Fresh from accusing Germany of poisoning his squad, Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin has taken an unusual approach to motivating his side: telling the press that they're not very good.
Speaking before the co-host's first match with Sweden, the former European Footballer of the Year announced that his players — all of whom are based in Ukraine except Bayern Munich's Anatoliy Tymoshchuk — have not played enough this season. This is apparently the least of Blokhin's concerns, however, as his defenders are incapable of doing their jobs. From The Sun:
"Figuratively speaking, our defenders do not even tackle properly."
In addition to this hilariously demeaning assertion, the Ukrainian manager dismantled the confidence of his strike force. Yevhen Seleznyov is his most prolific attacking option, but the 26-year-old managed just 14 goals for Shaktar Donestsk last season. Cue some more belittling:
"Excuse me, but [14 goals] is very low for our championship. If a forward can't create a situation where he's able to poke the ball home, then he's not a forward for me."
Andriy Shevchenko and his teammates can only hope that Blokhin's pre-match locker room talks are this inspiring.
Since this tournament cannot be discussed without bringing up racism, he was also asked for his opinion on the matter. Blokhin cut off an English journalist with a definitive UEFA-style denial of the problem. From AFP:
"I don't want to talk about racism - there is no racism in Ukraine. These are political issues which have nothing to do with football.
"If there are incidents they won't be in Ukraine."
While Ukraine may or may not deliver on the pitch — and racism may or may not be a serious problem — it seems clear that the manager is going to be a source of controversy and entertainment during this tournament. After all, a man who flips the bird at a press conference is not a man to be ignored...