Mark Temnycky –
Following an unsuccessful spell at Spanish club Sevilla, Ukrainian winger Yevhen Konoplyanka joined German outfit Schalke 04 on loan for the 2016/17 season. Schalke had just hired Markus Weinzierl as their new manager, and it appeared everyone would receive a fresh start.
What transpired, however, was much different. Konoplyanka established a poor relationship with Weinzierl, and as a result, this hindered the Ukrainian’s development. Due to these events, the Ukrainian found himself as an unused substitute in many matches. He would only make 27 appearances across all competitions and scored six goals.
Luckily for Konoplyanka, Schalke underperformed during Weinzierl’s tenure, and this led to the German’s sacking. The Ukrainian expressed his frustrations openly and felt no remorse for Weinzierl’s departure.
Schalke then hired German-Italian Domenico Tedesco as their new manager, and during the 2017 Summer Transfer Window, the club also announced they had permanently signed Konoplyanka from Sevilla. Once again, it appeared as if all parties would receive a fresh start, but Konoplyanka failed to establish himself as a regular in Tedesco’s system, particularly because the Ukrainian had not integrated well in Germany.
Yevhen Konoplyanka – The language issue
Unbeknownst to many, Konoplyanka failed to learn Spanish while playing at Sevilla. This prevented him from becoming a regular starter as he was unable to communicate with several of his teammates. Unfortunately, similar events transpired in Germany, where he has been left off of the team sheet due to his lack of German.
This is not an unknown phenomenon, as footballers all over the world play in numerous countries with a variety of foreign languages. It would be unrealistic to expect these players to assimilate themselves in a new country in a short period of time. Nonetheless, it would be wise for them to adopt at least a few phrases and some cultural practices, let alone become familiar with their new adoptive places of residence.
For whatever reason, at least in the public realm, it appears Konoplyanka has not assimilated himself into Germany society, and following Schalke’s shambolic performance this season, the Ukrainian will have to decide his future.
Schalke, which had competed in the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League, finished the 2018/19 Bundesliga season five points above the dreaded Bundesliga relegation playoffs. Tedesco was sacked, and former Huddersfield Town manager David Wagner was appointed as Schalke’s new head coach. Wagner’s arrival could mean that there will be a shakeup in the Schalke squad, and this could mean Konoplyanka may be on his way out. Should Konoplyanka leave Schalke, one potential location is Turkish club Fenerbahçe, where he has been heavily linked.
Alternatively, it could be third time’s a charm for Konoplyanka, as he may try to prove himself to Wagner. During the inaugural 2018/19 UEFA Nations League, Konoplyanka helped his side win their group in League B and gain promotion to the prestigious League A. Also, he has been an instrumental part in Ukraine’s Euro 2020 qualification campaign, where he scored two goals against a difficult Serbian side. Konoplyanka has proven himself as one of his national team’s most reliable players, and he has emerged as a leader within the dressing room.
Can international football provide a lift-off?
The Ukrainian winger may try to apply this international success to his performances at the domestic club level. Moreover, the fact that Schalke will not be competing in the UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League could serve as a fresh start for German outfit as they try to form a new identity under their new manager. With fewer matches to play during the 2019/20 Bundesliga season, Schalke could also find themselves in a European spot for the 2020/21 season.
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In terms of playing style, Konoplyanka may also gain favour with Wagner. The Ukrainian’s playing style is similar to Philip Billing, the young Danish player who was managed by Wanger during the German’s time with Huddersfield. The Ukrainian’s ability to play on another side of the midfield, as well as his desire to cut inside the field to shoot on his favoured right foot, may serve well in the system Wagner hopes to instil at Schalke.
With these points in mind, the Ukrainian may try his luck for a third time at the German club. Konoplyanka will be thirty at the end of September, however, meaning he will only have a few more years of high-quality football. If he is willing to fight for his place, then Schalke will be a good place for him to remain. Otherwise, he will have to take his talent elsewhere.
Mark Temnycky reports on the Ukrainian men’s national team and Ukrainian clubs competing in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. Outside of the Futbolgrad Network, he covers Manchester City for SB Nation’s Bitter and Blue. Follow him @MTem33