K+S: How has the management of the Russian team changed since the days when you played?
BULYKIN: I like the coach [Stanislav] Cherchesov because he can change the style of football in every game. He always does the right thing during the game, before the game. If you see how we played against Saudi Arabia, Spain or Croatia — it was completely different ways and formations. I think everyone enjoyed his work.
Additionally, the players were so hungry for the wins. They fought a lot on the field and the result was obvious.
K+S: Russians are so enamored with your captain, Igor Akinfeev. How much did his leadership make an impact?
BULYKIN: We have a lot of leaders in our national team. The captain [Akinfeev] is so experienced and knows everyone. He is a goalkeeper — a very important position on the field. A lot of confidence is received from the goalkeeper.
I want to say that we have more leaders in our team too…[Artem] Dzyuba the striker, Cheryshev, Golovin, Zobnin…they played so well. I think they are leaders in the dressing room too. I hope that this team will keep the great energy next year as we move into the Euros.
K+S: Your discussion of great leaders makes me think of stars with early exits — Ronaldo, Messi. Are we watching these stars make their final descent to earth, or were their national teams not organized in a way to profit off of them?
BULYKIN: We like football because it’s an unpredictable game. If you see Portugal or Argentina, they have the top stars in the world—Ronaldo and Messi—but everything depends on the team. Of course leaders are important, but when you have big pressure from your supporters and country, somebody needs to help [the stars]. You need a team of fighters.
Russia fought in every place on the field. Everyone wanted to play well, and to show that they are a strong team. If you see Germany, for example, or Portugal or Spain, they were not so passionate. We call it having a light in your eyes.
In the Russian team, I saw that light and the fire in their eyes. It’s difficult to translate. Our supporters gave so much energy as well, and I think it helped us to do great things.