Oleh Mykolayovych Shelayev was born 5th November 1976 in the city of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine. The combative midfielder played in 4 of Ukraine’s games during the 2006 World Cup, and during his career he has represented Shakhtar Donetsk, Metalist Kharkiv and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, where he was long time club captain.
Shelayev began his football education at a local junior side in Luhansk, however while studying at the Kharkiv Institute of Physical Education one of Metalist Kharkivs feeder sides offered the defensive midfielder the opportunity to play for them in the local Kharkiv league. After 2 months with the side, Shelayev felt he had not been given adequate playing time to showcase his talents, and therefore accepted the offer of Ukrainian Premier league, and home town side Zorya Luhansk, to play for them. It would not take long until his tackling and positional sense would warrant a place in the first team and Shelayev duly made his debut on the 20th November 1993, as Zorya lost 1-0 against Nyva Vinnytsia, going on to make a further 7 appearances in his debut season. Shelayev would go onto establish himself as a leader on the field for Zorya over the course of the next two seasons, but financial difficulties saw the team crumble at the end of the 1995-96 season, resulting in relegation and an exodus of players – Shelayev included. Having played 68 games for his home town club and scoring once, Shelayev moved to Shakhtar Donetsk.
Shelayev would make a promising start to his time with the Miners, scoring on his debut after coming on as a sub in the 5-0 victory against Nyva Ternopil during the first game of the 96-97 season. However, the subs bench would be where he would spend most of his time, with only 3 of his 19 appearances during his first season actually being starts. Although he would collect silverware at the first time of asking in the shape of the Ukrainian Cup, Shelayev would never be considered a first choice at Shakhtar. His second season at the club continued to be frustrating for the player, with sporadic appearances for the first team mixed in with long runs in the reserves at Shakhtar 2. Indeed it was not until Dnipro – a side he supported as youngster – took Shelayev on loan after the Christmas break in 1999, that he would play regular 1st team football, starting 12 consecutive games. Upon returning to Donetsk at the start of the 1999-00 season, Shelayev would again see his opportunities limited, and a second successive post Christmas break loan, this time to Metalurg Donetsk, would be the only chance he got to play 1st team football, appearing 13 times, and scoring 3 times for Shakhtars neighbours.
The summer break in 2000 finally gave Shelayev the opportunity to move on, and play the first team football his talent deserved, with Dnipro acquiring the players services. It was during his time with Dnipro that Shelayev would form his reputation as a formidable operator, constantly breaking up the attacking furores of opposition attackers, often sacrificing himself for the greater good of the team. His spirit and leadership qualities stood out, and he was made club captain as Dnipro tried in vain to break the duopoly at the summit of Ukrainian football, although they consistently qualified for European competition.
During his spell at Dnipro, Shelayev made his debut for the Ukrainian national team in a 1-1 draw against Slovenia on 24th April 2004. His debut would be followed by Ukraine’s greatest achievement to date in qualifying for the World Cup in 2006. Shelayev made Blokhins squad and although he wasn’t picked in Ukraine’s opening defeat to Spain, he partnered Tymoshuck in the heart of midfield for the remainder of Ukraine’s run to the quarterfinals.
Shelayevs spell at Dnipro would come to an end at the end of the 2008 season, following a dispute with management. After 197 appearances and 25 goals for the club, with many as captain, he was transferred to Kryvbas. Shelayev would only remain at the mid table side for one season before Myron Markevych took the experienced midfielder to Metalist Kharkiv at the beginning of the 2009 season. Shelayev continued to be a consistent performer for a side that, year in year out have impressed in Europe, with several quarter final appearances in the UEFA Cup/Europa League, and continued improvement in the Ukrainian League, drawing ever closer to the top two Dynamo and Shakhtar. Their third place finish in the 2011-12 season marks the 3rd bronze medal Shelayev has earned.
Having retired from the game at the end of the 2014 season Shelayev is top of the all time list for appearances in the league with 412 appearances having overtaken Olexsandr Chyzhevskyi’s total of 401. Shelayev is one of only 4 players to have played 500+ games for Ukrainian sides in the modern era (Shovkovskyi, Vaschuk and Vorobey being the others) For his longevity in Ukrainian football we welcome him into the Viktor Leonenko Hall of Fame.
Oleg Shelayev’ Varenyky Rating