It is not often a man associated with Muscovite football glory is welcomed in Kiev but an exception has been made for Yuri Semin. The man who masterminded FC Lokomotiv Moskva's rise to the top in Russia was appointed FC Dynamo Kyiv coach in December and has swiftly set about transforming their fortunes.
Dynamo lie an unfamiliar third in the Ukrainian Premier League at the winter break, with their UEFA Champions League campaign having failed to yield a point. Whatever the rivalry between Moscow and Kiev, however, Dynamo have achieved much under Russian coaches before, beginning in 1954 when St Petersburg-born Oleg Oshenkov inspired their debut USSR Cup win. Seven years later, Muscovite Vyacheslav Soloviev led Dynamo to a maiden league title and was then emulated by fellow Russians Viktor Maslov and Aleksandr Sevidov. Only in the 1970s did Dynamo find a truly successful Ukrainian trainer, the great Valeriy Lobanovskiy, but since his death in 2002, FC Shakhtar Donetsk have challenged their domestic hegemony and even FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk have outdone them this season.
This is where Semin comes in. His effect has already been felt in a recent friendly tournament in Israel, where Dynamo triumphed ahead of FC Spartak Moskva, PFC CSKA Moskva and, tellingly, Shakhtar. Semin has acted to restore team discipline while giving younger players a chance, thus creating real competition for places. "We have to make use of our squad's potential," the 60-year-old said. "We have many youngsters who need to take one more step to become quality players. We have such players in our youth academy and our reserve team. We have already taken two or three of them on training camps so they can adapt better to the first team's requirements. It is the only way for them to develop."
Among those Semin has in mind is 21-year-old defender Oleh Dopilka, given his first Ukraine cap last week, and two players aged 20, Vitaliy Fedoriv and Denys Oleinik. "A young player should first of all understand why he is doing this or that," Semin said. "So my principle is to explain everything." Another to benefit from this approach is teenage striker Artem Kravets, while Semin's influence is rubbing off too on 33-year-old Serhiy Rebrov, who hit top form in Israel.
Semin must improve performances all round because Dynamo have not made any big winter signings, while releasing veterans Valentin Belkevich and Serhiy Fedorov, Ukraine winger Ruslan Rotan, Serbia defender Goran Gavrančić and Brazilian centre-back Rodrigo. Strikers Kleber and Diogo Rincón may also leave. With their team third in the Premier League, four points off leaders Dnipro, Dynamo fans are not unhappy to see Semin make bold decisions. Lobanovskiy said there are no miracles in football – even so, supporters are beginning to believe their Russian coach has a real feel for Kiev.
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