Oleh Volodymyrovych Kuznetsov is a former defender who made his name playing for Dynamo Kyiv in the 1980s before following the exodus of players leaving the Soviet Union when he signed for Rangers in 1990. He worked as a coach for the Ukrainian national team, helping Oleh Blokhin prepare the team for Euro 2012.
Kuznetsov was born on the 22nd March 1963 in Magdeburg in East Germany to Ukrainian parents , who returned to their home town of Chernihiv soon afterwards. Kuznetsov started playing football from a very young age, often waiting for hours to join in games with older factory workers on the off chance they allowed him and his friends to join in. Kuznetsov joined local side Desna Chernihiv as an 8 year old, going on to develop as a strong, committed, old fashioned centre half as he progressed through the ranks of their youth set up. Kuznetsov was given his league debut by his hometown club as a 17 year old, in the 1980 season. His second season for the club proved to be one of Desna’s most successful seasons, and earned the youngster a call up to a Ukrainian Youth Team Tournament. The tournament would se Kuznetsov cross paths with a Dynamo Kyiv scout who took a liking to the defender and arranged for his transfer to the capital club. However, Kuznetsovs father was keen for his son to follow in his footpaths and become a solider, it took some persuading before Kuznetsov received his father blessing to follow his dream of being a professional footballer and join the Ukrainian giants.
Kuznetsov joined Dynamo in 1983 as the club went through a period of transition under new manager Yuri Morozov. The side with experienced players such as Blokhin and Demyanenko made a faltering start under the new coach, and impulsively Morozov made changes, offering Kuznetsov his first chance to wear the famous white and blue shirt in a 2-1 victory away in Odessa. Kuznetsov would be brought crashing back to earth during his home debut as his inexperience showed as he was hauled off after being given a torrid time by the Spartak Moscow attack. The experience against Moscow would become a inspiration for Kuznetsov as he sought to improve his game. His first season would be a poor one for the side, and Morozov would again be replaced with the legendary Valery Lobanovskiy – a manager Kuznetsov recalls you would never dare give less then 100% for, with every drill performed with vigour and determination.
It was under Lobanovskiy that Kuznetsov would win his first pieces of silverware as he won the Soviet League and Cup Double in 1985. In an established defence shielded by sweeper Serhiy Baltacha, Kuznetsov and Dynamo would go on to further glory the following season lifting the League for a second successive year, but also winning the 1986 edition of the Cup Winners Cup. The European success in 1986 was especially poignant for the Kyiv players as it played during the unfolding events of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
As well as establishing himself at Dynamo, his fine form also earned him his first cap for the Soviet Union in a friendly against Spain in January 1986, and he would not look back, going on to feature in all 4 of the Soviet Unions games in the 1986 World Cup. Kuznetsov would be first choice for the USSR for the next half decade. He appeared in every game in Euro 88, until a booking in the semi-final against Italy resulted in a suspension which ruled him out of the final, as the Soviet Union went on to loose. Kuznetsov would also feature in the 1990 World Cup and Euro 1992, a tournament he remembers for an incident with Marco van Basten, who reacted to a shirt pull by telling Kuznetsov ‘he would cripple him’ if he dared repeat the stunt. In all Kuznetsov played 63 games for the Soviet Union scoring once. He would go onto represent Ukraine 3 times after independence before retiring from international football.
After the success of 1986 Dynamo would again win the Soviet Cup in 1987, as Kuznetsov played some of his best football of his career, earning him 11th and 17th in the voting for the Ballon d’Or, a prize normally reserved for more creative players. His final silverware for the club would be his second league and cup double in the 1990 season, after which Kuznetsov was allowed to join Scottish Premier League giants Glasgow Rangers – joining former defensive partner Serhiy Baltacha in Scotland. During his 7 seasons in the Ukrainian capital he made 181 appearances scoring 5 times, while collecting 3 league titles, winning the Soviet cup 3 times and winning the cup winners cup in 1986.
Kuznetsov began his Rangers career well earning the beer mug presented to the man of the match by the Committee of Rangers veterans, however his second game against St Johnstone would see a cruciate knee ligament injury rule Kuznetsov out for over a year. Kuznetsov recalls fondly all the messages of support he received from Rangers fans, but was unable to repay their faith as by the time he returned to fitness Rangers had signed replacements and Kuznetsov became somewhat of a bit part figure as the club won back to back titles in 1992 and 1993. His time at Rangers came to and end in 1994 after only 35 appearances for the club, when Kuznetsov moved to Israeli side Maccabi Haifa. His spell in Israel was short as his family struggled to adapt and after only one year Kuznetsov moved to his final club CSKA-Borysfen for whom he played his last game for in 1997.
Kuznetsov took up a coaching role at CSKA Kyiv before becoming the clubs manager for the 2001-2002 season. A two year stint as Dynamo Kyiv assistant followed, before he joined – former room mate during his Kyiv days – Oleh Blokhin as assistant at FC Moscow in 2008. When Blokhin returned as head coach for Ukraine he brought Kuznetsov with him as part of the team for Euro 2012.
Oleh Kuznetsov we welcome you into the Viktor Leonenko Hall of Fame
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