What do football and jazz have in common? Saxophonist Igor Butman, who enjoys worldwide fame as a jazz musician and admits to being an avid football fan, is just the right person to answer this question, after recently being announced as the new 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ Host City ambassador for Saransk.
As a talented bandleader of a jazz orchestra, Butman draws parallels between his profession and that of a football manager.
"Sixteen people play in my orchestra; like footballers, their moods can change," he added. "Somebody might be having a great day, while someone else might not. As manager, I have to get them all in the right mood, either by inspiring them, putting an arm around their shoulders or firing them up. Substitutions can happen during a concert as well and tactics or strategy are a key part of it. However, the most important thing is ability because you won't get anywhere in football or music without it."
Saransk, the smallest Russia 2018 Host City, organises an international jazz festival every autumn and Butman himself is the artistic director. However, the capital of the Republic of Mordovia, which has a population of 300,000, is looking forward to a much bigger event in 2018.
"I've heard a lot of different opinions about Saransk being chosen as a venue for matches at Russia 2018," the saxophonist continued. "Some people welcomed the news with happiness; for others it rose a lot of questions. As a person whose relationship with the city stretches back many years, I was not at all surprised. Saransk is a wonderful place, with unique architecture and rich culture. The city is changing with every year. The people in Saransk have always been good, kind and hospitable. Musicians always like to come here and I never think twice about inviting guests.
"The city will have transformed even more by 2018, as new roads, hotels and the stadium will have appeared. The locals will set their minds to the task and be really liberated. They'll be proud that the World Cup is taking place in their city because Saransk will become famous not only in Russia but all over the world. Saransk will be on everybody's lips, pronounced in all sorts of different accents. People will ask, 'Where are you from?' and the locals will proudly declare, 'I'm from Saransk!'."
Hosting the FIFA World Cup is a serious undertaking for every city because they have to think about what to offer their guests when the football is not on. "It's far from an easy task for the cities in Russia," Butman explained. "They have to arrange everything and ensure people don't only get to watch good football but also receive a measure of our hospitality. Every place has its own flavour. I think there'll be a wide cultural programme to greet the influx of guests in Saransk. Exhibitions of national and modern art are very common here."
A time for dreams and grandiose plans
Butman will be particularly pleased if his favourite team, Italy, come to Saransk during the tournament.
"I won a bottle of champagne in 1982 after a bet with my first artistic director that Italy would win the World Cup," the jazz musician revealed. "There may have been some questions after their initial performances but after they beat Argentina and then Brazil, nobody doubted them anymore. I was inspired by the amazing way the Italians played, especially the legendary Paolo Rossi."
Nowadays, Igor has different football heroes. "I'm delighted when Messi, Ronaldo, Kokorin, Dzyuba or Dzagoev score a good goal. I recently got to know defender Sergei Ignashevich. He's a wonderful guy and our families have become friendly. My son supports CSKA Moscow and now he's got a football shirt he cherishes from Sergei."
It has been a long time since Russia made it out of the group stages at a World Cup, but Butman believes the country should look for the positives. "Nothing is impossible," he declared. "Our team has every chance to put on a good performance, they just need to believe in themselves and play at their absolute best. I was on the train to Saransk recently and they showed a film about the USA national team at Brazil 1950, which was made up of amateur players. They only won one game, but it was against the famous English side, 1-0. I hope our players get into the right shape and delight us with their performances."
Like all football supporters, Butman cannot wait for the World Cup in 2018 and thinks that it will be a great benefit for Russia as a country.
"Of course you'll get people asking why do we need the World Cup and the Olympic Games," he concluded. "Why should we live at all then? Do nothing, don't set yourself any dreams, don't have any big plans – I don't think we're like that! We're going to work even harder and move on to new accomplishments, as the World Cup will come and go but the infrastructure will be left behind.
"And then we have to use that same infrastructure for celebrations, festivals and sporting occasions. We have to put on more events for young people and seek out new talents in football, ice hockey and music. We have to create conditions for engineers and scientists to work here. Russia has to occupy the place it deserves and a lot of work is needed before this can happen. We need to ensure this celebration stays long in the memory. Let's summon up our strength and be wonderful hosts."