Ukraine mourns Lobanovskiy

Valery Lobanovskiy, who coached the Soviet Union and Ukraine national teams, has died aged 63.

Valery Lobanovskiy, the former national coach of the Soviet Union and Ukraine, has died aged 63.

Thirty years of success
The man who led FC Dynamo Kyiv to all of their successes in the past 30 years was at the helm of his native club until his death in the intensive care unit of Zaporizhzhya hospital on Monday.

Brief return to consciousness
Lobanovskiy was taken to hospital on 7 May, after collapsing in the final minutes of Dynamo’s match with FC Metalurh Zaporizhzhya. Diagnosed with a brain haemorrhage, he was unconscious for two days, as Ukraine’s best doctors were flown to Zapozizhzhya. But the coach only briefly returned to consciousness two days before his death, to speak to his wife.

Playing career
Valeriy Lobanovskiy was born on 6 January 1939, in Kiev. By the time he was 18 he was playing as a striker for his native club, Dynamo. After seven years there, he switched to FC Chernomorets Odesa, and then, after three years, to FC Shakhtar Donetsk - thus appearing for all Ukraine’s best clubs at that time. In 257 USSR top-flight games, Lobanovskiy scored 71 goals, and won the Soviet Supreme League title in 1961 with Dynamo.

Legendary status
But it was not his career as a player that made his name legendary in the whole of the Soviet Union. Lobanovskiy was one of very few Soviet coaches to succeed in Europe, not only with the national team, but also - which was a rarity in the USSR - with a club.

'The football of the 21st century'
After taking over Dynamo in 1973, the coach took them to victories in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1975 and 1986. With the Soviet national team, Lobanovskiy reached the final of EURO 88. It was then, in the second half of the 1980s, when a L'Equipe journalist first dubbed the game played by Lobanovskiy's teams, 'The football of the 21st century'.

Soviet breakdown
The breakdown of the Soviet Union sent the great coach on a path followed by many of his compatriots. He left his native land to join the United Arab Emirates as a coach in 1990. Then, from 1994 to 1996, he coached Kuwait. It was not until 1997 that Lobanovskiy made his return to Ukraine to again implement his renowned coaching technology.

Distinctive style
Taking charge of both Ukraine and Dynamo, Lobanovskiy quickly imposed his style, placing the emphasis on the athletic and physical aspects of football, and with a focus on the versatility of every player. That concept, based on scientific research back in Soviet times, was later admired by the likes of Marcello Lippi and Sven-Göran Eriksson.

Thirteen national championships
This approach, invented and perfected by Lobanovskiy and his assistants,helped Dynamo to eight Soviet Supreme League titles, five Ukrainian championships, six Soviet Cups, two Cup Winners’ Cups, the UEFA Super Cup in 1975 and the 1999 UEFA Champions League semi-finals.

Call for professionalism
Lobanovskiy was also one of the first coaches in the Soviet Union to speak up about the necessity of creating professional clubs. His teams resembled the western European way of organisation even in Soviet times, although with a twist - as players passed the word between themselves about how incredibly physically hard it was to be coached by Lobanovskiy.

Brilliant careers
He was also dubbed a tyrant and a despot, feared by many players but respected by all. He gave brilliant careers to plenty, most notably those of European Player of the Year award-winners, Oleg Blokhin and Igor Belanov.

Inspiration to coaches
Lobanovskiy also leaves behind a whole generation of former players turned coaches, who continue to follow his coaching philosophies. Leonid Buryak, named by many as his most gifted apprentice, succeeded Lobanovskiy as Ukraine national coach. FC Metalist Kharkiv coach Mykhailo Fomenko, FC Alania Vladikavkaz's Volodymyr Muntyan, and Oleg Kuznetsov at FC Arsenal Kyiv all learned their trade under Lobanovskiy.

New Dyanmo coaches
Among others to come under Lobanosvkiy's wing were Pavlo Yakovenko, now in charge of the Ukrainian Under-17 team, and Andriy Bal of FC Vorskla Poltava. Lobanovskiy's assistants in his final season at Dynamo, Anatoliy Demianenko and Olexiy Mikhaylichenko, will now take charge at the Ukrainian champions.

Poor health
Lobanovskiy, who had a poor health record, began to suffer seriously at the end of 2001. He first gave up his Ukraine job in favour of Buryak, and then could hardly attend a game when Dynamo played at the Commonwealth Cup in Moscow. Most recently, Lobanovskiy was advised to refrain from travelling to Stockholm, where he was to have been awarded with the UEFA Ruby Order of Merit.

'The Master'
Ukraine is now mourning its legendary coach, only referred to as 'The Master' after his death. The death, tragic itself, will also worry those in charge of Ukrainian football, as there still are questions to be answered. Is anybody in Ukraine capable of equalling Lobanovskiy in his coaching abilities? Will there ever be another coach who could lead club or country to such victories? And, of course, a question without an answer - why was The Master given only 63 years of life, no more?

Lobanovskiy's funeral has been arranged for Thursday 16 May at the Baykovoe cemetery, Kiev. He leaves behind a wife, Ada, a daughter, Svetlana, and a grandson, Bogdan.