With 7 goals vs Barcelona Valeri Lobanovsky got even with all past blows of his life as a coach. As a stunning sensation for the football Europe sounded the unbelievable two-act performance of Dynamo Kyiv vs Barcelona in the Champions League 97/98. First a 3:0 slam-dunk at home and then in a couple of weeks shocked Barca with 4:0 at Nou Camp. The history of European Cups has never seen anything like this before. Like devils out of the snuff-box, the unknown players (except for the one with the expressively-Ukrainian surname Shevchenko who has got the eyes of managers from many big European Clubs to be put on) ripped apart Spaniards all over the field parrying their attacks with elegant thrusts of collective defence. In such a victorious style Dynamo took the unconditional lead in their group. And again, after 7 years of oblivion the coaching star of Valeri Lobanovsky has risen on the football horizon. For these 7 years of absence from his dear club which he cherished for 17 seasons - from 1974 till 1990 - he got even with those 7 crushing blows into the goals of the one of the grandes of continental football. The accounts are setlled in full. For the most painful hit on his pride, when in 1990 the team (used to be called - the main team of the country) coached by him, not the Kyiv's Dynamo (in 1990 it became the champion of the USSR exactly for the 13th time) but the USSR National Team collapsed infamously during the World Cup in Italy. The 17 year coaching successes of Lobanovsky are impressive: 2 European Cups of Cup Holders, 1 SuperCup, vice-championship in Euro '88, 8 Soviet Championships, 6 Soviet Cups. And all that was crossed out by the Italian fiasco, when the team hadn't even pass the group competition. Lobanovsky refused to talk to press and explain the cause of failures. Others did it for him. "Lobanovsky wanted his own football revolution -- self-governing clubs, transition to the professional football -- and got defeated by new realities. The color of money, taste of money, smell of money, blind faith in aging veterans and the absolute power of Lobanovsky -- this is the mine which blew up the red armoured train. For 4 years this armoured train has been giving us the lively and real football, and while it existed, it was beautiful", - wrote Reppublica from Rome. At home Lobanovsky was subject to the merciless stigmatization in Moscow media with no respect to his past victories. Hissed and taunted he left, first to the United Emirates and then to Kuwait ... for money? exile? rest? Following him the most titled team of the still alive Soviet Union Dynamo Kyiv scattered all over countries and continents. The state and football decays of the big empire ironically almost coincided. In fact Lobanovsky was the last football head coach of the USSR National Team which coached by others had barely lasted under the flag of CIS for another month or two. Then FIFA unjustfully gave Russia the heritage of the USSR National Team and Clubs. Although Ukraine deserved much better fate (judging by the number of Ukrainian players in the Soviet National Team, by the international success of mostly Ukrainian Clubs) the behind the curtains performance of the Soviet Football Federation boss who was accidentally the vice-resident of FIFA had left Ukraine beyond the World Cup '94 and most importantly without many players who could have filled the gap between the generation of mid 80's (Dynamo-86, Dnipro-83,88) and the current youth. History will judge those who haven't followed the examples of Henadi Lytovchenko or Olexi Mykhailychenko who resisted temptations and refused to play under the Russian flag... And at that time, in early 1992, nobody could have even imagined that this overthrown "tyrant" will start rebuilding a new football empire from fragments again.
Today only the generation of veteran fans remember Lobanovsky-the-player absolutely inconsistent with a traditional image of the left-side forward in those times. As a rule, these flank sprinters of attack were short, sharp and mobile to fly like a rocket past defenders if, certainly, not being "shot down" at the take-off. Lobanovsky was tall, even leggy. When his run started the laces of dribling were woven, his speed seemed not high, but entirely denying disadvantages of his height in taking short steps he would freely pass a defender. And 71 goals scored in 10 years (1958-68) is quite a good indicator. Moreover, he succeded to score goals of such a beauty that stadiums would moan and sigh and defenders would freeze in stupor. His magic corner kicks curved in the high and wide arc would stir unimaginable commotion in the penalti box when the goal, as is said, "hang in the air". And very often the ball would triumphantly glide into the net. Lobanovsky has brought the "Dead Leaf" (known also as a "Banana Shot") first demonstrated by Brazilians to pure perfection. He would settle the ball near a corner flag, take his long run, and the stadium would still in pleasurable anticipation of his trick, miracle, magic. He was cunning and witty in offense. Moscow defenders gave him a nickname "Cord" - either because of his height or because of his ability to carry a ball through any narrow breach in defense. But loving fans commonly called him just "Loban" - by the first few letters of his surname. In particular this name suited him when he moved to Chornomorets - Odessians are connoisseurs of the same name Black Sea tsar-fish which looks lazy and phlegmatic but elusively-adroit in the minute of danger. Though, "Lob" is also the part of human head (forehead), and that part was always OK with Lobanovsky. He comes from a cohort of back-yard boys chasing a ball to complete frenzy before classes, after classes and instead of classes. But as his classmate recalls sometimes students would come to a football ground looking for his help - after school. This was usually happenning when the Regional Educational Committee was making some non-standard math testing. Valeri was brilliant in taking care of math problems as well as defenders on a pitch. His path into the Big Football was completely typical - from street stars to children's and then youth teams where he got noticed and invited to Dynamo Kyiv. But he himself was atypical - in those times usually it was slackers, mischievous kids and students with poor grades who would have made it to the top (they had more time for improvement). Lobanovsky graduated from his high school with honorous "Golden Medal" and by the time he got his first Championship "Golden Medal" with Dynamo he had finished Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. The sense of "24 Carat Gold" was absorbed very well from childhood as excellence was his destiny. But excellent students are not in big respect among classmates. And if in school his football skills helped him out then in the big football his playmates had professional class not a bit lower and potentials of many were even higher. But Lobanovsky still would come up with his football ideas. Not that he was trying to teach others how to play football, but rather often he was in doubts, especially about tactics. Sooner or later it had to happen - the conflict between the player and the coach. And it happened in 1964 - between Valeri Lobanovsky and the great Victor Maslov who was coaching Dynamo in mid 60's. After the game with "Shynnik" Lobanovsky questioned the game in the locker-room again and Maslov stopped puting him as a starter from that time. Later Lobanovsky admitted that the coach was right, saying, that in the current position as a coach he completely agrees with Maslov, not with the player Lobanovsky. The paradoxes of football: while being a player one strives for independence and freedom, but once a coach one authoritatively supresses the same freedom bringing it into subjection of one's will.
SWINGS of FATE:
Feeling that he can play further and having a grudge against the coach and dear club Lobanovsky still tried to prove that he is worth something as a player. First he spent 4 seasons with Chornomorets and then in Shakhtar. But latter on, seemingly, he decided to prove it other way and in 1969 he accepted the offer to coach Dnipro at that time "flowing" in the 1st League. Precisely then for the first time the fans have seen the trademark "pendulum" of Lobanovsky swinging incessantly on a bench. "Experts" could even guess his frame of mind by the size of the amplitude. His 3rd season with Dnipro was marked by the climb into the Premier League which is an achievement by itself especially for a novice. Usually for these purposes clubs hire venerable and respectable specialists who by some reason fell out of favor. Bringing clubs to the Premier League they restore their status by returning to the elite football. This happened to Beskov, Sadyrin, Zonin... Certaily, the coaching credentials played the main part, but it was not a secret that money played a big role in such break-throughs into the higher football circles. In those times people who managed to get this kind of money (and these were regional communist leaders, directors of big and usually defense industries) were called "patrons". If that money lasted long enough (not just to satisfy one minute conceit) a team would last long. It is one thing to buy a good player, and completely other thing to develop the training base, hire specialists on staff, grow up own players. This, by the way, has happened to Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, which at last has become champion after many years ('83, '88). But it was not Lobanovsky who brought it to the top. On the contrary, Dnipro became firmly established in the competition with him but their flight costed them two best star-players -- Oleh Protasov and Henadi Lytovchenko, who left for Dynamo Kyiv which under Lobanovsky always spared no expense to allure the best of the best. Evil tongues try to suggest that Lobanovsky got many stars for his team with no intention to ever use them. And usually a story of Shepel is mentioned, who has spent more time on the Dynamo`s bench than on the pitch - "Let him sit with us doing nothing rather than scoring against us in other team." We leave these conjectures on their conscience. It is known that Lobanovsky was not in a habit of wasting players, driving them out. If he would have taken a player he knew for sure where that "gear" fitted in his Dynamo machine. While managing Dnipro in early 70's Lobanovsky was learning the very beginnings of coaching -- first you should give player a lot and then ask from him even more in return. Lobanovsky started practically from nothing and at the age of 35 without falls and bumps entered the football elite by getting in charge of FC Dynamo which he walked out his head low 10 years before. His persistence, one could even call it determination, is well known not only in the world of sports. If faithful fans are called fanatics ("tiffozi", "torcida", etc) then how one would define Lobanovsky's devotion to football? For him football is above all. After football first place goes to football again. And the tenth place goes to football too. Then - everything else. Already during his first year Dynamo became the champion of the USSR. And a year later it created a furore. Like a football absolute on a club level Lobanovsky lead his Dynamo through 1975. That year Kyans had won everything what was possible to win while showing the game of the highest 24 carat: USSR championship, the European Cup of Cup Holders and finally the SuperCup beating twice Bayern Munich, the winner of European Champion's Cup that year. The leader of their attack -- Oleh Blokhin was awarded Golden Football in his recognition as the best European Footballer of the 1975 Year. Interestingly, there was one football record set up by the USSR National Team on April 2nd 1975. It can be repeated but not broken. In its 200th official and first Euro-76 game vs Turkey the USSR National Team was completely composed of Dynamo Kyiv players. The game was won 3:0. The same happened in the next game vs Ireland. 11 Kyiv players in the USSR jerseys has won it 2:1. But what is more important, Dynamo played the style not only inevitably winning but also very inspirationally beautiful. There was not a single "laboured" victory. They were winning effortlessly, one may even say playfully. That was faultlessly adjusted machine, but not the armoured train or bulldozer, rather something like elegant race cars or respectable luxury models designed for a select circle. In years Lobanovsky spent in Big Football piles of articles were written about him. This is understandable: his name is linked practically to all victories of the Soviet football on the international arena in the last 20 years of the USSR. Surprisingly, the majority of publications are critical. Sometimes even after great successes central media would start talking about how the rationalism and pragmatism of Lobanovsky... hold up the development of the Soviet football. Well, he has beens and is and will be always pragmatic. Result is above all for him, even if to the detriment of the show. That is why he persistantly is looking for the shortcuts to that result not paying attention to his critics. The notion of a "model" has a key meanning for Lobanovsky. He was probably the first to apply this notion in football. Actually, one may say it differently: system, organization, principles. But Lobanovsky insists exactly on a "model". Like a true couturier he will not follow the established fashion, he will play to forestall the world. "Everything is a number", - he likes to say. The development of "models" is approached from a scientific point of view in the Dynamo Laboratory under the guidance of Anatoli Zelentsov. Distance a player should run during training, his exercises to reach better conditions, everything was determined on the basis of scientific data. At first sight Lobanovsky is an accurately reckonning pragmatist, but deep inside -- romantic, adapter of, as he defines it himself, "football of the future". Unluckily, though, every time he has been succeeding with the sparkling football in the present the future would slip away. When he has won with the team everybody around would burst with admiration but as soon as he has stumbled they would speak sarcastically about his inclinations to models, especially with great zeal they mocked so-called "away model" which he preached as a principle to follow on the fields of opponents. This principle is simple -- don't be afraid to leave the initiative to a host team, but at the same time withstand their attacks with massive defense not allowing them to crash you. And if your opponent makes a mistake -- snatch a win. Draw is nice too -- we will take ours at home. Nothing intricate. Many play that way. But such sincere pragmatism of Lobanovsky really has irritated many. Especially that it was winning. But Lobanovsky always knew: the future is certainly very tempting, but the result is due today! Generally speaking such is coach's lot. The very popular triviality -- "wins team, loses coach" -- is still honored. And if in Ukraine people (even on the highest level) treasured Lobanovsky, resigning to the thought that the championship slips away for a couple of years from Kyiv, then this was not tolerated in the USSR National Team. Lobanovsky was called for help twice like a fireman in emergency. The third and the last time he was asked in 1986, practically to ashes. The National Team was coached by Eduard Malofeev, a man also dedicated to football like Lobanovsky. He came up with his own conception defined by himself as "sincere football" in 1982, probably to counterweigh practical models of Lobanovsky. Under his guidance Dynamo Minsk became champions that year. Then, the National Team lead by Lobanovsky didn't manage to qualify for the Euro '84 after the loss 1:0 to Portugal which was beaten 5:0 in Moscow before. Although the referee's mistake was obvious to everybody -- he ruled penalti for a violation 2 meters clear of a penalti box -- Lobanovsky was subjected to a severe libeling campaign. Simply everyone joined it, even the coach of the USSR Hockey Team was "teaching" Lobanovsky how to play football. And certainly Malofeev added his 5 cents too. The fact that Dynamo was sinking in the lower middle of the Premier League in 83-84 made it worse. Malofeev eventually took the steering wheel of the National Team. In the meantime Lobanovsky was forgoten, ruled out as "incompetent". At some point he almost got fired and only the protection of the Ukrainian Communist Party boss Volodymyr Scherbytsky left him coaching Dynamo. But even then Lobanovsky continued doing his intricate work, preparing future eruption of success. First signs showed up when Dynamo Kyiv confidently won the USSR Cup in spring of 1985 and the championship afterwards. Lobanovsky was still in disgrace. And then came 1986. While the National Team was showing complete helplessness in check and friendly games not scoring a single goal in a month (and this was in preparation to the World Cup '86), Dynamo Kyiv was marching to its next European peak defeating one opponent after another, reached the final and crashed Atletico Madrid by the score of 3:0 in the style of the wonder team of 1975. Plenty of goals, an avalanche of attacks and combinations, outburst and inspiration, unstoppable motion and every player -- a star, all together -- the brilliant shinning constellation of Lobanovsky. Malofeev was fired and Lobanovsky was appointed to the position of the head coach of the National Team. The constellation of Kyans formed the backbone of the USSR Team, which started the WC enchantingly: 6 goals against the strong Hungarian team put it into the circle of main contenders for gold. Another opponent -- Belgium -- seemed easy to pass on all counts. But that's not how it turned out! Miss Fortune turned her back on us! Though certainly again not without some "help" from a referee who was later dismissed from further service. According to the team's doctor Valeri Myshalov, Lobanovsky, although hiding his emotions, gave himself up completely to that game and fainted when Belgians scored the decisive off-side goal. What a pity, that was the biggest chance of a major success for the USSR National Team in any WC. But nobody was itching to throw a stone into Lobanovsky -- his team was magnificent and everybody has seen it. And not only passionate local fans, but the majority of World experts agreed on this. The respectable British weekly World Soccer summing up the WC '86 named Dynamo the 2nd best team in the world (after Argentina, the WC '86 champions) and their coach Valeri Lobanovsky as the 3rd best coach in the world (after Karlos Bilardo (Argentina) and ... yes ... (Belgium)). The fast Kyiv's forward Ihor Belanov was recognized as the European Footballer of the 1986 Year and his teammate, the magnificent dribbler, Olexandr Zavarov was named the "USSR Footballer of the 1986 Year". Lobanovsky remained in command of the National Team. Moreover, he preserved the winning tone of the team till the next Euro '88 where they lost only in the final (2:0 to Holland, though beat them 1:0 in the preliminary Round), becoming European vice-champions. There, after the semi-final game with Italy, the former Italian coach Enzo Bearzot (who brought Italy to the WC-82 victory) came to the USSR locker-rooms with the following words to the Soviet players: "I realized once again -- you are a great team. You play the modern football at a speed 100 km/hr. Pressing which you showed today -- is the signature of the highest skill. The physical shape of Soviet players is the bright result of the self-sacrificial and highly professional work!"...
But by the time of the WC '90 in Italy the National Team has passed its peak and as a result came the double defeat -- of the team and of the coach.
Today it became clear: Lobanovsky was far ahead of his time. Last World and European championships confirmed it -- all strongest world teams play exactly "Lobanovsky football", high speed, athletism, perfect mutual understanding. But today's Lobanovsky is completely different. He grew stout, put on weight. He swings less on the bench, is softer with journalists, gives interviews willingly. But a smile still eludes his face during the game -- even if his disciples score three, four goals -- you won't get it! He knows how to hide emotions. He does not dance from happiness on the running track. He has not betrayed his principles, he is not giving up the notion of a "model", but he describes it differently. After the 1986 victory over Atletico in French Lyone, Lobanovsky admitted how glad he was that the team believed in his idea. Today he calls the choice of the further development -- motivation. And what's more -- he leaves it to players. He does not leave his main goal though -- the creation of the principally new model of the "football of the future", but he considers its implementation to be dependent on the motivation chosen by players, i.e. whether they want to reach the new level of skill. And if they want it then they should obey their coach, follow his instructions. But even under this condition maestro is not willing to work with everybody. From his first independent steps Lobanovsky layed selection as the foundations of foundations of his work. Having almost limitless means he dispatched a "regimen" of assistants to search for the suitable talents in whole Ukraine. In communist times all best Ukrainian players would sooner or later appear in Kyiv. Selected material is subjected to severe trials during training sessions. If one wants to be the best - one should stand to it! Today Lobanovsky says that football of the past was developing intensively, today it is developing extensively. Former Lobanovsky did not lack extensiveness. There is no player who has not moaned about three every-day training sessions. But a surprising fact: 35 former disciples of Lobanovsky became coaches themselves. They survived the exhausting drill, resisting it deep inside, but followed the same path when managing their own teams. But whatever coach will say about his models the confirmation of their effectiveness comes only through results. Lobanovsky returned to the Big Football again. He does not hide his task -- bring his team to the level of the World leading teams. He considers that the era of the reasonably feasible universality of players is ending and the time of full universality is coming. That is -- Lobanovsky needs players which can do everything, which can play on any position. He knows that such players don't exist at the moment, but he knows how to "cook" them up, how to adjust them from game to game. 1997 Dynamo Kyiv testifies to that. In addition one should not forget that in his absence the team was coached by his disciples. Dynamo pays much attention to its future reserves: for last couple of years the club sponsors a football academy which is a school to some 1500 young players. And today much more "home-grown" players enter Kyiv's starting line-up. What is even more important in the "phenomenon of Lobanovsky" -- other Ukrainian teams start catching up with Dynamo. The young Ukrainian National team lead by Jozef Szabo stopped short of going to the WC '98 in France (though again not without some "help" from a referee). But the progress is clear. Lobanovsky has become the most popular man in Ukraine. Media unblushingly describes him as "God's emissary to Ukrainian football". To be the best in the homeland Lobanovsky has managed always, to be among the best European Clubs -- twice with interesting regularity coinciding with the Solar cycle -- 11-year periods. 1975 and 1986. Count -- the next cycle has come. And Lobanovsky is again on the highest European level. Certainly, he will need to confirm all high claims next year during the final stage of the Champions League. Will the motivation last? Will the coach be able to support it? Motivation could be money. But this was not the main reason. Lobanovsky looks with optimism at the policy of the current Dynamo management lead by its president Hryhori Surkis, who spares no expense for development. Not less he values the faithfullness of players to their club. Maybe this is the core. The present generation completely understands that together with Lobanovsky it could break into European elite like it was done by previous generations. It is known that first Lobanovsky creates a star-team which at some point turns into a team of stars. And it doesn't matter that one's salary is not so high right now. Once one reaches high class level everything will come -- glory, money, offers. And his present team wants to become classy. The coach wants this too. He knows how to get there. He sees the prospects. Valeri Lobanovsky left USSR 7 years ago and came back to completely different country -- independent Ukraine. There was no tougher competition in the old USSR than the one between Spartak Moscow and Dynamo Kyiv. The world map has changed and now Ukraine is asserting itself firmly and convincingly in the Football World. Its players earn experience through international games. It is clear that if not today, then tomorrow Dynamo will enter the circle of European grandes. Because it follows the right path. To the point, about this path. Lobanovsky once noted: "A path always remains a path. It's a path during the day, and it's a path during the night, and a path during the dawn." He has brought up a team whose play delivers real pleasure to fans. The Real Football is coming. The Football of the Present. And maybe this time the coach will catch the bird of luck and the coming Football is the elusive Football of the Future ?
These pages were written by M.S. . For comments, corrections or additions, please, contact him