Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Out of the Chaos, Optimism Reigns

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Out of the Chaos, Optimism Reigns

Article excerpt


SOMEHOW it is hard to imagine Paul Scholes taking a call from a foreign journalist at 11.30pm on the night before an England game and happily helping to clear up the whereabouts of David Beckham.

Delightfully, though, they seem to do things differently in Macedonia.

The fun all began in the morning when their coach, Nikola Ilievski, answered his mobile in the middle of a press conference and announced triumphantly that it was from Georgi Hristov, his injured star player. "He's arrived in England.

He's probably been given permission by his club in Holland to play for 45 minutes against England," he said.

First, though, he wanted to gauge Hristov's health in training at Southampton. So I arranged to talk to the team's interpreter later to find out whether he had passed his fitness test. On ringing the team hotel last night, though, he wasn't around, so the receptionist asked if anyone else in the Macedonian party spoke good English.

One of them in the lobby did.

"Hristov? No, he hasn't come. He wasn't at training, so I think he's probably not going to make it now.

Unless he comes tomorrow . . . er, but I don't think so," came a helpful voice. Thanks, but to whom was I speaking? "Sakiri," he said.

I couldn't help laughing. Because if Artim Sakiri, the team's playmaker and Macedonia's number two footballing hero, didn't know what was going on with the number one hero, then who would? It just seemed to sum up the faint whiff of chaos that reigns in this engaging camp.

Apart from the confusion over Hristov, coach Ilievski spent the eveof-match brushing aside questions about his threat to resign - that is, if he doesn't get sacked first after describing his FA's president as not fit to run a village team.

He oversees a squad made up mainly of absolute beginners, 14 of whom are under 24; his key defender, Igor Mitreski, is injured and his inspirational goalkeeper, Petar Milosevski, is doubtful with a gashed head. …

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