Unravelling the enigma of football in the post-Soviet republics
NMTB finds itself in familiar territory once again this week as it touches down in another of its former homes, Ukraine, to join in the celebrations for Dynamo Kyiv’s 13th title success.
But first the blog has a couple of bugbears concerning Ukraine (that’s “Ukraine”, not “the Ukraine” any more than “the Australia”) that it wishes to get off its chest in an Alan Partridge matter-of-fact rant.
Where it is, for starters
Firstly, its capital is spelt K-Y-I-V, not K-I-E-V.
Ever since independence in 1990, the Ukrainian-language spelling has been deemed its official title and its former moniker has been consigned solely to Kerry Katona’s favourite frozen garlic chicken meals.
Which brings NMTB nicely onto point two. The aforementioned delicacy, tasty as it may be, does not originate in the Ukrainian capital.
Some French bloke in a St. Petersburg kitchen concocted the dish after fiddling about with chicken breasts, garlic and breadcrumbs.
(Resultantly, and disconcertingly for aficionados, not many Ukrainian restaurants serve them. If you have a hankering for one, make a beeline for the ubiquitous Mister Snack.)
Back to Dynamo, and it has been a case of when, not if, the Bilo-Syni (White-Blues) would lift the Premier-Liga title this season.
They’ve topped the table since the ninth round and held a commanding lead going into the winter break, but it was perhaps fitting that the championship was won in their Lobanovsky Dynamo Stadium on Sunday.
Their fixture against an unfashionable Tavriya Simferopol side came just three days shy of the seventh anniversary of Valeri Lobanovsky’s death, May 13.
The country’s most venerated manager, who also played for the club, Lobanovsky presided over their ascent as a domestic and continental force.
His three spells in the Dynamo hotseat before and after independence all yielded trophies aplenty, including two European Cup Winners’ Cups.
Their 1975 success against fellow commies Ferencváros from Hungary was the first time a team from the Soviet Union brought a major European honour back to the motherland.
His service to the USSR and, later, Ukraine national teams was also commendable, although the less said the better about his days in the sun managing the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
Valeri: Insert Zutons joke here
The task facing Dynamo on Sunday evening was simple, in spite of Shakhtar Donetsk winning 3-0 against Kharkiv earlier in the day: avoid defeat against Tavriya, and the title would be heading back to Kyiv.
Still, with gaffer Yuri Semin having Wednesday’s Ukrainian Cup semi-final against Shakhtar in mind, it was a much-changed Dynamo team that took to the field.
And they found themselves trailing at the interval thanks to a goal from a Bilo-Syni old boy – the Nigerian Lucky Idahor.
But normal service was resumed in the second half when Semin rang the changes and Dynamo recorded a 3-2 victory with a last-minute free-kick from NMTB’s pick of the bunch for the Kyivites this season, Oleksandr Aliyev.
(Forget that listless performance he put in against England at Wembley: the entire team were rubbish that night.)
The site of the win, the Lobanovsky Stadium, has become a shrine to the former manager since his death.
The entrance is adorned with a huge billboard emblazoned with his image – poignantly reading ‘Lobanovsky Forever’ – and fans are greeted outside the ground by a statue of the great man.
(That said, Lobanovsky’s not too keen on posing for photographs when Dynamo aren’t in residence. Attempting to pay its respects one quiet weekday in 2007, NMTB was frogmarched out of the ground by a burly chap with a dodgy-looking moustache.)
It's that man again
In 2001, a wet-behind-the-ears NMTB moved to Ukraine and became a member of the Pozniaky Masyv – not a menacing, hoodie-clad gang, but a resident of a then down-at-heel Kyiv neighbourhood populated mostly by menacing, hoodie-clad gangs.
The blog was lodging with staunch Dynamo supporter Valeri, an erstwhile Red Army general with a girl’s name (OK, it means Walter in English) and a combover to make Bobby Charlton blush.
He proudly took NMTB to matches each week like the son he never had.
That season Shakhtar usurped Dynamo at the top of the Premier-Liga, the capital club winning nowt – while Lobanovsky was relieved of his position as head coach of the national team.
However, this time round the Miners’ campaign never really got going until after the winter break, by which time they were a distant speck in the rear-view mirror for Semin’s free-scoring side.
It’s goals that have won it for Dynamo in 2009.
They’ve averaged two-and-a-half a game this season – almost Barcelona standards – with 16 of them coming from the quick feet of their pacy front man Ismaël Bangoura.
He has had a few English Premier League clubs sniffing around him; Everton and Wigan are rumoured to be among potential suitors.
"Hmm, toffee or pie?"
The Guinea international’s performances alongside Artem Milevskiy, coupled with the likes of Aliyev and Roman Eremenko in midfield, have wrestled the title away from their big-spending rivals from Donetsk.
And should Bangoura move to pastures new this summer, Semin isn’t short of firepower: waiting in the wings are the Uzbek Maksim Shatskikh – the Premier-Liga’s second-highest goalscorer of all time – and 19-year-old Artem Kravets, Ukraine’s next big thing.
Bangoura was rested at the weekend, although will be back leading the line on Wednesday for a tie against Shakhtar that holds an even greater significance than usual for the Kyivites.
They’re out for revenge after the defeat they suffered at the hands of their rivals in the UEFA Cup last week – and on a more personal level, Semin has never masterminded a Dynamo victory against Mircea Lucescu’s side since taking over from Anatoliy Demyanenko in 2007.
But three days after clinching their 13th title, there could be no better day than Wednesday to overturn this unwanted statistic; the fixture against Shakhtar on May 13 coincides with the seventh anniversary of Valeri Lobanovsky’s passing.
It could just be lucky 13 for Dynamo and Semin this week.
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