Shakhtar's Fonseca talks Premier League, Srna and codfish
Before his side's Champions League clash with Manchester City, Shakhtar boss Paulo Fonseca took the time to sit down with Sports Gazette's Ena Bilobrk for a chat about all things football.
“My English is not so good, but I will try”, meekly admits Paulo Fonseca, Portuguese manager of Ukrainian champion Shakhtar Donetsk. The 44-year-old sinks into the lobby sofa looking slightly uncomfortable in his position when Sports Gazette sat down for a chat in Manchester. Yet, there is nothing to be uncomfortable about - his English is surprisingly good and so are his managerial statistics! But the Portuguese and Ukrainian cup winner is a humble guy focusing rather on the team as a whole, than on himself.
“We don’t have the power of big teams. But we will try, this is a great opportunity for us to show our football, to show that we have good players in Ukraine”, says the Portuguese ahead of tonight’s UEFA Champion’s League game against Manchester City.
Knowing that City is one of the toughest possible encounters - having scored 20 goals in four Premier League matches and netting another four goals against Fayenoord Rotterdam away - Fonseca is a realistic man: “In reality, it is very difficult to fight these big clubs. They have one of the best coaches in the world, the best players in the world.”
Shakhtar could suffer the same fate as the Dutch side with City being unbeaten on home soil since December 2016. But the manager remains calm and believes his boys will turn up “as a united team to fight for (their) glory”. “In football everything is possible, I am the first one to believe that”, he adds with a smirk.
While all lightened up when speaking about his team, his expression quickly saddens as we mention key player Darijo Srna. The Croatian has tested positive for a banned substance and has refrained from playing until legal proceedings have been resolved.
He has denied intentionally doping and his coach is backing his side: “I believe and the team believes that he will be proved innocent.” Without their captain, Shakhtar are clearly weakened and the team shared Srna’s pain.
“It was very difficult for everyone to see what happened in the last days”, says Fonseca, staring on the floor. But then he lifts his head and assures with all certainty that, despite everything, “the team will keep going and fight even harder tonight without him, for him.”
Shakhtar beat Napoli 2-1 in their last Champion’s League group game and being regarded as one of the best teams in Europe, the Italian side clearly struggled in Kiev. Fonseca shakes his head when being asked if they could nick at least a point against the English giants and assures he does “not think about the result. At the end of the game (he) wants to feel that (they) gave everything.”
Managing the Ukrainian side is his first experience in another country. Mentioning rumours about Everton F.C. bidding for the Portuguese before coming to Shakhtar he sadly admits “nothing directly came from a Premier League club”. He admires the league and has “no words to describe it”. He wrings his hands explaining he would love to work here because “it is totally different than in other countries. The atmosphere, the game, it’s amazing.”
With a slightly saddened look he continues that “we are not always able to choose and it is very difficult to enter the Premier League, especially when you come from such a small club like Braga.”
After leaving Sporting Clube de Braga to move to Ukraine he admits he misses the weather the most: “Weather in Portugal is fantastic and I had my first winter in Ukraine and it was very difficult.” He jokes it wouldn’t be much different in England and he would need to adapt to the gastronomy, as well.
“I have lost 10 kg since I came here”, he laughs. “The portions in Ukraine are very small compared to Portugal.” Talking about food, Fonseca shows none of his early hesitation. Starting to become bubbly he explains that his “favourite dish is codfish and it is not easy to find codfish in Ukraine.” Sometimes he even brings it back from Portugal.
The young manager has achieved much of what his more experienced colleagues could only dream of. Qualifying for Champion’s League was his target, everything beyond is a bonus, the cream on top. But as modest and reserved as he might seem, his enthusiasm when talking about Shakhtar is contagious. The club is his baby, an “exciting project” and only time will show what this man is capable of.