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Ukraine head football coach Mykhailo Fomenko prefers less talk and lets the play on the pitch do all his talking for him. Genya Savilov / AFP
Ukraine head football coach Mykhailo Fomenko prefers less talk and lets the play on the pitch do all his talking for him. Genya Savilov / AFP

In ‘coachspeak’, less really is more

Let's face it, football managers rarely have anything worthwhile to say before games – at least Ukraine's Mykhailo Fomenko is honest about it.

Hodgson out!

Sorry, Roy, nothing personal.

Managing the England football team is a thankless task that you have undertaken diligently and with moderate success, if one can count beating tiny nations with populations the size of a medium-sized mill town as a success.

But, hey, you can only play the opponents you are given and the Moldovas and San Marinos of the world do provide a different type of challenge.

Like finding them on a map, for a start.

It is not your plodding attack that has worn my patience thin, Roy, nor even your passivity in defence. In fact, it has nothing to do with what you have done at all.

To paraphrase the old heartbreaker’s adage: it’s not you, it’s Mykhailo.

Mykhailo Fomenko, to be precise.

The news conference given by the coach of Ukraine before his team played England at Kiev this week was an utter joy.

“Monosyllabic” does not quite cover it.

His barely audible grunts and refusal to engage with even the softest question put other famous sporting grumps in the shade.

The helpless hacks would have got more chat from Sir Alex Ferguson with jet lag and a mouth ulcer.

Fomenko’s response to any question fell into one of three categories: “I don’t want to tell you”, “that question has no relevance” or “shall we just wait and see what happens in the game?”.

So, when asked what he knew about England striker Rickie Lambert, he replied simply: “It’s a secret.”

When asked to draw comparisons to bygone games, he said: “We can’t compare our previous fixtures as they were completely different.”

And when asked to speculate on how various players would perform during the looming match, he sniffed: “All these questions can be answered after the game.”

I can see why the journalists were miffed. In a devastating 30-minute period, the utter futility of much of their pre-match craft was laid bare.

Because, really, Fomenko was just being honest.

Of course a coach is not going to say anything meaningful about tactics or dangerous opponents before a game. Why would he?

Of course it is daft to compare previous fixtures, as if Robbie Fowler’s goal against Ukraine back in 2000 makes it more likely that Lambert will find the net 13 years later.

And of course it is pointless to speculate about how players will fare when all any coach will ever do is back his own boy while offering the usual platitudes about how good the opponents are.

No coach says a great deal more than Fomenko. It is just that, in doing so, they use up a lot more words – and time.

The pre-match presser is not there for us.

It is for journalists with holes to fill, sponsors with logos to promote and the occasional attention-seeker, such as Jose Mourinho, to hog some limelight.

Frankly, if we must hear from our sporting icons before a match, I’d rather they read us a passage or two from an improving novelist, or a couple of Shakespeare’s better sonnets.

At least we’d gain something from the experience.

Fomenko may be the man to break the cycle of meaningless media events but he cannot do so from the sideline in Ukraine.

He needs a proper platform – and the England job is it.

We tried the golden generation.

Now let’s try the silence-is-golden generation.

*

*

Hamilton’s imagination runs wild

A sportsman worth listening to, occasionally, is Lewis Hamilton.

The Formula One ace could have reached for the bumper book of cliches when asked to describe his chance of pegging back Sebastian Vettel in the world drivers’ championship.

Instead he went off on an improvised riff, pulling images from the ether like a 1960s beat poet.

“It would be like running up Everest,” he mused, “without oxygen, in swimming trunks.”

Wow. The guy is super human. He even drives his thought-train at top speed.

Not only does Hamilton’s imagery brilliantly convey the gravity of the task but he also came up with something that would make an excellent sport in itself.

Quite why Bernie Ecclestone has not already seized upon the idea is a mystery. Unless he is put off by the limited space available on a pair of swimming trunks for sponsor logos.

If he changes his mind, I’d recommend switching the mountain to K2. In terms of brand partnership, it would work perfectly with F1.

But why limit ourselves to Speedo-clad mountaineering?

Using Hamilton’s formula – traditional challenge plus physical impairment plus inappropriate clothing – the possibilities are limitless.

How about a competition to row the Atlantic, blindfolded, wearing a tuxedo? Or swim the English Channel, hungry, in wellington boots? Or beat Phil “The Power” Taylor at darts, while coming around from a general anaesthetic and wearing boxing gloves?

It would be like an extreme version of It’s A Knockout.

This is what happens when great minds are given the freedom to roam. I hope Hamilton is not reined in by the Mercedes press team, but given the licence to speak his fertile mind.

Besides, he’ll have plenty of thinking time over the coming weeks – after all, he has none of those pesky winner’s duties to perform.

sports@thenational.ae

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