Andriy Shevchenko speaks exclusively with FIFA.com
The coach of Ukraine reflects on the transition as a coach and rebuilds the national team
Shevchenko said that they have very talented players
Ukraine has had some highlights from soccer since independence 27 years ago. Although they reached the quarterfinals in their first and only appearance at the FIFA World Cup in 2006, the Yellow and Blues have often not met expectations since then, failing to beat the FIFA World Cup ™. The group stage of UEFA EURO 2012 and 2016.
Eastern Europeans certainly did not lack talent: Anatoliy Tymoschuk, Andriy Voronin, Andriy Shevchenko, and Serhiy Rebrov worked in the best European clubs during this period.
Any fear of Ukraine returning after these stars has hung their boots has proved unfounded. The appointment of Shevchenko as national coach in 2016 announced a new beginning and a transition period. The former goalkeeper has consistently and meticulously built a new young team, and the results are beginning to show.
Although Ukraine missed a place in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia ™, it was the highest climber in the latest FIFA / Coca-Cola World Ranking. He climbed six places to place 29 thanks to two victories in the) and Slovakia (26, no change) in the League of Nations in September. Last Wednesday, they recorded a 1-1 draw against Italy, four times world champion.
FIFA.com spoke exclusively with Shevchenko about his role as coach of Ukraine, his national ambitions and his election at the 2018 FIFA Football Awards.
Before talking about the national team, you voted for Luka Modric and Didier Deschamps in the FIFA soccer awards, both won. Why did you think the two deserved to win?
Shevchenko: Deschamps did a great job with France, not just this year. His victory in the World Cup is the result of many years of hard work. It was a deserved success that must be recognized. Modric had a very good season with Real Madrid. I played against him as a player and also faced him as a coach. He understands the game perfectly and is ready to adapt to any change. His achievements this year are impressive: a third consecutive Champions League and a finalist in the World Cup. Both deserve their praise.
You have been the national coach of Ukraine since July 2016. How do you reflect on your time as a leader?
I inherited the team at a difficult time, right after a disappointing European Championship. The press, the morale of the players, everything was against us. The work of reforming the national team had to start at the beginning of the qualifying round of the World Cup. Changes have been requested, as well as results. The time was running out and this period was probably the most difficult.
We started to form a team on the principle of possession of the ball. For Ukraine, it is unusual, the team has never presented such a football, it is very difficult to make such fundamental changes quickly. We started the process of updating the team and since then we have started almost 20 newcomers. The defeat against Croatia, the future finalists of the World Cup, in our last group match, was decisive. Now, the team is approaching a state of equilibrium and we have more potential than we believe in our games.
What has changed?
We put together the backbone of the team, a mix of young and experienced players. For us, the fact that the players did not freeze was a problem, but thanks to several rallies and several friendlies, we managed to understand each other. Ukrainian football is coming out of the hole. I hope that within a year, the number of first division clubs will increase and more players will also play abroad.
Ukraine has not qualified for Russia 2018. What is the problem?
Four teams of equal strength met in our group. All were participants in Euro 2016: Turkey, Croatia, Ukraine, and Iceland. We fight until the end to occupy one of the first two places on the board. Each match was decided by fine margins. We had opportunities in all the games, but we did not realize our abilities.
Ukraine will play the FIFA U-20 World Cup next year. Do you think some of these players could help you soon in the senior team?
We work closely with coaches of youth teams of all ages. Of course, we look at those under 20 because these are the guys who will knock on our door in a year or two. During the time I led the national team, almost 20 recruits made their debut and how many young people were called to the training camp and worked with the team? It’s hard to tell. We are constantly updating the list and the senior team door is always open.
Ukraine climbed six places in the latest FIFA ranking to 29th place. What do you think the team can achieve in the future?
Our immediate tasks are very specific: to participate in the qualification for the League of Nations and EURO 2020. Our objective is to qualify for the EURO. In that, we focus more.
In the UEFA League, you have won your first two matches. Are you satisfied or could you improve?
Both games were very difficult. We know our opponents well, they know us very well. These are our neighbors, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, and somehow the teams in our group are very similar if we talk about the style of the game. Two wins at the beginning are a great result, but we still have a lot of work to do to stabilize the game as a team.
Your team is young and talented enough. Was it difficult to make the change after the retirement of the older players?
It took almost a year and a half and the process is not over yet. The future is always for young people, and for coaches, the key is to have someone to work with. We have very talented players, they have great potential, the task is to discover and realize it.
Do you have training plans at club level also in the future?
Now, all my thoughts are related only to the national team of Ukraine. But I am starting my coaching career and the future will show us what awaits us.