Joint-top scorer at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, on the mark in the UEFA Youth League final and a recent UEFA Champions League debutant ... introducing Shakhtar's Viktor Kovalenko.
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Viktor Kovalenko comes under the microscope this week as UEFA.com's continuing search for the continent's brightest young talent leads to Ukraine. A Shakhtar Donetsk academy product, the midfielder has enjoyed a big year and made his UEFA Champions League debut in the first leg of the club's third qualifying round tie against Fenerbahçe last Tuesday.
Name: Viktor Kovalenko
Club: Shakhtar Donetsk
Debut: 27 October 2014 for Shakhtar v Vorskla Poltava
Date of birth: 14 February 1996
Preferred foot: right
They say …
"Viktor earned his spot in the lineup [as a substitute against Fenerbahçe] through hard work. He is an extremely promising player for our club and there's no doubt he has a great future. He has everything a player needs."
Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu
"I wasn't surprised he ended up as top scorer at the recent [FIFA U-20] World Cup. He is a talented lad, he's hard-working and has the right attitude."
Former Shakhtar Under-19 coach Valery Kriventsov
"Foreign clubs have a continued interest in him. However, we're not going to sell him regardless of what offers we receive."
Shakhtar general director Sergei Palkin
Kovalenko was born in Kherson but by the age of 11 had offers from the Shakhtar and Dynamo Kyiv academies. He ended up at the former and has since gone from strength to strength, the peak of his youth career coming with a goal in last season's UEFA Youth League final defeat by Chelsea.
He made his senior club debut in October 2014, in the Ukrainian Cup, with his league bow following this February, two weeks after his 19th birthday. Kovalenko struck a joint-leading five goals at this summer's FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, helping his team to the last 16, and also featured at the recent UEFA European Under-19 Championship in Greece.
Playing style ...
Kovalenko is a powerful yet technically gifted player with good vision, a searing shot and fine distribution. His first touch is especially impressive, plus he has an uncanny knack of being able to judge a situation immediately in order to add pace to an attack. Though he has all the attributes of a top-level attacking midfielder, he is also comfortable in a more defensive role.
Shades of ...
Kovalenko considers Andrea Pirlo and Toni Kroos as the ideal central midfielders, though observers have likened him to Kaká and Cesc Fàbregas. There are also similarities between the youngster and Andriy Shevchenko in terms of dribbling style.
Eureka moment ...
He certainly caught the eye in April's UEFA Youth League finals in Nyon. Despite being limited to two substitute outings because of a recent injury, he scored two and made another in the 3-1 semi-final success against Anderlecht and then netted another in the decider. Confirmation of his talent followed last month when he came off the bench and added another assist in the Ukrainian Super Cup victory against Dynamo – his first senior trophy.
Best-case scenario ...
Lucescu looks set to utilise Kovalenko more and more this term. It is also no secret he is on national coach Mykhailo Fomenko's radar and will surely make his senior international debut sooner rather than later. Indeed it is unlikely to be long before he is ranked alongside Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka as one of his country's key men.
He says ...
"I made all my choices a while back and banned many things from my life which I could easily have gone along with. I don't think there's any other way of doing it if you really want to achieve big things. Is it easy to resist temptation? No problem at all as long as you know what your priority is."