If it is that typical ex-footballer’s bonhomie, cheerful stories about the past or even some sly provocation of the opposition you want, it is fair to say that the Ukraine coach Mykhailo Fomenko is not your man.
The manager who will be in the home dugout tonight at the Olympic Stadium approached his pre-match press conference yesterday with a reticence that was entertaining in its own way, although unintended. He sighed, he mumbled, he gave very short answers and when it came to what might loosely be described as a rallying call, it was so half-baked that the interpreter had to ask him to repeat it.
Would tonight’s World Cup qualifier against England be the game of his life? “Not just my life,” he replied and there was a smattering of applause from the Ukraine reporters present, who seem to like that kind of thing. They have judged him on results which, including a 1-1 draw with England last September, put Ukraine in third place, one point behind England and Montenegro, the latter having played one game more.
Fomenko is certainly no Oleg Blokhin who, at Euro 2012, invited one disputatious journalist outside for a “man-conversation” but also made some unpleasant pronouncements about black players in Ukraine that could less easily be explained away as over-exuberance. Fomenko is a former USSR international who played for the Dynamo Kiev team of the mid-1970s that won three Soviet Union league titles.
What did he know about Rickie Lambert, the Ukraine coach was asked. “It’s a secret,” he replied, and that was one of his more detailed answers. Fomenko went through a period in his career when he struggled for work, coaching Guinea for a while and then answering to the late Uday Hussein during a brief period as Iraq manager. One of Fomenko’s adult children died in a car accident, although those who know him say that he has always been pretty taciturn.
The locals have a quiet confidence that their side will offer quite a challenge to a depleted England side. The goalscorer from that game at Wembley, Yevhen Konoplyanka, is one of their best players, alongside his Dnipro team-mate, the striker Roman Zozulya.
After the disappointment of Ukraine’s failure to get out the group stages at Euro 2012, the country’s football federation tried to appoint first Harry Redknapp and then Sven Goran Eriksson as a successor to Blokhin. They certainly decided on a different direction with Fomenko.
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- Sven-goran Eriksson