It has hardly been a stellar year for Ukrainian football. Despite a promising start to the year with Dynamo Kyiv reaching the knock out stages of the Champions League for the first time this millennium, Shakhtar reaching the Europa League semi-finals and the pre-tournament excitement of Euro 2016 it tailed off badly from the summer championships. Ukraine flopped at the Euro’s without a win, point or goal with few players taking any credit, Shakhtar were eliminated in the Champions League Qualifiers and Dynamo have finished bottom of their group. There appear to have been more disappointments than successes, but we have put together a list of six players nominated for our Donetsk Way player of the Year.
A stand out performer for Zorya Luhansk, Olexandr Karavaev has continued his development under Yuriy Vernydub and has been influential in getting Zorya to the Ukrainian Cup final and into the Europa League Group Stages. Having broken into the Ukrainian National Team toward the end of 2015, Karavaev remains a regular member of Ukraine squads although he is still to make the break through as a regular starter. HE was in the 23 man squad at the Euro’s in France, but didn’t make an appearance avoiding much critisicm labelled at his team mates. If Karavaev’s form continues, it will be interesting to see if there is room for him at his parent club Shakhtar in the future.
Having broken onto the scene in 2015, Viktor Kovalenko has become a key player for both club and country in 2016. With the sale of Alex Teixeira to Jiangsu Suning, Kovalenko was the natural replacement and has stepped up to the mark for Shakhtar, contributing goals and assists in becoming one of the clubs prized assets. Once described by former manager Mircea Lucescu as one of the best young players he has worked with, Kovalenko has been attracting interest from some of Europes big guns. He made his debut for the senior Ukraine side in March and was thrust into the starting line-up for Euro 2016. He is now a key fixture in Andriy Shevchenko’s side and is starting to build on the promises of his potential.
A disappointing loan spell at VFB Stuttgart and a knee problem meant that Artem Kravets didn’t make the Euro 2016 squad, but a move to Grenada and Andriy Shevchenko’s appointment has seen him become the focal point for Ukraine’s attack. He has scored three goals in World Cup 2018 Qualifying including the winner against Finland as he is proving his capabilities as a goal scorer. With Dynamo Kyiv struggling for a clinical striker, it will be interesting to see if Kravets return to his parent club in 2017, but Andriy Shevchenko will no doubt watch with interest as Kravets is becoming important to Ukraine’s line up.
Another stand out performer for Zorya, Ivan Petryak is another up and coming star in Ukrainian football. Bought by Shakhtar from Zorya, he has remained at the exiled Luhansk club on loan. Playing on the the wing he helped Zorya to the Ukrainian Cup final and the Europa League Group stages and made his Ukraine debut in the first match of the year. He was in the provisional Euro 2016 squad, but didn’t make the final cut. Despite this Petryak has made three appearances for Ukraine this year and there were calls for him to have more of a role when Yevhen Konoplyanka was struggling for form.
It has been a real mixed bag for Andriy Yarmolenko in 2016, the celebrations of winning the Ukrainian Premier League were quickly forgotten with a dismal European Championships, when he failed to shine in the shop window. He had a high profile conflict and falling out with Shakhtar’s Taras Stepanenko which has left a stain against his reputation. Another transfer window when Dynamo refused to sell their star man has led to talk of disharmony and a slump in form for his club side. He has however, just beaten Andriy Shevchenko’s UPL goal record, with his 84th goal in the competition. For Ukraine, taking away the disappointment of Euro 2016, he has once again been the stand out player. He appeared in all 12 of Ukraine’s games in 2016, scoring an impressive seven goals, including three in World Cup Qualifiers. He now has 29 goals for Ukraine and is closing down on Andriy Shevchenko’s record of 48 goals.
A rising star of Ukrainian football, 2016 has been a memorable year for Olexandr Zinchenko. Having made his debut for Ukraine in 2015, he became the countries youngest goal scorer when he bagged against Romania in May, beating Andriy Shevchenko’s record. He made the Euro 2016 squad and appeared in all three games at the tournament. Since Shevchenko was appointed manager he started all the competitive games in Ukraine’s new look youthful midfield with Viktor Kovalenko. At club level he has made progress, with a high profile transfer from Ufa to Pep Guardiola’s Man City. Despite impressing in pre-season, he has moved to PSV on loan to gain first team experience in the league and in Europe. With continued development, Zinchenko could be a key player for many years for Ukraine.
Donetsk Way Ukrainian Player of the Year Roll of Honour