Artem Chobanian

Ukrainian footballing giants Dynamo Kyiv have seen some dramatic developments in the past 12 months: Russian coach Valery Gazzaev, the man who led CSKA Moscow to the UEFA Cup in 2005, was appointed, young stars continued to shine in the first eleven, and Andriy Shevchenko confirmed a return to his homeland.

So far this season though, neither Gazzaev or Shevchenko have been the major source of debate at Dynamo. That accolade has gone to someone else, 24-year-old striker Artem Milevsky.

The Belarus born forward was named as Dynamo’s captain, even at such a young age, and long before the arrival of Shevchenko. Gazzaev’s choice was significant given that the Ukrainian side had more experienced stars at least equal to Milevsky in terms of skill that were overlooked. Under Gazzaev’s predecessor, Yuri Semin, Moroccan Badr El Kaddouri had been Dynamo’s captain. And the full-back set an excellent example, being responsible, consistent and forever going out of his way to help his team-mates. The new coach however announced during the summer his intention to build a new  team, with as many young players as possible, and Milevsky was seem as the perfect man for the armband.

Milevsky’s appointment did though puzzle pundits and supporters alike. The forward was not a fan-favourite, and though no-one had yet questioned him as a player of quality fully deserving of a place in the first eleven, the press and fan forums simply exploded with negativity about his elevation to the captaincy.

Artem Milevsky first appeared in the Dynamo Kyiv first-team alongside long time friend Alexander Aliev a few years ago, at the age of just 21. Both players instantly proved they had a bright future ahead of them and bags of ability. The duo helped Ukraine to a second place finish in the 2006 European Youth Championships and Milevsky soon established himself in the Dynamo team, turning in performances of promise. The forward scored as many goals as could be expected of him, but his situation is now much changed from that bright start.

During the past 16 months Milevsky’s friend Aliev has continued to progress and even, at times, dislodges Shevchenko as the team’s free-kick taker. Milevsky on the other hand gives the impression of having forgot much of what he has learned. Upon bursting through at Dynamo, the 24-year-old instantly showed a knack for placing a killer pass to split a defence in an instant, fantastic combative tackling and, most impressively, the ability to hold onto the ball, shielding it with his body, with a grip so firm that it was as if he were holding it in his hands. The youngster, an avowed fan of Zinedine Zidane, stated in one of his very first interviews with the media that he had tried to learn that trick, to keep hold of the ball tightly, from Zidane, practicing it for hours, days and months.

All this has disappeared now though.

Last season was the first sign of a decline in performance. Milevsky did not show what he had shown before. He was just a shadow of the youngster who inspired such hope. A key criticism centres on how quick the Ukrainian is to go to ground. Milevsky often loses the ball, or loses out in the tackle, and then hits the pitch, appealing to the referee. The goals that have come for the forward have been mainly in the air and his passing has not been its incisive best. It is in the Champions League this season Milevsky has seen the sharpest decline, and the Ukrainian press feel the Dynamo striker is getting worse, not better.

Dynamo fans have been furious. Pundits say the club’s football school, producer of so many young stars, is in crisis. One unofficial Dynamo Kyiv forum even posted a banner stating “We do not need another Inzaghi!” in reference to the alleged ease in which the legendary Italian striker goes down.

Gazzaev though, has yet to be moved. In one interview the Russian ended chatter about Milevsky abruptly. The coach said he was giving the new captain the chance to become a star, and furthermore was convinced that a Ukrainian team should have a Ukrainian captain. When asked whether then Alexander Aliev should get the armband, Gazzaev smiled and said Aliev needed to learn a lot before that could happen.

Milevsky faced a captaincy challenge upon the arrival of Shevchenko in Kyiv. The youngster was asked if he would give up the armband to the ex-AC Milan striker. Milevsky said he would if Gazzaev told him to. Gazzaev didn’t. Shevchenko became vice-captain. And Milevsky remained captain.

The forward continues to be questioned by his own fans however. Supporters on Dynamo forums have consistently named Milevsky as the worst forward at the club. But for the 24-year-old, things are not as bad as they seem. He has Gazzaev’s faith.

“When Artem [Milevsky] gets the Ballon d’Or, you will all have to come here and apologise” the Russian coach told a posse of journalists.

And Milevsky does still continue to score. He may not be quick, he may not be the best dribbler, he may continue to misplace passes, but he scores regularly in the Ukrainian Premier League.

Gazzaev continues to believe in Milevsky, with a stubbornness only a coach is capable of showing. The forward himself must be aware that he is not making the progress everyone hoped for, and it is no surprise he has not given a single big interview in the last six months. Milevsky surely knows the importance of working hard to rediscover that which he seems to have lost.

Speculation in the Ukrainian press over why the 24-year-old is not progressing as hoped has been frenzied. Perhaps Milevsky has struggled to cope with being not just a Dynamo regular, but now captain. The arrival of Shevchenko has in many ways worsened his lot too. Now it is easy for everyone to compare the two players, and at the moment it is a comparison Milevsky cannot win.

The rest of this season is crucial for Artem Milevsky. Neither club owner Ihor Surkis or coach Valery Gazzaev can keep the faith if he shows no sign of improvement, despite the goals. It seems only time and his coach’s patience is helping Milevsky to survive and have a chance to flourish once again.

Related Articles: