Sunderland forward Nazariy Rusyn is slowly integrating into both the club and life in England after his summer move from Zorya Luhansk.
To that end, the Ukrainian international gave an interview to Football 24 to discuss how he is settling into life in the North East, his thoughts on his new club, new manager and his career so far:
Nazar, how is your day going and how often have you mentioned Ukraine today?
I think of Ukraine every day and very often. I miss it. Today I woke up, had breakfast, then I had a pre-game training session, because tomorrow is the match. I trained, came to the hotel, slept and that was it. That’s how the day goes.
You’ve been in England for almost a month now. What have you yet to get used to?
I’m slowly getting used to everything. I wouldn’t say that everything is very different. Although it’s hard - it’s a completely different country, not even European. The most unusual thing for me is that I have to drive on the other side of the road.
Is the restructuring process underway?
Well, I’m already driving. But it’s a bit hard - you have to think about how to move in the left lane all the time.
Is your English level good enough to get along with everyone?
No, I don’t understand a lot of things. I am studying English with a teacher. It’s getting better every day, but it’s still hard. I hardly communicate with anyone in the team. And communication with teammates and coaches is very important.
Did the club provide you with everything you need in terms of everyday life? A car, a house...
The club gave me money to move. But in terms of a car, in terms of a house, they gave me people who could help me find one. I bought the car with my own money. I will also rent a house with my own money.
It became known about your move to Sunderland at the end of the transfer window, but you were able to take to the pitch only at the end of September. Will the English bureaucratic system give a head start even to the Ukrainian one?
Even if there were no problems with the visa, I wouldn’t have started playing any faster. A month and a half ago I got injured and did not train with the team. I worked only in the gym - I pumped up my abdominal area. So everything turned out the way it was supposed to.
What was the first conversation you had with Tony Mowbray, the legendary Sunderland head coach?
He greeted me at the club. He said he was glad to see me. He assured me that he would help me. He seems like a good uncle and a good coach. I hope that I will only progress here.
Mowbray became famous during his playing career, playing for Middlesbrough and Celtic. One of his coaches, Bruce Rioch, once said: “If I had to go to the moon, I would take my captain Tony Mowbray with me. He is an exceptional man!”. Are Sir Tony’s human qualities really up to scratch?
Yes, he is. As I said, he looks like a good uncle. Always reserved, calm, smiling. I am very impressed with him. In three weeks, I still can’t know what kind of person he is. Maybe in time. We’ll see.
It is said that Mowbray is a supporter of a healthy lifestyle - he does not drink alcohol or smoke at all. Is there an iron discipline in the team?
I would not say that there is an iron discipline here. It’s just like in all other teams.
After your performance for Sunderland’s reserves, the head coach assured me: “Now Rusyn will have more opportunities to prove himself”. Will you get more playing time?
Honestly, I don’t know. We’ll see how it goes. I definitely need to train, play and get fit. It’s a pity that I was out for a month when they were already playing. They have very good players and a good team. I want to reach their level as soon as possible.
Against the Derby County reserves, you showed great performance: you earned a penalty and also assisted Adil Aouchiche. At one time, Kylian Mbappe himself asked PSG not to let this talent go. Now you have crossed paths with Aouchiche in the same team. What can you say about him? How technical is he?
He works very well with the ball and receives it. He is a good footballer. But I didn’t see anything special.
I understand that there is a certain language barrier at the moment, but maybe you have already made friends with some of the guys?
Here in the team, everyone treats me well. But they speak English, so it’s hard for me in that respect. There are five other French people. Each team has its own separate groups: the French communicate with each other, the English are divided into veterans and young players. Everyone treats me well, but I communicate the most with Timur Tuterov, who is from Ukraine.
Were you asked about the war in Sunderland?
They have never asked. But they know.
In Zorya, you have been nicknamed “The Predator”. What do the British call you?
They just call me Nazar. And that’s it. I wouldn’t even say that Sunderland players have any nicknames. They call them by their first name or surname.
Jack Clarke is currently the team’s top scorer with 7 goals. Have you found a good understanding with him yet?
There is nothing like that yet. He is a left winger. I can also play on the right. I train in different positions.
You came on as a substitute for the first team twice - against Cardiff and Sheffield Wednesday. I think that even those minutes have already given you the opportunity to feel the atmosphere and level of the Championship. Compared to the UPL, is it space?
I read a lot and see how journalists belittle the level of the UPL. It is clear that it has fallen. I don’t want to offend anyone, but if we were 0-3 down, we would have already smoked a cigarette and played the match to the end. I came out for 20 minutes, Sheffield has nothing to lose, but they are running, running. There is a very high pace here. There’s no such thing as rolling the ball, pausing somewhere. Instead, it’s attack on attack. The difference is also in how they work with the ball, how they make decisions - everyone does it very quickly. The level in the Championship is really high.
Your favourite foreign club is Liverpool, your favourite stadium is Anfield. The Stadium of Light is Sunderland’s home arena - how atmospheric is it in terms of support and volume?
I live in a hotel right next to the stadium. Honestly, the atmosphere at my first home game, when I made my debut, was top notch. The fans and the stadium were top notch. I had a lot of fun.
Are you already recognisable on the streets?
Yes, they do recognise me. Here, even on a normal day when there is no match, people wear Sunderland shirts. Both children and the elderly. Women and men. They love their club so much.
Do they take pictures with you?
Sometimes they take pictures.
Have you met any Ukrainians?
I have not met a single Ukrainian yet.
Have you visited the local pubs yet?
We watched the Italy-Ukraine match in a pub. Older women in their 60s, with a glass of beer, watching football in peace. It looks great. The British are football fans. Not long ago, the English women’s national team played here, and the whole stadium was there. For them, football is a holiday, a big holiday. They just go crazy.
You have joined a significant Ukrainian football diaspora in England. Who have you already met or are you in touch with? Who do you ask for advice from?
I haven’t crossed paths with anyone yet. I’m in touch with Vitaliy Mykolenko. He invited me to visit him, so when I have a few days off, either he will come to me or I will come to him. We will definitely meet.
Recently, Mudryk scored his first official goal for Chelsea. As a forward, tell us: when you finally score after such a long drought, how much easier does it feel?
It’s definitely a big burden. You wouldn’t understand. It’s hard to explain what a footballer, or even a striker, feels when he hasn’t scored a goal for a long time. But when you get rid of this burden, you get relief, a buzz. It gives you confidence. And for a footballer, confidence is the most important thing. If you are confident in yourself, in your actions, you can move mountains.
There was information that before your transfer to Sunderland, you could have joined Shakhtar - following Patrick van Leeuwen...
There were no specifics from Shakhtar. No one contacted me. And there was no such thing that Patrick called me and said: “Let’s go to Shakhtar”. I communicate with Patrick, and I communicate very well. But he has never said to me “I’d like to take you” or “Come to Shakhtar”. On the contrary, the coach is very happy for me. He asks how I am doing: “Everything will be fine, don’t worry”. So it’s all probably at the level of rumours.
Last season, van Leeuwen built Zorya into a fantastic team that could have won something more than bronze. What is the phenomenon of the Dutch coach and why does he not succeed with Shakhtar?
I will not comment on Shakhtar in any way. Because it’s wrong. As for Zorya, I would mention psychology, the European mentality and hard training. But you understand that it pays off. Believe me, at first it was very difficult for us too. However, when we understood Patrick, his ideas and the coaching staff, we just started playing in the second round and enjoying good football.
Yes, it was noticeable. You still have a Serbian mentor in Zorya, Lalatović. What good or bad things can you say about him? After all, the results instantly deteriorated.
I’m not the kind of person to comment on someone’s level. But everything has changed. First of all, the team has changed - by more than half. We changed the base - it was much worse than before. We used to live in Nyvky - there’s a good pitch there... The coach came - we have 15 players at the training camp. He says he can’t give them too much workload, lest someone gets injured and matches are cancelled.
I’m sorry that this happened. Sorry guys. But I think that, God willing, they will gain momentum now and everything will be fine.
The most difficult period of your career was the Legia Warsaw. We talked to you afterwards and you promised: “When the time comes, you will know. I will tell you everything in an interview”. Perhaps, Nazar, this time has come today?
To cut a long story short, without going into details, I arrived and saw that the head coach was not counting on me. He called me for a conversation. We started talking - not on emotions, but so honestly, openly, like adults. He said: “I have four strikers. You are my fifth”. I answered: “Then why did you hire me?” He said: “I didn’t want you. The scout and the sports director wanted you. They told me you were coming. I said, ‘OK, let him come’. When the head coach doesn’t want you, it’s hard to prove anything.
But you’ve done well. After such a depressing period, you managed to return to a high level and started scoring a lot. In the summer, you even received an invitation to the Ukrainian national team. How did you feel at that moment?
It was a very difficult time for me. I didn’t play for six months under Lucescu at Dynamo. I didn’t play in Poland for six months. Then I went to SC Dnipro-1 - I played there a little bit, came on as a substitute. I moved to Chornomorets - the war started, and I didn’t play again. I just missed two years of football. And I’m a young footballer. After Zorya, I was only 21 years old...
When I was called up to the Ukrainian national team, I was very pleased. I knew I had worked hard for it. If you work hard, do everything right, God and football will thank you. The main thing is not to give up and believe. A year ago, I could not even imagine that I would be in England. But everything is God’s will. Perhaps football thanked me in this way for all my efforts. I worked, endured and went for the goal.
You can watch the full interview with Nazariy Rusyn in the video below: