In the pantheon of Ukrainian football greats, no one commands quite the same deference as FC Dynamo Kyiv coach Valeriy Lobanovskiy, who died aged 63 in May 2002.
As a forward Lobanovskiy won a Soviet Top League title and a USSR Cup at Dynamo, but blew those achievements out of the water in two spells as the club's coach. He picked up 13 championships (eight in the Soviet Union, five in Ukraine) and nine domestic cups (six in the USSR, three in Ukraine) as well as the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1974/75 and 1985/86. Dynamo have never quite filled his shoes, though it may be that Mircea Lucescu is his real successor.
Lucescu joined the Pitmen in 2004 having claimed national titles in Turkey and his native Romania, besides working in Italy, yet his effect on Shakhtar has been remarkable. Under the 67-year-old coach they have lifted six Ukrainian Premier League crowns and four domestic cups, and perhaps more significantly have emerged as a major European force. Indeed, their triumph in the 2008/09 UEFA Cup final marked the first continental trophy for a Ukrainian side since independence.
"The team have moved on in recent years," Lucescu said. "They are becoming a title machine. We have only one aim – to win." Solid funding from the club's owner Rinat Akhmetov has undoubtedly helped make Lucescu's squads ultra-competitive. However, his victories – like Lobanovskiy's in their time – have been more than an exercise in spending money, and in philosophical terms his sides bear comparison with Lobanovskiy's.
Both men favoured a steady, structured game, with their teams able to play the ball out of defence and press opponents remorselessly. Like Lobanovskiy, Lucescu is also a natural autocrat, with both possessing a sixth sense for nurturing latent talent. "Without human relations, it is very difficult to build a strong team – virtually impossible," said Lucescu, explaining his mix of hard and soft skills. "If the players understand that, the coach is truly happy."
The bulk of Lobanovskiy's career unfolded during the Soviet era, when foreign signings such as Lucescu's rotating cast of exciting Brazilians were an impossibility. Even though the coach – like so many of his players – is not a Ukrainian, there is little doubt he has helped raise the bar for local football. The UEFA Europa League exploits of FC Metalist Kharkiv and FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk this term mirror Shakhtar's European outlook.
Borussia Dortmund await Shakhtar in the UEFA Champions League round of 16, with the Pitmen inching closer to a dream even Lobanovskiy found impossible – winning Europe's top club prize. Lobanovskiy's charges set the standard in the 1970s. Could it be that Lucescu will take it even higher for the next generation of coaches?
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