The Shakhter Karagandy coach was not about to lose any psychological battles. He was deft in the way he dealt with queries about Neil Lennon saying that he had been disrespectful, or the pressure on his side to become the first Kazakh team to reach the group stages of the Champions League. Despite his lugubrious manner, he was in command of the press conference ahead of his side's game with Celtic tonight, and enjoyed toying with the media about pre-match rituals.
The day before last week's first leg, a sheep was sacrificed at the Astana Arena and Kumykov was asked if the tradition would be maintained ahead of the return in Glasgow. "Every club has its own pre-match rituals," he said. "We know that Celtic must have their own. We will try to respect our own traditions, which have been in place from before we came to the club."
So did that mean that they will? "Possibly, yes," he said, deadpan. The animal rights group PETA wrote to Michel Platini, the UEFA president, to complain about the ritual, while the Kazakh press reported it influenced the outcome of the home leg, with Karagandy winning 2-0. Kumykov was deliberately wry about the potential impact of the sacrifice and, in effect, he was playing to the gallery.
When asked where they would find a sheep, he said: "As far as we know, in Scotland the agriculture is really developed so it shouldn't be difficult to find one. This tradition may have a psychological impact on players, it can help them to relax before the game, but what really matters on the football pitch is the game and the final score."
At his own pre-match press conference, Lennon accused Kumykov of being disrespectful by saying that his side would score twice at Celtic Park. The Shakhter coach tried to explain it away as a misquotation, but he also set out to take the pressure off his side. The first-leg lead provides a good platform for the Kazakh team, but is not commanding enough for them to be certain of their fate.
Celtic created enough chances of their own in the first leg to suggest that they can overturn the deficit, although they were unsound in defence themselves. The tie is more balanced than the scoreline suggests, though, and Kumykov was attempting to reduce the pressure on his own players. They will encounter enough tension and hostility in the atmosphere at Celtic Park, particularly if the home side score an early goal.
"Certainly you can say there is an additional pressure on our shoulders and we feel that," the Shakhter coach said. "We only played to reach the group stages of a European competition; it didn't have to be the Champions League. But now we are so close to progressing and most people back in Kazahkstan expect us to progress and become the first Kazakh team to play in the group stages of the Champions League.
"If we can manage to not concede a quick goal, then of course it would boost our confidence. It would also help us to adjust to the game, conditions and stadium atmosphere. But in football what matters is the final score and so it doesn't really matter when you score or concede goals. Maybe even if we don't qualify for the Champions League group stage it's even better, because in football it's always better when you develop gradually."
Kumykov has not been able to watch footage of Celtic's 2-2 draw with Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Parkhead last Saturday, although he did "follow the game's statistics". More significantly, he was able to rest 10 of his own first-choice players from their domestic fixture at the weekend. The sense might be that this is an unexpected opportunity for Shakhter, but they have the wherewithal to try to take advantage of it. There is pressure on them, but also pressure on the home side to score early and set up a rousing occasion.
"We need to perform at our best possible level because Celtic will go out very hard from the start," said. Andrei Finonchenko, the Shakhter captain and scorer of the opening goal last midweek. "We will need to be careful in defence and try not to concede in the first few minutes. Of course there will be a full house which will give an additional support to Celtic, but we have to focus on our game and try to achieve a positive result."