"We are ashamed of our recent results," defender Yevhen Khacheridi said in the autumn, with FC Dynamo Kyiv now eager to turn over a new leaf after transferring to the UEFA Europa League.
An unthinkable 14 points off the top of the Ukrainian Premier League, the one-time giants of Soviet football finished a distant third in their UEFA Champions League group, with the illness-enforced absence of coach Oleh Blokhin doing little to raise spirits in an underperforming side. The poor showing at least helped the former Ukraine boss formulate his plans for the spring.
"I took my decisions on the future of the team some time ago," Blokhin said after a 2-0 home loss to Paris Saint-Germain FC in November. "It appears as if some players are doing us a favour when they go on the pitch. Big changes await Dynamo and I will not tolerate indifference. Everything must be better."
Brave words from the 60-year-old, who is regarded by many as Dynamo's only hope as they look to bring back the days when the club were famous for their trademark power, pressing and pace. A legendary forward who featured in the Dynamo sides that lifted the 1975 and 1986 European Cup Winners' Cups, some felt Blokhin was risking his reputation when taking charge in September with the team at a low ebb. The chances of a quick fix were swiftly dashed when he was diagnosed with a heart problem.
"I was surprised when I took over," said Blokhin. "I never would have guessed a lot of what was going on from watching Dynamo on TV. But I didn't have the time to remedy the situation as I was sent to hospital after just two matches, and for a month the doctors wouldn't let me come back to work."
Now with a clean bill of health, Blokhin has had opportunity to reflect. While catching all-conquering FC Shakhtar Donetsk in the race for this season's title is nigh-on impossible, the coach will attempt to restore confidence, starting with the UEFA Europa League round of 32 tie against FC Girondins de Bordeaux.
Personnel changes may also lighten the load. Midfielder Miloš Ninković has departed for Évian Thonon Gaillard FC, forward Artem Milevskiy has been transfer-listed and central defender Leandro Almeida is also rumoured to be leaving. The coach has drafted in defender Yevhen Selin and exciting attacker Roman Bezus – both made their Ukraine debuts under Blokhin – from FC Vorskla Poltava, as well as GNK Dinamo Zagreb defender Domagoj Vida. The team, however, remain a work in progress.
"As for answering the question 'what are Dynamo's strengths?', I will only be able to answer that after our first winter training camp," Blokhin said. "Some improvements have been made, but I haven't had much time. We are not looking to build a flash-in-the-pan side to impress for a short period, but a strong, powerful group for the long term."
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