How Andriy Shevchenko has revived Ukraine

A good player, the former AC Milan striker has inspired Ukraine to reach another level since taking over the national team.

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A brilliant striker and the biggest star in Valeriy Lobanovskiy’s incredible Dynamo Kyiv side in the late 1990s, Andriy Shevchenko won the UEFA Champions League and the Ballon d’Or during his time at AC Milan.

Probably Ukraine’s best player ever, Shevchenko carried a lot of baggage when he took over the national team after UEFA EURO 2016, but the 44-year-old does much more than trade on previous glories when he leads Synio-Zhovti against a round 16 draw against Sweden. Here are his five hallmarks of the team’s progress.

On his first day as coach, Shevchenko talked about his desire to change Ukraine’s style of play, switching from a physical, counter-attack to a less passive, possession-based game. The eyebrows were raised and the team was largely an ongoing work during the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier and finished third in its section. However, a dynamic, modernized side played in Shevchenko’s chosen style as they topped their EURO 2020 qualifying division, ahead of European champions Portugal.

Icon / video Created with Sketch. Ukrainian stars talk about manager Andriy Shevchenko

Ukraine’s players talk about their Andriy Shevchenko and EURO 2020.

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A 4-3-3 alignment was the formation of choice for Shevchenko. It’s Ukraine’s default line-up, but they have plenty of options in this system. They can play with asymmetrical wingers, both left-footed, which means that the player on the left (Viktor Tsygankov, Marlos or Oleksandr Zubkov) creates width while the player on the right (Andriy Yarmolenko or Tsygankov) cuts in.

In the famous 2-1 home win over Portugal in the qualifiers, Ukraine used Marlos as a “false nine” and in the current final, Ruslan Malinovskyi played as a kind of “false edge” on the left side of the attack against Northern Macedonia and Austria. Shevchenko can also line up his side as a 3-5-2, especially the 1-1 draw in France in March as he distributes this formation. The result, plus the recent 1-0 victory against Spain and the aforementioned victory against Portugal, shows that they can still play in a counter-style.

Shevchenko is still quite fit and eager to engage in all tactical exercises, as well as small and large one-sided training games. This means that he can lead by example and has a different perspective on training sessions: he can see how his players move, look for passing angles, create space, find solutions and show exactly what he wants from his players. His assistants give him extra insight from the side and give the coach a 360 ° focus on each member of his group.

Shevchenko was a product of the famous Dynamo school, but he has absorbed new concepts as a coach. Since his appointment, Ukraine’s training sessions have been more intense, carefully organized and focused on details. In an effort to raise performance levels, he has incorporated modern technology as a drone for top-of-the-line movie sessions, advanced GPS and heart rate tracking, plus in-depth statistics.

His analytical and technical team now creates bespoke clips for each individual player, while Shevchenko and his assistant, former AC Milan defender Mauro Tassotti, work one-on-one with players to hone their positioning and go hand in hand with them on it is needed to show exactly how they should move and respond to the ball’s positions, teammates and opponents.

Shevchenko joins training / OLAF KRAAK / Getty Images

Current players and others outside the squad have often told me that they have never felt a better atmosphere in Ukraine’s squad than the one Shevchenko provided. It’s not a complicated modus operandi: newcomers sing a song to their teammates during their initiation and players eat their meals together (without cell phones) to encourage them to talk.

He has also invited the public to watch his side train, and thousands attended pre-pandemic sessions. In addition, he has worked hard to ensure that players from domestic rivals Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kiev do not form rival factions within the team.

Defender Serhiy Kryvtsov says the squad has been “like a society, like our other family”, and Oleksandr Zinchenko agrees. “I may have had the worst days of my football life after the Champions League final,” the Manchester City left-back recently explained, “but I recovered so quickly because of the mood of our national team.”

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