Ukraine's most successful side, FC Dynamo Kyiv are enduring a shaky spell, with the club's style – and indeed results – going steadily downhill since the death of their famed coach Valeriy Lobanovskiy. Dynamo have won four Premier League titles since Lobanovskiy passed away in 2002, but the fact they have been through nine coaches in the past decade tells its own story.
The great Dynamo teams of the Soviet era and beyond were defined by their athleticism and ability to press opponents relentlessly. The club's academy continues to produce plenty of talents eager to follow in the footsteps of Oleh Blokhin, Igor Belanov and Andriy Shevchenko – Ballon d'Or winners in 1975, 1986 and 2004 respectively – yet fashioning these players into winning sides is proving tough.
Since Lobanovskiy's demise, the style of power and stamina-based football that he helped to perfect – and which earned Dynamo 25 trophies in 22 years, including two European Cup Winners' Cups and a UEFA Super Cup – has lost some of its allure. A desire for success in Europe, in particular, encouraged the club to shift its traditional playing policy, recruiting coaches that favoured more of a passing game.
That ploy has had dubious effects. Since lifting the championship and reaching the UEFA Cup semi-finals in 2008/09, Dynamo have won nothing of note, and appear set to go four years without a major honour for the first time in 50 years. In the meantime, FC Shakhtar Donetsk have embellished their own power and stamina-based soccer with Brazilian technique – and are now the undisputed No1 force in Ukrainian football.
After Dynamo won their first seven fixtures this season in all competitions, there was hope that a corner had been turned, yet the anaesthetic soon wore off. Out of the Ukrainian Cup, they trail Shakhtar by 14 points in the title race and their chances of surviving in the UEFA Champions League beyond the winter break are dwindling.
Not long ago, Dynamo took the decision to return to their roots, bringing Lobanovskiy protege Blokhin back as coach. However, the former Ukraine boss's health problems have derailed the rebuilding process – the 60-year-old is only just returning to full-time work and has a major task ahead if he is to recover a cutting edge in a team that, by past standards, lacks power and pace.
So are they doomed to defeat against Paris Saint-Germain FC in Group A on matchday five? Not at all. At home, Dynamo can still give anyone a game. However, should they fail to win – and win by a margin of three goals or more – a UEFA Europa League place is all they will be able to play for. The fear for the club is that – at this early stage in their redevelopment – even UEFA's second competition might be too stiff a challenge.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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