Mark Temnycky –
Viktor Tsygankov, Vitaliy Mykolenko, and Mykola Matviyenko are hidden talent waiting to be discovered on this winter’s busy transfer market.
As nervous European football clubs test the January 2020 Transfer Window, several teams will look to strengthen their squads. Unlike the Summer Transfer Window, which gives ample time for clubs to bid for various players, the January Transfer Window provides fewer opportunities for these organizations. The January Transfer Window is significantly shorter, thus there is less time to negotiate player transfer fees. Moreover, in the event that a club has to sell some of their players, this gives the club less time to make any necessary adjustments to account for the departure of these players. Overall, the January Transfer Window can be a stressful period.
Typically, when a club is in need of new talent, they will look to purchase players from Europe’s top five leagues (Spain, England, Germany, Italy and France), but unbeknownst to many of these clubs, a plethora of talent exists outside of Europe’s top five leagues. In these lesser-known leagues, many of these players have similar playstyles and mindsets to that of the stars in the top five leagues, albeit these players are more affordable. But where does this hidden talent exist? One of these aforementioned lesser-known leagues is the Ukrainian Premier Liha.
Throughout most of its history, the Ukrainian Premier Liha has produced some fine talent, such as the likes of Andriy Shevchenko (AC Milan/Chelsea), Willian (Chelsea), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Oleksandr Zinchenko (Manchester City) and Douglas Costa (Bayern München/Juventus). These players, among others, have made a significant impact at their respective clubs, but who are some of the current players in the Ukrainian Premier Liha and where might they land in 2020?
Perhaps the most well-known player on this list is Viktor Tsygankov of Dynamo Kyiv. Following the departure of Andriy Yarmolenko in 2017, Tsygankov has played a large role for his side. To date, he has made 141 appearances in all competitions, and has scored 51 goals during this period. He is a versatile player, where he has the ability to play on either side of the pitch, and his pace has allowed him to torment defenders.
His ability over the ball, and his role at Dynamo, have not gone unnoticed. During the Summer 2019 Transfer Window, Tsygankov was linked with a move to German club Hoffenheim, but unfortunately for the Ukrainian, the deal fell through. He was also previously linked with a potential move to either Liverpool or Tottenham Hotspur, but given the rise of Mohamed Salah and Heung-Min Son at their respective clubs, a Tsygankov transfer to either Liverpool or Tottenham is unlikely to occur.
The second player on this list is full back Vitaliy Mykolenko, who is a relatively unknown footballer outside of Ukraine. Dubbed as Ukraine’s footballer of the year in 2019 by Mykola Pavlov, the head of the Ukrainian Association of Football Coaches, the full back has had quite a career in his short senior spell. Mykolenko was also listed as one of UEFA’s “50 [players] for the future” in 2019.
The Ukrainian left back has consistently been one of Dynamo Kyiv’s best players all season, where he put in strong performances against the likes of Shakhtar Donetsk and Zorya Luhansk in the Ukrainian Premier Liha. He also impressed in Dynamo’s Europa League matches, particularly in their victory against Malmö FF and in the two draws against Copenhagen.
Moreover, the Ukrainian full back maintains a strong composure when controlling the ball, and he has the ability to operate as an additional attacking player, similar to that of a wingback. Mykolenko was most recently linked with Turkish club Fenerbahçe, although the Turks have not yet made an official bid for the player.
Finally, center back Mykola Matviyenko has impressed during his time with Shakhtar Donetsk and the Ukrainian men’s national team. Following the departure of teammates Oleksandr Kucher and Yaroslav Rakitskiy, Matviyenko established himself as Shakhtar’s main man in defense. Unlike Kucher, who lacked pace, and Rakitskiy, who would get caught out when bursting forward, Matviyenko has a sense of composure when playing for club and country.
His most impressive spell for both Ukraine and Shakhtar Donetsk has occurred during the 2019/20 season. During the UEFA 2020 European Champions qualifiers, Ukraine only conceded four goals in eight matches. Moreover, Shakhtar Donetsk have only conceded nine goals in 18 league matches in the 2019/20 Ukrainian Premier Liha season. In both cases, much of this credit can be attributed to Matviyenko (although it can be argued that several of Shakhtar’s opponents have yet to challenge the Ukrainian club).
Given these defensive performances, it has been reported that the Ukrainian center back has caught the attention of Manchester City. The English club have struggled defensively this season, as the departure of Vincent Kompany and the injury to Aymeric Laporte have left a gap in City’s defense. A move for Matviyenko may help resolve City’s defensive woes, and his transfer fee would be significantly cheaper than that of Inter Milan’s center back Milan Škriniar or Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly. Furthermore, Mykolenko’s Ukrainian teammate and former Shakhtar product Oleksandr Zinchenko is already at the English club, and this could also help with the potential transfer.
Why Not Take a Chance on these Inexpensive Players?
Overall, Tsygankov, Mykolenko and Matviyenko are only three of a series of players from the Ukrainian Premier Liha, but they should not be overlooked. Their performances at their respective clubs have shown they have what it takes to compete at the top level of football, and that they would welcome new challenges outside of Ukraine. Therefore, given their age, talent and experience, and given their inexpensive transfer fees, Europe’s top leagues should consider investing in these footballers, as well as others from the less-known leagues. After all, why not take a chance on these hidden players?
Mark Temnycky is an AIPS accredited journalist who covers the Ukrainian men’s national team and Ukrainian clubs competing in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League for the Futbolgrad Network. Follow him @MTemnycky