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How Andriy Shevchenko has revitalised Ukraine

A great as a player, the former AC Milan striker has inspired Ukraine to reach another level since taking charge of the national team.

Andriy Shevchenko has created a special atmosphere in the Ukraine camp
Andriy Shevchenko has created a special atmosphere in the Ukraine camp POOL/AFP via Getty Images

A brilliant striker, and the biggest star of Valeriy Lobanovskiy's incredible Dynamo Kyiv side of the late 1990s, Andriy Shevchenko went on to win the UEFA Champions League and Ballon d'Or during his time at AC Milan.

Arguably Ukraine's best ever player, Shevchenko carried considerable baggage when he took charge of the national team after UEFA EURO 2016, but the 44-year-old is doing far more than trading on past glories as he leads the Synio-Zhovti towards a round of 16 tie against Sweden. Here are his five hallmark contributions to the team's progress.

He had a plan and he has stuck to it

On his first day as coach, Shevchenko talked about his desire to change Ukraine's playing style, switching from a physical, counterattacking approach to a less passive, possession-based game. Eyebrows were raised, and the team was very much a work in progress during 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying, finishing third in their section. However, a dynamic, modernised side played in Shevchenko's chosen style as they topped their EURO 2020 qualifying section, ahead of European champions Portugal.

Champions League icon: Andriy Shevchenko
Champions League icon: Andriy Shevchenko

He has given Ukraine a range of tactical options

A 4-3-3 formation with one holding midfielder and preferably inverted wingers is Ukraine's default set-up under Shevchenko, but they have plenty of options within this system. They can play with asymmetric wingers, both left-footed, meaning the player on the left (Viktor Tsygankov, Marlos or Oleksandr Zubkov) creates width while the player on the right (Andriy Yarmolenko or Tsygankov) cuts inside.

In the famous 2-1 home win against Portugal in qualifying, Ukraine used Marlos as a 'false nine' and, at the current finals, Ruslan Malinovskyi played as a sort of 'false winger' on the left side of attack against North Macedonia and Austria. Shevchenko can also line his side up as a 3-5-2, notably drawing 1-1 in France in March while deploying this formation. That result, plus the recent 1-0 win against Spain and the aforementioned victory against Portugal, show that they can still play in a counterattacking style too.

He likes to get in and among his side in training

Andriy Shevchenko with the ball at his feet
Andriy Shevchenko with the ball at his feet

Shevchenko is still pretty fit and eager to get involved in all the tactical drills, as well as small and large-sided training games. That means he can lead by example and has a different perspective on training sessions: he can see how his players move, look for passing angles, create space, find solutions and demonstrate exactly what he wants from his players. His assistants give him extra insight from the sidelines, providing the coach with a 360° focus on each member of his squad.

He has embraced new ideas in coaching

Shevchenko was a product of the renowned Dynamo school, but he has absorbed new concepts as a coach. Since his appointment, Ukraine's training sessions have been more intense, meticulously organised and focused on detail. In a bid to raise performance levels, he has brought in modern technology such as drones to film sessions from above, advanced GPS and heartbeat-tracking, plus in-depth statistics.

Watch Shevchenko head Ukraine to victory at EURO 2012
Watch Shevchenko head Ukraine to victory at EURO 2012

His analytical and technical team now create tailored clips for each individual player, while Shevchenko and his assistant, former AC Milan defender Mauro Tassotti, work one-on-one with players to hone their positioning, walking hand in hand with them if necessary to show exactly how they should move and respond to the positions of the ball, team-mates and opponents.

He has created an excellent working atmosphere

Current players and others outside the squad have often told me they have never known a better atmosphere in the Ukraine squad than the one instilled by Shevchenko. It's not a complicated modus operandi: newcomers sing a song to their team-mates during their initiation and players eat their meals together (with no mobile phones) to encourage them to talk.

He has also invited the public to watch his side train, and thousands attended sessions before the pandemic. In addition, he has worked hard to ensure that players from domestic rivals Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv do not form rival factions within the team.

Defender Serhiy Kryvtsov says the squad has been "like a community, like our second family", and Oleksandr Zinchenko agrees. "I had perhaps the worst few days of my footballing life after the Champions League final," the Manchester City left-back recently explained, "but I recovered so quickly because of the atmosphere in our national team."

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