Blog by: Beyond The Kop
In 1991, Ukraine was one of the first Soviet states to become an independent country in its own right and it was the Dynamo Kiev Class of 98 who put the forgotten state on the footballing map once again.
Blessed with a feared strike force consisting of Serhiy Rebrov and Andriy Shevchenko, Dynamo Kiev reached the Champions League semi-finals in 1999 after they defeated Spanish giants, Real Madrid 3-1 the previous round. However, it was the season prior that made Europe sit up and take notice as they defeated Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate under the guidance of legendary player and coach, Valeriy Lobanovskyi.
Shevchenko, with a record of 16 goals in just 24 Champions League appearances, earned a big-money move to AC Milan and prospered whilst his partner-in-crime, Rebrov, moved to Tottenham Hotspur where he crashed and burned as he failed to adjust to life outside of Kiev. Since those heady days of the late 90s, Dynamo Kiev eventually fell into the shadows of their Donbass rivals, Shakhtar Donetsk, who have since carried the Ukrainian torch, both in the domestic game and Europe, throughout the noughties.
However. despite Shakhtar Donetsk’s dominance, it is the Dynamo Kiev and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk wingers, Andriy Yarmolenko and Yehven Konoplyanka, who are seen as the next big things to come out of the Ukraine. And it is Yarmolenko who is the man we cover in this particular scout report.
Growing up, Andriy Yarmolenko, who was actually born in St Petersburg, Russia, joined his hometown club, Desna Chernihiv in 1999. It was not long before Dynamo Kiev saw Yarmolenko’s talent on a scouting trip and took him to the capital in 2003. A combination of homesickness and the inability to meet the more physical demands that met him at Kiev’s renowned youth academy, meant Yarmolenko would return to Desna after a year to continue his progression up the footballing ladder.
In 2005, Andriy Yarmolenko was rewarded for his hard work and was promoted to Desna’s first team aged just 16 where he would go on to score four goals in just eight appearances from central midfield. Whilst Yarmolenko’s rise through the Desna ranks was impressive, Dynamo Kiev had also been keeping tabs on his progression and offered Yarmolenko a second chance to return to the capital which he duly took signing a 5-year contract in December 2006. Yarmolenko was placed into the reserve team where he would score four goals in 15 games and the following season, six goals in 22 appearances from his position just off the main striker.
Despite having only made 37 appearances for Dynamo Kiev’s reserves, the local journalists had seen enough of Andriy Yarmolenko to draw comparisons with a certain Andriy Shevchenko and labeled him the ‘new Sheva’ – which placed enormous pressure on his young shoulders as he was promoted to Dynamo Kiev’s first team in the 2008-2009 season by coach, Yozhef Sabo.
However, what surprised nearly all who had waited with baited breath for Yarmolenko’s breakthrough season in the top flight was the coach’s decision to place the attack-minded Yarmolenko at left-back. It was quite an extraordinary move which was the catalyst for Sabo’s sacking three months into the season. Sabo’s successor, Yuri Semin who took the reigns in December 2007, quickly restored parity for his own sake rather than Yarmolenko’s as he moved him further up the pitch into a more favourable left-wing role where he would go on to make ten appearances in his first season in the top flight.
In the 2009-2010 season, Andriy Yarmolenko was given a new role in the team as he was shifted from the left-wing to the right of a three-man attack as new coach, Valeriy Gazzaev, felt Yarmolenko would benefit cutting in onto his more favoured left foot. It was an inspired decision as Yarmolenko would go on to score seven goals in 28 league games and earn the first of his 32 caps for the national team.
The following season would see Yarmolenko score 16 goals in 42 appearances and this was followed with an equally impressive 13 goals in 40 appearances the season after. And last season it was consistency once again as Yarmolenko would hit double figures for the third consecutive season – scoring 13 goals in 40 appearances including 11 goals in the Ukraine championship.
So just what kind of a player is Andriy Yarmolenko?
Direct, tricky and quick are three words you can attribute to Andriy Yarmolenko’s style of play. Despite standing 6ft 2in, Andrei Yarmolenko is a wonderful technician with the ball at his feet. Although predominantly left-footed, Yarmolenko usually lines up on the right of Dynamo Kiev and the Ukraine’s attack. He has an unnerving ability to make the ball do all kinds of wonderful things once under his control.
His tight ball dribbling ability is a sight to behold where he uses his trickery and turn of pace to cut inside to unleash a shot or leave his marker for dead as he bears down on goal. Originally a striker, Yarmolenko’s composure in front of goal is brilliant as he very rarely misses the target. Where most wingers tend to panic in such situations, Yarmolenko dispatches the ball with unnerving ease as he tends to pass the ball into the net rather than hit it as hard as he can.
Another attribute which is sometimes unassociated with quick wingers and wide players is the strength Yarmolenko possesses due to his tall build and upper body strength. Very rarely does Yarmolenko come off second best against his marker in a battle of strength. His running style and directness has drew comparisons with another tall, wide man in Bayern Munich’s, Arjen Robben, and although he is far from the finished article, if Yarmolenko continues to progress as he has done thus far, there is no reason why he cannot reach the heady heights of the Flying Dutchman.
Andriy Yarmolenko also has a brain to match his footballing talent. His intelligent movement and ability to wander the pitch to look for the ball makes it a near impossibility for him to be marked during a match. It is this ability to drift in and out of positions which makes him such a versatile player and he is equally comfortable on the left, just behind the main striker or even as a centre-forward where he featured a few times for Dynamo Kiev last season when Artem Milevskiy missed a chunk of the season due to an injury.
For all the attributes there are, of course, certain flaws to his game. Despite being a tall player, Yarmolenko is rather abject in the air. He prefers to play with the ball at his feet and will sometimes disengage in aerial battles when the ball is there to be won. Despite being good with the ball at his feet and difficult to dispossess, his passing can be lose and there are times when he seems to slow play down so much so that attacks frizzle out due to being so one-footed and having to cut back onto his favoured boot all the time.
Although Yarmolenko has improved defensively since he first burst onto the scene, his positional sense still needs to be worked on. He is now willing to fall back into midfield when out of possession but he lacks the intelligence to follow the opposition full-back which leads to his own full-back being outnumbered and overworked. However, these are all points that can be worked upon as he is still only 23-years of age.
So what of Liverpool’s interest in the Ukrainian winger?
Well, it seems Liverpool are hellbent on cracking the East European market this summer. With the failed attempts for Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Willian, Yarmolenko would perhaps present Liverpool with their most realistic crack at getting a winger into the club this transfer window. Although he is best suited on the right of the attack, his ability to play across the front line and interchange during play could appeal to Brendan Rodgers as he looks to bring in an experienced winger to add to Raheem Sterling and Jordon Ibe.
Dynamo Kiev’s resolve was tested a season back when Napoli and Rubin Kazan offered £8m and £10m respectively for Andriy Yarmolenko. Both bids were rejected at the time as Yarmolenko was persuaded to stay on for a further season. However, the media in Ukraine feel an offer of around €20m this summer will be enough to tempt Dynamo Kiev to part with their talisman whose contract runs out in less than two years.
There is also a feeling in the Ukraine that Andriy Yarmolenko would benefit from a move away from the club. His game needs to be taken to the next level and a move abroad seems to be the next step in Yarmolenko’s climb up the footballing ladder. Of course, Andriy Shevchenko left the club aged 23 and it looks like Yarmolenko is sure to follow suit in the footsteps of his idol. To end the report, we finish with a quote from Sheva who had this to say of his apprentice:-
“Yarmolenko is the future of Ukrainian football. He is one of the best of the new generation. He has a rare combination of physical strength and football intelligence. He has already proved the top player both for the club and the national side.”