The late Valeriy Lobanovskiy may be gone but he will never be forgotten in Ukraine.
By Igor Linnyk
He may have gone, but his fellow countrymen are making sure the greatest football coach in their history is not forgotten. Valeriy Lobanovskiy's contribution to football in Ukraine has made sure of that.
Died in May
Two Ukrainian journalists, Artem Frankov and Dmytro Kharytonov, recently published a book about the former USSR, Ukraine and FC Dynamo Kyiv coach, 'Lobanovskiy: The postscript'. The coach, who won nine Soviet titles, two UEFA Cup Winners' Cups and a UEFA Super Cup with Dynamo, and led the USSR national team to the final of the 1988 UEFA European Championship, died on 13 May in Zaporizhya after a brain haemorrhage at the age of 63.
The book looks at the full span of Lobanovskiy's career in football, as a player from 1957-69 and a coach from 1968 until his death. Countless details help depict the personality of a man who reformed Soviet football with his approach. Consider the following: "Lobanovskiy was quite superstitious. He always stepped on to the pitch with his right foot first. He would never step on a crack in the road or the sidelines of the pitch. His players were never allowed to wear number 13. He would also research every aspect of the environment before a match: what the weather forecast said, what colour kit his opponents were wearing, the distance between the hotel and stadium."
Lobanovskiy himself wrote two books in his life, 'The endless match' and 'Lobanovskiy's football'. But this tome features quotes from numerous interviews given by this flamboyant personality. "I am the kind of person who would never admit that I am wrong," one quote runs. "But with years and experience, you learn to behave so that nobody would guess you actually made a mistake. Sincerity is too hard a science."
Another extract reads: "A few minutes before a game, right before the players left the dressing room, Lobanovskiy always turned silent. He would look at his watch, wait for seven seconds, and then clap his hands. He believed seven was a lucky number - and thought that after his team talk there should be a moment when players could be allowed to collect their thoughts and concentrate on the task ahead."
The book publishes rare pictures of the coach, as well as interviews with many current and former players and also Dynamo officials. Meanwhile, one of the authors, Kharytonov, has also filmed a documentary about Lobanovskiy, the premiere of which is scheduled for October. The book and the film are, however, not the only tributes to Lobanovskiy. On his death, he was awarded posthumously his country's highest state honour - the title of Hero of Ukraine. On 16 May, more than 200,000 people turned up to his funeral to say a last goodbye.
Streets in Kyiv and Zaporizhya have since been renamed after Lobanovskiy, and a foundation in his name opened and headed by his daughter Svetlana. Next year, meanwhile, should see the inaugural Lobanovskiy Cup, an international tournament involving Dynamo and three other club sides scheduled to be held in May around the date of Lobanovskiy's death.
"The job of football manager is one of the most dangerous," he is quoted as saying elsewhere in the book. "I know it from my own experience - there are games where you take heart medicine from a doctor who sits right next to you, but your hands are still shaking. And your pulse is racing at 190 per minute - which is pretty close to a heart attack." Prescient words but Lobanovskiy died doing what he loved best.