the most controversial topics surrounding his persona. During the 2014 World Championships in Poland, in a match against the home team, Spiridonov made a rifle gesture towards the Polish fans, which also led to a two-match suspension. After the tournament, he even gave out an interview calling Poland a “rotten nation” with a “poisonous language.”
“We played in Poland soon after Crimea became Russian, the events were fresh. The Poles behaved ugl, raging insults and rudeness from the stand. During the performance of our anthem, some sat, others whistled. Complete disrespect! It was felt that there was a powerful anti-Russian propaganda blooming. I was never faced with such hatred in any other country, we had to go there with armed guards protecting us. I can imagine what was said on television – everything bad comes from Russia, only Russia is to blame. Since then, I have a negative attitude towards the Poles. Although, if objectively, I cannot say that about the whole nation. I played in the same team as a Polish – a great guy. But even the best families are not without their black sheep.”
Needless to say, coach Alekno will have to do his best to keep his team on the line. Coaching Wilfredo Leon was easy, with his calm demeanor and manners. Ngapeth and Spiridonov are a whole different ballgame.
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