Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov seemed to enjoy toying with the media on his Confederations Cup debut. The 53-year-old man from Soviet-era central casting a football-sized bald head and broad moustache gave little away in a mandatory news conference before the host nation’s opening game against New Zealand on Saturday.
Yet this “Mr Nyet” delivered his most stonewall answers with mischief, comic timing and a just-concealed smile. “I am a diplomat, talking a lot about nothing, right?” Cherchesov chided his audience after yet another evasive answer near the end of a 20-minute session at St. Petersburg Stadium on Friday.
Cherchesov had fun facing down an English reporter with facial expressions to do his lookalike Oliver Hardy proud. The standoff came when the coach was asked a second time about how President Vladimir Putin was following the world’s 63rd-ranked team.
Cherchesov furrowed his brow, raised his eyebrows, let his mouth gape before reminding his polite questioner, in English, that he already answered that. “Or I must answer English for you personally?” he admonished, clearly teasing the reporter in his own language.
When the reporter pursued the issue, Cherchesov let the silence hang for a few seconds. Then came back with a withering: “So….?” A Russian reporter followed up, raising the topic of cash bonuses the players might get.
“Is this about football?” said a disdainful Cherchesov, who played in goal for his country before and after the fall of communism. “This is not the economic forum in St. Petersburg.”
Sitting alongside his coach and fellow North Ossetian, what did backup goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov think of the show? Well, he seemed unsettled when another reporter asked in English what he knew of New Zealand and its football team.
“As far as I understand this is a trick question,” Gabulov said through a translator of a conspiracy-free query he thought doubted his map-reading skills. “Of course I know. I will not tell you what the geographical coordinates are, but I know where it is.”
“Cherchesov certainly knew where he was going. He closed the press conference kindly reminding media that the subsequent training session was not on the match-day pitch. “Another stadium,” he said in English. “You’re welcome.”