With only a few minutes left of the final Euro 2016 Group C Qualifier against Spain, Mykhaylo Fomenko, whose side needed a win and were trailing 1:0, threw on a complete international novice, Oleksandr Zinchenko onto the pitch. Who exactly is Oleksandr Zinchenko and how did he end up with the hopes of a nation on his shoulders?
Zinchenko is a midfielder who hails from Radomyshl in the Zhytomyr region of Ukraine, he currently plays his football for Russian Premier League side FC Ufa. Zinchenko started his youth career at Monolit Illichivets before being taken on board at the Shakhtar Donetsk Youth Academy in 2009. Zinchenko progressed through the ranks of Shakhtar, representing them at Youth levels as well as representing the Ukrainian National Side at all youth levels from under 16 through to U21. He was part of the Shakhtar UEFA Youth League squad in the 2013/14 and even scored against Manchester United. His shock debut for Zbirna against Spain made him the third youngest international in the history of the country, only behind the legendary pairing of Andriy Shevchenko and Serhiy Rebrov.
Despite being rated highly he left Shakhtar in July 2014. He spent a period training with Rubin Kazan however eventually joined FC Ufa at the start of 2015. This took place in somewhat acrimonious circumstances, with Shakhtar insisting that Zinchenko was under contract when he left the side and thus his transfer is illegal. Shakhtar have now appealed to FIFA and Zinchenko could face disqualification and FC Ufa forced to pay compensation if FIFA rule on the side of the Miners. This story is continuing to develop as Sports Daily is reporting that FIFA gave permission for Zinchenko to sign for FC Ufa and the only question is over compensation for Shakhtar.
Zinchenko has been enjoying a run in the FC Ufa side and got his first goal in July but is this really enough to justify inclusion in the senior Zbirna side? Zinchenko had played for the U21 side in a qualifier against Iceland earlier in the week before receiving a shock call up to the senior side on the day of the game. His later appearance posed further questions.
Shakhtar director Serhiy Palkin has suggested that Zinchenko was called up into the squad because he was offered Russian citizenship and a chance to play for the Russian side, so Ukraine had to move quickly to stop this and ensure that Zinchenko played for Ukraina for the rest of his career. Mykhaylo Fomenko did not deny this and responded saying this was true, but that Zinchenko was a talented player who could contribute to the side immediately. If he really was as talented as expeted, surely it would not have been left until the last minute to add him to the squad and also left to the last minute to introduce him to the game.
Palkin also suggested it was pressure from Dynamo Kyiv owner Ihor Surkis which forced Zinchenko into the squad. Palkin said that Dynamo scouts had taken a liking to Zinchenko and if he was to be confirmed a Ukrainian national, then Dynamo would be a more likely destination in the future rather than a big club in the Russian league, because Zinchenko is now classed as a foreigner in Russia. Zinchenko’s own comments on the matter raise further questions as he himself stated that he considers himself Ukrainian and that he only wants to play for Ukraina. If this is truly the case, why was there a rush to secure his international future?
Perhaps we should be praising Fomenko for including a potential great talent in the squad and securing his future in the Ukrainian National Team, but there is a more burning question as to why we weren’t fully focused on beating Spain on the evening and securing qualification for Euro 2016. As a fan of Zbirna Ukraina this is what concerns me most as securing qualification should have been the number one priority. If there was such a rush to secure Zinchenko’s future, surely he could have played against Macedonia on Friday evening, leaving Fomenko to have his full allocation of substitutes to try and effect the game, rather than bringing on Zinchenko to secure a cap.
The scenario does raise questions over who is pulling the strings for Zbirna. Viktor Leonenko was quick to criticise Fomenko, stating that if it was true that Fomenko had been forced to play Zinchenko, he is a pawn and not a suitable manager for the national team, it is hard not to agree with the outspoken Leonenko if this is the case.
There appears to be a clear Dynamo Vs Shakhtar divide on the matter, with both sides having their own side of the story. It will be interesting to see how Zinchenko’s career progresses both on the pitch and through the courts. Let’s hope that the rivalry between Dynamo and Shakhtar does not have an adverse effect on the young prospects career.
It may well be that there is great hope for Zinchenko and it is the beginning of the introduction of a new crop of young players into the main squad and Zinchenko should be celebrated. Yet it is hard to believe this is the case and there is too much rumbling behind the scenes to be entirely convinced that it is the players talent that got him his debut. It is likely we will never know the entire truth of the situation and all that can be done now is to wish Oleksandr Zinchenko all the best in his career and hope that he can become a superstar for Ukraina in years to come.
Article by Petro Chymera, Vice-President of the UK Ukrainian Sports Supporters Club and co-founder of the Viktor Leonenko Hall of Fame. Follow Petro on twitter – @PMChymera89 & @DonetskWay2012