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Alex Lynch writes a detailed scout report about Viktor Kovalenko the dynamic central midfielder who plays for Shakhtar Donetsk.
When most fans think of Ukraine from the perspective of football, there isn’t much that comes to mind. The first person that comes to mind is Ukraine legend and 2004 Ballon d’Or winner Andriy Shevchenko, who was one of the best players of his era. But after his retirement following the 2012 Euros, the country’s football team has faded into mediocrity once again. With stars Andriy Yarmolenko who could be headed to the Premier League, and Sevilla’s Yevhen Konoplyanka, Ukraine has some new faces ready to take on the challenge of replacing such a legend. But along with those stars, they have a young player ready to make a name for himself and follow in Shevchenko’s shoes. His name is Viktor Kovalenko.
Kovalenko is of course, Ukrainian, and for those who have never heard of him he plies his trade with Shakhtar Donetsk, one of the Ukrainian powers who are regularly in the Champions League. But before we get there, let’s learn about his background and how he’s become a rising star. Kovalenko was born in the Ukrainian city of Kherson, which holds around 330,000 people. Kherson is right along the Black Sea, and is home to a major ship building industry, which helps make the city fairly wealthy. Since he was from a big city in the country, he was able to start with one of the bigger clubs of the country in Shakhtar. He is a product of their youth system, and being with a big club with top class facilities and coaching has certainly contributed to the Ukrainian’s rapid rise. And Kovalenko’s rise has been rapid indeed, as he’s been one of Ukraine’s finest talents for quite some time.
He’s featured for his country at all of the youth levels. In 2011, he won his first cap for the U-16 side and he ended up winning 11 caps in total. And after impressing with them, he began to play for the U-17 side, where he compiled an impressive scoring record with 11 goals in 20 games from the central and attacking midfield positions. After starring for his youth national side, he began to get attention from the higher levels of the Ukrainian national team.
As his reputation began to form for his youth national side, he was contributing for his club as well. Last season, he scored 4 goals and had 3 assists in 9 games in the UEFA Youth League, and he led Shakhtar to the final of the competition. After faring so well against the best of his age, it became clear that he was one of the best talents that Ukraine has produced in quite some time. He would go on to top himself in the FIFA U-20 world cup this past summer.
Ukraine take on Poland in the European Championship, with the odds quite even in what promises to be an enticing encounter.
Kovalenko introduced himself to the world in that tournament, where he won the golden boot. He had 5 goals in the competition, with a spectacular hat trick against the United States and a clinical brace against Myanmar. He won the golden boot despite primarily being a central midfielder, and Shakhtar knew that he was good enough for a first team role after getting a couple of games last season.
Kovalenko has been in the first team this season, and he has done very well. Primarily featuring in the central attacking midfield and central midfield positions, he has certainly contributed to Shakhtar’s fortunes. Ever since the departure of Alex Teixeira, the Ukrainian has stepped right in and filled the void.
His playing style is very common in the game today. Kovalenko is a dynamic and do it all central midfielder who can shoot, pass and play in a deeper position. Kovalenko is more of an attacker, and people have compared him to Cesc Fabregas, and he sees Toni Kroos as a player to emulate. Part of these comparisons arise because like Fabregas and Kroos, he has a knack for scoring goals from midfield. This was evident in a UEFA Youth League match against Anderlecht in which Kovalenko notched up 3 goals. For the first goal, he made a great run through the defense, and then he was able to finish very easily, as if he were a striker. He showed great instincts and timing from the midfield when he scored the goal. For his second goal, he showed his finishing and eye for goal again, this time finishing an 8 yard volley that deflected off of the defender. It was the kind of finish that a striker would’ve been proud of, but this is coming from a central midfielder. He’s also scored goals against Schalke and Braga in the Europa League.
Besides having a very impressive eye for goal, Kovalenko is also a very good passer with impressive vision. These attributes make him a very good passer in the midfield. He also has 6 assists this season, which is solid output for a player who has been played in a central midfield role. And with a passing percentage of 83.2 in the Europa league (according to whoscored.com) he clearly is able to pick out his teammates. His ability to pass and shoot from the midfield make him a unique player, and certainly one to watch.
He also has very good physical and mental traits. He stands at 5 ft 11 which is bigger than most attacking and skill based midfielders. That size will help him if he has to play in a deeper role, and it will make him harder to get off the ball. According to UEFA.com, Shakhtar U-19 coach said Kovalenko is “hardworking and has the right attitude”. The attitude that Kovalenko has is one of the many reasons why many people believe he will be a star for club and country. A lot of young players have talent, but the ones who pan out have an attitude like Kovalenko.
Even though the Ukrainian has a lot of strengths, he also has some reasons to be skeptical. Since this is his first season in the Shakhtar first team, he might need further development before heading off to a big club. The Ukrainian league is solid, but it’s far from any of the 5 biggest leagues in the world. Kovalenko also has to improve his defensive abilities in order to make it with a big club. He has all of the skill a central midfield player needs, but if he wants to become a complete player he must continue to improve his defensive ability. With his size and work ethic, he should be able to improve his defending and make that a vital aspect of his game. If he can become a tackler who can pass and score like he does, there is no limit to what the young Ukranian can achieve.
After being named to the EURO squad for Ukraine, Kovalenko could show all of the big clubs how much quality he has. And with all of the quality stars to come from Shakhtar such as Henrikh Mkhitaryan, there is no doubt that Kovalenko is the next in that long line of players if he leaves the club this summer. At only 20 years old, the future for Kovalenko is very bright, and he should be a star for Ukraine for years to come.
Written by Alex Lynch