With the bittersweet taste of last Sunday’s FA Cup defeat to Chelsea still lingering, Manchester City jetted off to Ukraine, where they face a Dynamo Kiev side who haven’t kicked a ball since they defeated Maccabi Tel-Aviv on December 9th. The extended winter break meant the Ukranian side have spent the last two months in a training camp in Spain where they have been preparing for their biggest game in 19 years.
The Ukrainian side sit level on points with Shakhtar Donetsk at the top of the Ukrainian Premier League and boast stars such as Andriy Yarmolenko. They are a club with a rich and troubled history. Having competed in European competitions almost every year since the 1960s, they were also the only team to overturn the hegemony of the Moscow-based clubs in the now forgone Soviet Top Football League. FC Start, the Kiev team from the infamous football match ‘The Death Match’ in 1942, was predominantly made up of players from Dynamo Kyiv.
To really get to know such an interesting club so relatively unknown among European fans, I spoke to Manuel Veth, the editor of Futbolgrad, a website that covers football in post-Soviet Europe and Asia, and a PhD graduate from King’s College London in the economics and politics of Soviet and post-Soviet football.
Hi Manuel, thanks for coming on. I’m sure a lot of City fans will be interested in what you have to say. Can you tell us a little about the origins of Dynamo Kiev and why they are a club held in such high-regard?
Hi Anis, thank you for having me on. Dynamo is indeed Ukraine’s most historic club. The team was founded in 1927 as part of the Dynamo sport society. This meant that the club was formerly part of the Ministry of Interior — in other words the police and secret service — of the Soviet Union. Clubs in the Soviet Union were formerly amateur, but like in other Dynamo clubs, players were simply drafted into the state police were they were given formal work, but could in reality play like professionals.
Dynamo’s big era came when Volodymyr Shcherbytsky became the First Secretary of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in the 1970s. Shcherbytsky was a Dynamo fan, and as the ruler of the Soviet Republic ensured that the best Ukrainian players would play for Dynamo. From 1961 to 1990 Dynamo won 13 Soviet Vysshaya Liga titles, more than any other team in the Soviet Union. Furthermore the club also won two European Cup Winners’ Cups, and the club became like an ersatz national team for the Ukrainian nation. After independence, Dynamo quickly established itself as the most dominant team of Ukraine, and between 1993 and 2001 the club won nine championships in a row.
In 1999 a Dynamo team led by Andriy Shevchenko stormed all the way to the semi-final of the Champions League, and were only narrowly eliminated by Bayern Munich. The emergence of Shakhtar Donetsk in the early 2000s meant that Dynamo lost much of its dominance in the Ukrainian Premier League, but the club actually managed to win five more championships since 2001, including last season.
How have Dynamo fared this season? The Ukranian Premier League isn’t exactly in the best state right now.
The Ukrainian Premier League has suffered greatly from the war in the Donbass. Several clubs—including Shakhtar Donetsk — have to play in constant exile. The devaluation of the Hryvnia—Ukraine’s currency — as a result of the war has also put strain on the clubs as most foreign players are paid in either Euros or Dollars. Both Dynamo and Shakhtar have somewhat managed to weather the storm, and as a result are the only two real competitive teams in the league. Dynamo are currently second in Ukraine on even points with Shakhtar, but with a goal differential, and the league will most likely be decided when the two clubs meet each other next.
Talk to me about Dyanamo Kiev’s strengths and weaknesses. Who are the danger men and where can Manchester City exploit them?
The most important Dynamo player is Andriy Yarmolenko. According to reports in Ukraine, the club recently refused a €60m offer for him from an unnamed Chinese club. The winger plays on the right flank and is known for cutting inside and curling the ball with his left foot (something that we often see with Bayern’s Arjen Robben). Dynamo also has two strong defenders in Yevhen Khacheridi and Aleksandar Dragović.
Dynamo’s biggest weakness perhaps is the fact that the club hasn’t played a competitive match since December 9th – a 1-0 victory in the Champions League over Maccabi Tel-Aviv — and Dynamo still needs to find its match rhythm. Dynamo’s biggest problem in terms of positions is the left-back Antunes. Dynamo’s coach Serhiy Rebrov has converted him from a winger to a wing-back, and the left wing back often struggles with his defensive duties.
Dynamo Kiev had their stadium ban for racial violence lifted at last notice – much to the distraught of City fans who have had to pay overinflated prices. This means their 70,000 capacity NSC Olimpiyskiy stadium will be electric when Manchester City visit, only months after terrible racial violence in the same ground. Do you feel UEFA places football matters over issues such as racism?
I was already shocked when Dynamo only received a light sentence for the incident in the first place. Lifting the ban is a real kick in the teeth for those that are fighting racism in Europe’s stadiums as it basically meant that Dynamo’s racist ultras were able to get away with their crime.
On the other hand I wasn’t be too surprised; after all the club is run by the Surkis brothers Ihor and Hryhoriy. Officially Ihor is the president of Dynamo as his brother is currently a member of the UEFA Executive Committee. With Michel Platini suspended the board is very much in charge of football operations, and it should therefore not be a big surprise that Dynamo will be allowed to have fans attend the match.
Prediction for the first leg?
I think the match in Kyiv will be a tight affair, but Manchester City should come out on top in a narrow 2-1 victory.