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“Of course I was disappointed.” First interview with Raikovich after his sudden resignation from CSKA

Date: July 15, 2024 Time: 04:40:33

The 2023/2024 regular season in the VTB United League ended for CSKA Moscow in a different way than it was used to. The first place, to which the red and blue aspire year after year, finally went to UNICS from Kazan, and the army team was only in third place in the classification. The management considered this result unsatisfactory, so a week before the start of the playoffs they decided to make large-scale changes: change the head coach.

Since summer 2022, this position has been held by Emil Raikovich, who previously worked for Avtodor, Astana and many other teams outside the VTB league. His dismissal was a real surprise to everyone, including the Championship editors. And just three days after making this sensational decision, we managed to contact the specialist himself and ask him personally: what really happened?

Who led CSKA?

CSKA changed coaches just before the end of the season. Who is Pistiolis and what to expect from him?

– Where are you now? Are you still in Moscow? – Yes, I am in Moscow, about to leave. At midnight I have a flight to Istanbul, and from there to Skopje, back home.

—His team could not secure first place and finished third. What do you think was the main reason and what led to this result? Was it just Casper Ware’s injury or was something else going on? – It is a difficult question. Throughout this season we have had many problems and obstacles. For example, people forget that Nikita Kurbanov was suspended. We spent almost the entire season without the maximum number of foreign players: we played with five or less. At the same time, most teams played with six players all the time. Kurbanov’s absence in the first part of the season did not have a particularly strong impact, but when he returned, we needed a change in the hierarchy, a redistribution of playing minutes between players.

Then came the acquisition of the sixth legionnaire. He would have to be someone dominant, but Casper Ware would still be, let’s say, our main defender. We knew what our lineup was. Even the president said that we surpassed the goals of the first part of the regular season, when we were consistently in first place. However, the plan was for Kasper and this other defender we were signing to be a key part of our team. We all know what happened with Will Barton and the medical, Casper’s injury.

In the most important period for us and me, playing with the guys we had was a challenge. We had problems in all the games and it was especially difficult in the second stage, where we lost where we could win. But I think above all we lacked the quality and leadership of the defenders. This is the main reason why we didn’t do well in the second half of the season. And if you ask me if we finished first, second or third, it doesn’t really matter because we’ll still have home field advantage in the playoffs. And we saw that that advantage is not so important in the playoffs. What matters is how the team will play.

Emil Rajkovic

Photo: BC “UNICS”

And the main problem for the management was how we played in the last period. But, you know, usually the coach takes responsibility. Especially in a club as big as CSKA. There is no room for excuses. If you are a true leader with moral principles, you must take responsibility and allow the team to do everything possible without you. A similar story happened here too.

—How do you assess CSKA’s chances in the next playoffs? – I’ll be honest. Even before we split up, we talked to management and I was optimistic. Because with Kasper’s return, the team will receive the missing leadership, character and toughness. I think this will help connect the lines. This team is close to regaining its rhythm and confidence. The team is prepared physically and tactically. Everything is ready. Therefore, there is a high probability that CSKA will take the championship. And I agree that at this time a change of coach can give them that spark, that impulse that wakes everyone up. And I will be happy if they win the championship. I do not intend to be modest and say that this will be part of my success. So I really wish them victory.

—How and when were you informed that CSKA plans to change coaches? —We had several meetings in which we already talked about problems. After the match against UNICS it was clear that the management wants to make this change. And in a conversation with Andrei Vatutin and Natalia Furaeva (president and vice president of sports work of CSKA, respectively. – Championship Note) they told me that they would like to go in another direction. I agreed that this was the best decision for the team at this time. I would never give up, I would fight until the end. But in the end it is the president’s decision.

Emil Rajkovic

Photo: Dmitry Golubovich, “Championship”

—Were you surprised by this decision? And even before the match against UNICS did you have the feeling that this was already brewing? “We had a meeting after the game with Yenisey and the president expressed his concern and disappointment at the way we were playing. At the same time, he understood that we had problems with the formation of the squad, with the absence of Kasper. The management still thought that there was no choice but to change coaches. So I can’t say I was surprised. We fought UNICS, we did the best we could. UNICS played a great game. Nenad Dimitrijevic had a great game, Jalen Reynolds had a great game. We, on the other hand, tried, we played well in the first half, but we couldn’t win. We were missing what we had already talked about: advocates, leadership and execution. We shot very poorly in the fourth quarter. So, again, I wasn’t surprised.

— If this match had ended differently and CSKA had won the regular season, would you still be a coach? – Pfft… I think this is more of a question for the president. This is a hypothetical question and I don’t even know. Hard to say. It would probably be more difficult for them to make such a move. I don’t know.

— Were you disappointed because you were not allowed to finish the season and enter the playoffs with the team? – Upset? She had mixed feelings. We were in such, how can I put it, agony with Casper’s injury and other issues we faced. There was, let’s say, a crisis of results. In training everything was fine, but in matches, especially in terms of efficiency, there were problems.

Disappointed… Of course, disappointed. But on the other hand I understand them. [руководителей]. They want to give their best and maximize the team’s chances of winning. So I understand them too. If you ask me, would I fight until the end? Do I think we would have won the championship if I had stayed? I will answer: yes, of course. 100%.

What do you think of new coach Andreas Pistiolis? – I don’t know him personally. I heard a lot of good things about him from the management, from his former pupils. And he will probably find himself in a situation that, on the one hand, is a challenge and, on the other, an opportunity. He has a team prepared. With Kasper’s return there will be good possibilities, a good position to fight. Wish you all the best. I’m not the kind of person who leaves the club hoping everything burns down and no one succeeds. I’m not like that. I tell you honestly and I mean it: I want him to win the championship. And then I will feel that this championship is mine too. I worked here for two years. I built this team and put a lot of trust and work into these players. So I really wish you all the best.

Emil Rajkovic

Photo: Dmitry Golubovich, “Championship”

— After his first training session as a coach, Pistiolis told me that he would be happy to talk to you if you would get in touch, since you did an excellent job at CSKA and this could help. What do you think about this? – It usually happens the other way around. We don’t know each other personally, but if he feels the need to talk to me, I’m 100% open to it. And he would honestly answer any of his questions if it would help.

—What do you plan to do with your career in the near future? Have you already received offers from other teams? —I immediately received offers. Three of them arrived yesterday. They are from Europe. But I’m not in a situation where I have to start working right away. I need to go back to my family, recharge my batteries a little. It’s not easy to process everything that happened and it will take me some time. But, definitely, next season I will have opportunities. I have no doubt that I will be back soon and will strive to work even harder.

—If an offer comes from the United League, will you accept it? There are rumors that Zenit will look for a new coach in the summer. —My first priority is to get to the Euroleague. This is my little dream or goal that I have set for myself. So that will be a priority. It would be too early to return to the VTB league, but never say never. In our profession sometimes you don’t have to choose because the club chooses you. And in our last conversation with Furaeva we even joked that we would meet again, but on different sides (laughs). It’s true that it was more of a joke.

— Do you consider the two years spent at CSKA to be, in general, a good experience? Have you learned anything new leading such a large team? – Look, this is my eighteenth consecutive season. I’m still quite young to be a coach, I’m 45 years old. But this is my 18th season as a head coach. And for me, not finishing the season is the first experience of its kind. I will definitely learn from him and the mistakes I made during this period. But I try to be a person who remembers the good things more, and there were many. I had the opportunity to work with good people, a great organization with high moral values ​​to which we managed to remain faithful. I don’t hold a grudge against them. I respect everyone: Vatutin, Furaeva, everyone who worked with me, the staff, the team. It was a good collaboration. We won the regular season, we set records, for example, 24 games in a row won, best offense, etc. We showed good results and won several individual awards. There were many good moments. But at the same time there were also those who failed. An intelligent person should learn from his own experience and move forward and improve in the future.

Emil Rajkovic

Photo: Dmitry Golubovich, “Championship”

— If you had the opportunity to go back in time, what would you change about your job at CSKA? “I didn’t have much time to analyze, but there were definitely things I could have done better.” For example, it was very difficult to select players in these two seasons. For all the problems that exist in the market and for the entire political situation. With restrictions financially, politically and otherwise, he could do a better job in terms of selecting players. I made some mistakes. Not always because I made the wrong decision. For example, we made offers to five or six players. They refuse and you choose the seventh on the list. So it turns out you could have made a better decision. It wouldn’t be appropriate to name names, but I think he should have done a better job in terms of selection.

— Could you name at least one player that you wanted to hire but couldn’t? — There were players who chose the Euroleague instead of us. To be honest, there were players we couldn’t afford. Even in our league. Now they play well against us and win games. I won’t name names, but it’s true.

— Can you name the three best players in the United League outside of CSKA right now? — First of all I must name Dimitrievich. He played very well against us. They won the regular season, he was the MVP last season and now this season. I think he should receive this award. Another player who must be adapted to and who is not easy to defend against is Jalen Reynolds. Then I have to say that if Trent Frazier continues to play as efficiently as he has down the stretch, he will also help his team achieve his goals. I also like Thomas Ertel. He plays like a computer and is difficult to defend against. From Loko I like Martyuk and Elatontsev, Russian players who will dominate in the coming years. I love how Devon Akun-Purcell has played so far. These are the players from top 4 teams that come to mind. Otherwise, Rathen-Mays and Jeremiah Martin had a great season. With coach Arsich, Martin and Rathen-Mays there was great chemistry at Yenisei. I think this is a historic season for your club and it is worth mentioning.

Extensive interview with Rathen-Mays:

Exclusive

“I’m an NBA-level talent.” Interesting conversation with Yenisei and VTB League star Rathen-Mays

— Do you think Rathen-Mays will be a big problem for CSKA in the first round of the playoffs? – I will not look into the future, but I will tell you about the past. It was a problem in games when we played against them. And they beat us twice. He and Martin were a big problem for us and we didn’t do a good job defending against them. With Martin it was more difficult in this sense, especially in Moscow. Rathen-Mays: We controlled him more, but he still scored the points from him. We doubled him, we put a lot of pressure on him, but it was still difficult to defend ourselves. Without Kasper, the only real defender we had was Vanya Ukhov. The rest of the defense are not defensive players, which was a problem for us. We tried different schemes, changing, but it didn’t really work. Enisey is having a great season. They make shots that are very, very difficult to counter. So congratulations to them.

— Do you finally want to say something to the CSKA fans? “I would like to thank you for the support you have given us during these two years. It was impressive: our fans were present in every stadium where we played. Especially in the last game, there were a lot of them in the stands. They were loud and that helps our players. I think they should continue supporting and believing in the team. With a new coach and Kasper, he has a good chance. I think the fans should continue to help the guys even in Krylatskoye. It won’t be easy to cross the Yenisei, but they will make it. And then there will be a real battle with Zenit.

How the VTB United League regular season ended:

The Rathen-Mays record, the collapse of Minsk and the same chances of winning. Summing up EL regular season results

* This website provides news content gathered from various internet sources. It is crucial to understand that we are not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, or reliability of the information presented Read More

Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.
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