FC Chornomorets Odesa may live in the shadow of FC Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Dynamo Kyiv, but when it comes to history, no-one in Ukraine can match the UEFA Europa League contenders.
The famous port on the Black Sea was home to the first teams who played football in what is now the independent Ukraine, and while the current club was not formed until 1936, Odesa's significance in local football is well known in the former Soviet republics. The hope now is that, as they edge towards a UEFA Europa League group stage debut, Chornomorets will soon have a present to match their illustrious past.
A 1-0 home win against Albania's KS Skënderbeu has left Roman Grygorchuk's side tantalisingly close to a big European breakthrough, and they also lie in an encouraging fourth place in the Ukrainian Premier League after seven games. "We played well, not only against Skënderbeu but in every match this season," the coach told UEFA.com. "Even at Shakhtar, where we lost 1-0, we did very well tactically. Everybody says we've taken a step up after last season. I won't argue with that, but our aim now is to keep that momentum going."
Born in the west of Ukraine, the 48-year-old Grygorchuk had a modest career as a striker, hanging up his boots – and moving into coaching – following a spell in Latvia. As coach of FK Ventspils, he won three titles in a row from 2006-08, moving to Odesa in 2010 from FC Metalurh Zaporizhya. Chornomorets won promotion back to the top division in his first full season in charge, with subsequent ninth and sixth-placed finishes maintaining their steady progress.
"We are just reaching the point we have been trying to achieve all these years by improving our performance and results," said Grygorchuk, whose side turned heads with a 2-1 league win at Dynamo on 11 August. "I want to repeat that the most important thing for us now is to maintain our standards. We have the potential – I know it and see it."
Potential has never been lacking at Chornomorets, the club that nurtured Dynamo and USSR legend Igor Belanov; tangible results, though, have proved harder to come by. They did not win their first trophy until 1992 – taking the first Ukrainian Cup after independence – but won it again two years later, before finishing second to Dynamo in the 1995 and 1996 title races. More recently, they finished third in the league in 2005/06.
The hope is that they can become a persistent threat to the big two once again. The arrivals of Olexiy Antonov, Sergei Samodin and Volodymyr Priyomov from bankrupt FC Kryvbas Kryvyi Rih, as well as Olexiy Gay from FC Shakhtar Donetsk, have certainly helped this season. "These players have made us stronger as we are more powerful and versatile in attack," said Grygorchuk, whose side can play 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 as required. But European group stage football would provide even more impetus.
"Together with the club's management we have been working purposefully on team-building with a view to getting serious success," Grygorchuk added. "We are in no hurry. We are taking it one step at a time, building consistently." Slow and steady may yet win Chornomorets the race.
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