Andriy Yarmolenko – An Overview
Another Premier League season kicks off this Friday with an added impetus for the average Ukrainian football fan and supporter. The Ukraine National Team poster boy and their second all time top goalscorer, Andriy Yarmolenko, has finally graced the world’s greatest league after years of links and speculation. Ever since, a few of his performances at Euro 2012 caught the eye, many top clubs’ scouting set ups have familiarised themselves with, the left footed, right sided winger. However, it is only now at the age of 28 that the 6ft2 forward has decided to make the move and take the risk.
Historically, Ukrainians and the Premier League have not had the best of relationships. Difficulty in adapting to the league’s physical style, no winter break, a lack of playing time and supposedly even the weather have affected Yarmolenko’s countrymen before him. Some have questioned whether the move away from Dynamo Kyiv last summer was too late for him in his career, with many citing his time at Dortmund as an underwhelming disappointment. Despite this, the rest of this piece will aim to draw a more rounded analysis of Yarmolenko’s talents, traits and weaknesses and aim to predict whether he has what it takes to prove himself in front of the London Stadium crowd week in, week out.
A Short History of Ukrainians in Premier League
Before Yarmolenko gets a look in, it’s important to see where his compatriots fell short, when they arrived on the shores of Britain. Oleksandr Yevtushok was the first Ukrainian to get given a run around in the Premiership when he signed for Coventry in 1997. He failed to set the league alight as Coventry battled with relegation and the defender left after making just three league appearances in his only season at the club.
Dynamo Kyiv legends, Oleh Luzhny and Serhiy Rebrov were next to try their luck, making their moves after impressing most of Europe in Valeriy Lobanovsky’s Dynamo side during the late 1990s. Luzhny moved to one part of North London, donning the Arsenal red whilst Rebrov moved just down the road to play for Spurs at White Hart Lane.
Luzhny’s career in England can largely be looked back on as a success. Whilst he was never a permanent starter during his time at Highbury, he was a willing back up right back that ended up with a league title and an FA Cup medal. His time in England, as a player, ended at Wolves after which he moved into coaching. However, London has maintained a special place in his heart, as his family still live here and its also not too odd to catch glimpse of him around Mayfair, usually around the Christmas period.
On the other hand, things didn’t work out as well for Rebrov. With an £11 million price tag weighing him down at Spurs, things never really clicked. After George Graham, the manager who brought him to the club, was sacked it marked the beginning of the end for the once prolific forward’s time in the Premier League. He never managed to emulate his 9 goal debut season and ended his time in England in the Championship with none other than West Ham United.
£30 million Andriy Shevchenko joined Chelsea after the 2006 World Cup and was subject to a similarly torrid time, akin to that of Torres at the club. Aged 30, his career was beginning to wane and whilst he does have some memorable performances to list whilst at Chelsea, he will forever be tarnished as a flop when weighed up against his price tag.
A ponytailed Andriy Voronin aka The Ukrainian Emile Heskey, docked into Merseyside, not too long after his namesake, Sheva, had moved to West London. Joining on a free, Voronin didn’t have the best of experiences during his time in England; famously stating he was homesick whilst also slating British women and the weather in the process. After 5 league goals and a loan spell away from Anfield, he left the club for good. Last season’s Champions, Manchester City, had a Ukrainian in their ranks. Oleksandr Zinchenko was moulded into a left back by Pep Guardiola despite being an attacking midfielder by trade. This position change did give him game time, deputising whilst Mendy and second choice, makeshift left back Fabian Delph were both out injured but despite winning a Premier League medal, the young player still seemed underwhelmed by his lack of consistent playing time. It seems a move to Wolves is on the cards for him. We anticipate that with more minutes on the pitch and playing in his more favoured position, he will be able to reach his full potential once he’s into life in the West Midlands.
The commonalities many Ukrainians face in the Premier League seems to come down to playing time. Usually not first choice for the managers that bring them in or not given enough time to bed in due to the highly competitive nature of the league has meant that Ukrainians have as of yet, not been able to show the PL their full capabilities. Yarmolenko could buck this trend.
The Dynamo Days
Andriy Yarmolenko was a stalwart in Dynamo Kyiv’s starting XI since his debut aged 17. Throughout his time at the Ukrainian capital’s most famous club, he was consistent in scoring or assisting goals. As a right sided winger, he was never supposed to be the side’s primary source of goals but on many occasions he did just that. Whilst highly talented with his left foot, it is true that his right footed exploits left and still leave a lot to be desired. However, to say that this is predictable and as a result, easy to shut him out of the game is wrong. Time and time again, in both the Champions League and the Europa League, Yarmolenko made a mockery of opposition left backs with his step overs, cut backs and through balls to overlapping wing backs. Famously he caused Roberto Martinez’s Everton countless problems, scoring a screamer in the process.
In his later Dynamo years, as the UPL’s competitiveness and quality began to crumble as bankruptcy, the annexation of Crimea and the war with Russia began to take its toll on Ukrainian sport, Yarmolenko began to excel. Some could conclude that this was down to his weakened surroundings but this type of analysis does little to explain his instrumental performances in Europe and for the National Team. It is much more likely that from around the age of 25, Andriy Yarmolenko had finally matured as a professional footballer, taking on the responsibility of captaincy at Dynamo on occasion, before taking it permanently, once Shovkovskiy ceased to play regularly. In addition to this, he began to lead more on and off the pitch, becoming an influential character in the dressing room for younger players and taking on the responsibility of being the talisman for Ukraine’s biggest supported club, harnessing the role model duties that came with it.
Whilst at Dynamo, no transfer window was complete without speculation of Yarmolenko moving to a top European league. AC Milan was regularly mooted, whilst Stoke City and Everton were also constantly linked with the player. His aspirations always seemed to fixate on a higher calibre of club than these respective teams and as a result that’s probably why he waited for so long to leave. Once Dortmund called, it was now or never, hence why he made the jump. After 137 goals and 90 assists in competitive games for the White and Blues, it was time for him to truly test himself in a top European environment surrounded by and facing up against world class talent on a regular basis.
Dortmund – Die Scapegoat
Yarmolenko moved to Dortmund at a time when the club found itself in a weird period of semi-transition. Thomas Tuchel had been sacked at the end of the previous season and the direction Dortmund wanted to move forward in looked unclear. Over €100 million had been made available from the sale of Ousmane Dembele to Barcelona, whilst a lot of the club’s stalwarts had reached a late stage in their careers. Peter Bosz was appointed as Tuchel’s replacement, after just one promising season at Ajax. It was also around this time that Aubameyang had started to become restless began to push for a move away. Enter Yarmolenko. Dortmund began their league season strongly. Yarmolenko scored a stunner against Spurs, at Wembley, on his Champions league debut, which ended in a 3-1 defeat. All seemed well as Dortmund sat top of the Bundesliga going into the October International break. However, weaknesses in BVB’s defence and midfield were beginning to show and Dortmund’s season began to crumble as the Bundesliga resumed. Yarmolenko was still regularly contributing assists and the odd goal but Dortmund were being outscored consistently.
As the fans began to get restless, many on social media began to portray Yarmolenko as one of the primary scapegoats. He was playing inconsistently and missing a handful of chances, but this was not directly leading to the team’s eventual defeats. Andriy’s teammates were also not replicating the kind of form they showed earlier on in the season. Bosz, seemed to have run out of ideas and the whole squad’s negative aura was clear to see. Yarmolenko, was dropped on a number of occasions but the overall team’s performances failed to change. It was clear that Yarmolenko was not the primary cause of the problem despite many laying blame on his missed chances and lack of tracking back.
Peter Stöger replaced Bosz in December 2017 and Yarmolenko seemed to fall out of favour with the new manager. Added to this was a serious Achilles injury that Yarmolenko picked up in training and this led him to miss a majority of the second half of the season. With youngsters Pulisic and Sancho given first team roles under Stöger, this meant Yarmolenko was limited to very brief cameo appearances from the bench once he did make his injury comeback. A new season could not come soon enough for the Ukrainian. Despite such an overwhelming negative analysis from fans and commentators on his first season at the Westfalenstadion, Yarmolenko’s performances weren’t as bad as they were being made out.
Statistically, he was scored 6 goals and provided 6 assists in just 26 appearances across all competitions for the club. He was involved in the build up of many other goals, linking particularly well with Kagawa and Aubameyang, when they played together. He was only allowed to complete 90 minutes, a total of 9 times across those 26 appearances. This may call into question his fitness levels, but it was also a result of the circumstances that the team found itself in. The likes of Pulisic, Phillip or Sancho were brought on with the hope of changing the game; which they rarely did. By never allowing Yarmolenko to complete games, this meant he was never fully able to solidify his fitness levels and as a result began to drop off in the latter stages due to the previous early substitutions at around 60 minutes. Alongside this, an unfortunate injury meant that Yarmolenko experienced an uphill task of trying to persuade Peter Stöger to include him in his plans toward the end of the season, as Stöger opted for a rather unattractive style of football which did not factor in Yarmolenko’s flair and guile on the pitch. Added to this, Aubameyang left during the winter window and the club seemed to be in a state of limbo, with Stöger tasked merely with getting Dortmund into Europe through any means possible and his no nonsense, direct approach had no room for Yarmolenko.
In hindsight, Yarmolenko’s move to Germany was probably a right one but it had unfortunately come at the wrong time, with the club in its mini crisis period. He was given little opportunity to try and help avert this crisis, on the pitch, with the demands of keeping within touching distance of Bayern, meaning world class performances were to be consistent and immediate. The Dortmund medical and physio staff should also be cited as potentially hampering Yarmolenko’s season, as a number of other key members of the squad including January loan signing Batshuayi succumbed to serious and lengthy injuries despite not having injury prone histories. Whilst short lived, Yarmolenko’s brief time on the pitch at Dortmund showed he was capable of quality, be that through his delivery, link up play or his adaptive finishing ability, which on one occasion saw him score an audacious back heel. If he is to progress in the Premier League, he needs to be able to recreate these kinds of performances against the top sides.
His team records against British clubs aren’t the best but his individual statistics are quite impressive:
West Ham United – A New Epoch Under Manuel Pellegrini
This summer has seen West Ham rebuild. Rather than arriving into another crisis, Yarmolenko is embarking on the start of a new era at West Ham. Coming into their third season at the London Stadium, the fans should be settled. With 52,000 season tickets sold, it seems that the supporters are excited and optimistic about the Pellegrini tenure and his new recruits. Whilst this move caught many off guard, Yarmolenko must have been reassured enough by Pellegrini that he was an intrinsic part of his new look squad and playing style. With Yarmolenko expected to start in his favoured RW position, Arnautovic in the CF role and Felipe Anderson out on the left, West Ham could hold one of the league’s most underrated attacking forces.
Yarmolenko showed glimpses of quality against Wycombe Wanderers on his pre season debut, linking well with his RB, Fredericks, but has since suffered an injury which the club seems to releasing little information about. It is still unknown whether he will start against Liverpool in their season opener as he has missed two of their last friendlies.
Russ Taylor, Sky Sports reporter and regular Soccer Saturday ground roamer wrote in a recent report on Yarmolenko; commenting on whether he will adapt to the Premier League that, “He’s hungry and determined to make a success of this move, especially after his spell at Dortmund. And I think it’s a great bit of business by West Ham.” Russ seems quietly confident that Yarmolenko will prove his Dortmund naysayers wrong and will break the trend of Ukrainians underperforming in the Premier League. On the other hand, Zorya Londonsk recently asked Sam Inkersole, who is the West Ham writer for Football.london on his early thoughts on Yarmolenko having watched every pre season game that Andriy featured in.
Sam said “Having missed the last two pre-season friendlies, he’s a bit behind the rest at the moment and the full extent of his hip and thigh injuries haven’t been revealed. However, the club do say he’ll be fit for Liverpool. Personally, I’m expecting Michail Antonio to start on the right wing.
He’s got a bit to prove after a difficult season at Borussia Dortmund but showed some real glimpses in pre-season. On the flip side, after about 30 minutes against Ipswich he looked absolutely exhausted.
He’s got stern competition in Antonio who has returned to form well though I still expect Yarmolenko to get the nod when he’s back at full fitness. If he can chip in with 7-10 goals and a few assists, I imagine Pellegrini will be happy.”
Sam seems to be undecided about which Yarmolenko will turn up come the time the season is in full swing. If anything, after a disappointing season last time out, Yarmolenko will have added impetus to perform for his new club after being given such faith from Manuel Pellegrini. He should thrive in the 4-2-3-1 formation, that he has played in for years, at both Dynamo and the national team. It will be important for Yarmolenko to hit the ground running at club level not only for West Ham but also for Ukraine, where he will be vital in providing goals and assists as they aim to get promoted from League B in this coming autumn’s UEFA Nations League.
Zorya Londonsk would like to wish the best of luck to West Ham and Andriy this coming season!
Click HERE for the link to Russ Taylor’s Yarmolenko piece!
Click HERE for the link to Sam Inkersole West Ham Q&A!