Quick and versatile, striker Maksim Shatskikh represents the best of FC Dynamo Kyiv's game.
By Igor Linnyk
Signed as a replacement for Andriy Shevchenko when the striker joined AC Milan in 1999, Maksim Shatskikh faced a huge task at FC Dynamo Kyiv. Four seasons later, however, the Uzbekistan forward has practically eclipsed his predecessor. Twice Ukraine's top scorer, with 91 league goals to his name, only Serhiy Rebrov stands in the way of Shatskikh becoming the premier division's all-time leading marksman.
A goal and an assist in Dynamo's 2-1 UEFA Champions League win against Arsenal FC on Matchday 3 also proved that the 25-year-old is an instinctive striker. His 14 goals in 37 appearances in that competition have certainly lent him an insight into what it takes to succeed in Europe.
"Every modern forward must be able to take any scrap of an opportunity he has - and he must also be versatile," said Shatskikh. "Nowadays even half a touch too many is a luxury you cannot afford. Soon, in football, you will have even less time on the ball, with even tighter marking."
He might have been with five other clubs before coming to Kiev, but it is as if he was destined to play for Dynamo. An enthusiastic competitor, Shatskikh's willingness to drop into midfield as well as to press forward makes him the perfect player for a Dynamo team which prefers to employ one out-and-out striker, reliant on strong support from midfield. "Normally I am a forward, but I still have to work as a midfield player and in defence - interchangeability is a key principle of the Dynamo game," said Shatskikh.
Pace and aggression
While his breathtaking pace and aggression have marked him out as an outstanding European forward, it is this work rate which has endeared him to the crowd at the Olimpiyskiy stadium. Of course, having hit 22 goals as Dynamo took the Ukrainian title last season, his scoring prowess has made him a popular figure too.
The key to that lies in the system Dynamo play. While Shatskikh is often concealed in midfield, he comes into his own on the counterattack, as Arsenal would do well to remember when the two sides meet again at Highbury. "Attacking with open space available is the dream of every striker," he said. "But it's more important to play the right way, so that your side can score."
In that respect, Shatskikh is a pragmatist. The team is what counts. However, his value to the side was confirmed when he recently signed a new deal to keep him at Dynamo for another three years, and he believes that he and the club are a match made in heaven. "I love Kiev and I am thinking of staying here forever," he said.
At the moment, there is no reason to imagine why that would not happen. With eight goals in 14 domestic games this term, Shatskikh is already gearing up for another magnificent campaign, but it is the Champions League which has captured the player's imagination.
"We have not got past the first group stage for three seasons now," he said, with Dynamo second in Group B ahead of the game at Arsenal. "But this time everything is in our own hands. No one in Kiev is making any predictions with regards to our position in the table, but I know what the expectation is."
As Shevchenko's replacement, Shatskikh has faced high expectations before. Having successfully filled a living legend's boots, the Uzbek is used to exceeding even the most optimistic hopes.