Andrey Vatutin on TalkBasket: It doesn’t matter whether CSKA finishes first or fourth

CSKA Moscow was beaten for the fourth time in fifteen matches in this Euroleague season, losing by 96-84 to Panathinaikos OPAP at OAKA. The performance of the Russian team was rather poor, at least in the three quarters of the game. This result has left them alone in the third place, behind Fenerbahce and Real Madrid, since both Olympiacos and Anadolu Efes missed the chance to cut down the margin, dropping their respective matches.

Andrey Vatutin took the chair in CSKA in July 2009, replacing Sergey Kushchenko. At the same time, he retained the post of the Chief Executive Officer. A graduate journalist, he speaks Russian, English and French. His first job was as a sports editor at ITAR TASS (the Russian News Agency). In 1997, he became a spokesman for the Russian Federation and three years later, he was recruited by Ural Great as an Assistant Executive Director. During the summers, he was assistant to the manager of the Russian national team. After winning consecutive domestic championships with Ural Great, CSKA made him a proposal (in 2002) he could not refuse.

With Vatutin in charge, CSKA Moscow has won 3 Euroleague titles (2006, 2008, 2016), 8 VTB League titles (2010, 2012-18), never lost a Russian championship crown and won three games against NBA teams (Clippers, 2006; Cleveland, 2010; Minnesota, 2013).

The 45-year-old sports director answered (nearly) all the questions of, concerning CSKA and its rivals in the Euroleague. Which one did he refuse to answer and where did he answer with a question? Read on!

Q: Let me start with a remark. I noticed that you applauded the fans of Panathinaikos after the game had ended, in your way to the locker room.

A: It’s always like that. I respect Greek people, supporters of PAO and Olympiacos. They love basketball and I always applaud them after the games. I know that in Greece the climate and the culture are different than in Russia, but it’s always nice to play here because people understand basketball.

Q: Was the performance of Panathinaikos OPAP a surprise to you?

A: For sure. I think it was the best game of Panathinaikos in the season. They showed energy, athleticism, everything… They surely deserved this victory.

Q: Is it related to the recent change in the Greek team’s bench?

A: Difficult question … I’m not inside the team. Each team with a new coach in his first game plays much better than before. He will definitely need time, but he got the result he wanted.

Q: Is the goal of CSKA to finish first in the regular season of the Euroleague?

A: No, that’s not the target. We have a realistic aim to be in the top four teams, with the home-court advantage in the play-offs, and then go to the Final Four. It doesn’t matter whether we finish first or fourth.

Q: And after that, the Euroleague title?

A: That’s the next step. Participation in the Final Four is one of our goals. Before each season, the media ask me: “Andrey, what is the goal of CSKA?”. The answer is very simple: participation in the Final Four and VTB title. That’s the minimum.

Q: Do you believe that Fenerbahce is the favourite for the first place?

A: Especially after their win against Real Madrid, yes. I think that Fener will keep the first place until the end.

Q: Do they look like the best team of the competition, as well?

A: For the moment, yes. But we’re only in the middle of the season, which ends with the Final Four. You can finish first, like CSKA did in previous seasons, but if you lose the semi-final, it’s end of story.

Q: Which are the determining factors for the future of your collaboration with Dimitris Itoudis?

A: I think that nine player contracts expire next summer. We respect the contract of Dimitris and try to give him what he wants every day, in order to make the team better and win the Euroleague. However, it’s too early to talk about the future. We work together and I try to help Dimitris every day. We will discuss about the future after the Final Four.

Q: So, theoretically, if Itoudis succeeds in leading CSKA to the Final Four and the VTB championship, will he stay?

A: It depends on many circumstances. We don’t have any problem with Dimitris. He works hard, he knows basketball very well and I will be happy if he wins a second Euroleague title with CSKA.

Q: Victor Khryapa and Vitaly Fridzon left the team during the summer. Andrey Vorontsevich is out of the rotation this year, most of the time. Will the future of CSKA be based on native players?

A: Vorontsevich will probably play in the next VTB game. It’s normal, you know. We always try to sign the best Russian players, but it depends also on the market. Look at the story of Alexey Shved, for example. He’s an excellent player who was with CSKA before. His group of agents asked numbers that we were unable to pay, but Khimki could. It’s a normal story.

Q: The same goes also for Joffrey Lauvergne?

A: Rumours. During the summer there were many of them, about Lauvergne and other players. I don’t know the numbers in this case and how much Fenerbahce are paying him. We have two good players in his position: Kyle Hines and Othello Hunter; also, Joel Bolomboy who has a Russian passport. Lauvergne is a very good player. I know him personally, but he’s a player of Fener.

Q: Were you ever interested in him?

A: I will not answer. He’s a player of Fenerbahce now.

Q: As far as the budget goes, how big is the opening this year?

A: We have a strong budget and we open it every season. I can’t say anything more.

Q: Do you have any information about the Final Four of 2020?

A: I heard that it’s coming to Athens, but I don’t know if it’s confirmed. Euroleague will decide and we’ll soon find out.

Q: Is it true that in a recent interview with the Russian News Agency you said: “Ιf CSKA players are afraid of Spanoulis, they can’t play in the Euroleague.”?

A: I don’t have a complex towards any player. Spanoulis is a great competitor and personality, but there’s absolutely no complex towards him. All that happened in previous Final Fours between CSKA and Olympiacos belong to the past. We’ll see who will play in this Final Four.

Q: Can Olympiacos reach that far?

A: Why not?