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Oleksandr Zinchenko: Man. City up-and-comer, Ukraine’s Euro hope

Devastated, Oleksandr Zinchenko laid face down on the pitch of the Estadio do Dragao in Porto, where his club, Manchester City, lost the Champions League final to Chelsea.

An hour earlier, the defender had been partly culpable for allowing Chelsea midfielder Kai Havertz to score what would prove to be the winning goal in the all-English final.

It was not only the 24-year-old left-back at fault, but rather the entire City defence, as the club blew their chance to win the Champions League for the first time.

“Impossible to describe my feelings right now,” Zinchenko wrote on Instagram.

“We tried to give everything on the pitch. During all season we were working hard like animals but it wasn’t enough. We will be back stronger!”

On the night, the frustrated Zinchenko could hardly hold back tears while receiving a runners-up medal as City fell agonisingly short of European glory.

But now the occasionally hot-headed but diligent and tireless worker will have to quickly switch his attention to the Ukrainian national team, where he typically plays in midfield.

Zinchenko has featured more and more often in City’s starting line-up in recent months, emerging as a reliable cog in Pep Guardiola’s side.

“He doesn’t make mistakes. When you say something, he reads it immediately,” Guardiola said about Zinchenko at a press conference last month.

“He is always focused, always concentrated.”

Zinchenko has won eight titles, including this season’s Premier League and League Cup, since he joined the club in 2016.

He recently recalled in a video on City’s YouTube account that he “could not believe it is real life”, when he joined the English side from Ufa in Russia at the age of 19.

“The training ground here, the attitude… I was like ‘That’s the place where I have to be, that’s the place to improve’.”

The ‘image of Ukraine’

But the rising star struggled at first to find his place, even as one of Guardiola’s first purchases after taking the reins in 2016.

He was immediately loaned to PSV Eindhoven and even on his return was mostly on the bench, occasionally replacing the costly but injury-prone Benjamin Mendy.

Guardiola recently admitted that Zinchenko had been close to leaving but that his versatility and persistence had won him a place in the squad.

“Oleks fought a lot to be here, a transfer was possible and he said ‘No, I want to be here’. That means a lot,” said Guardiola.

“He’s a guy who played in another position and never complains,” Guardiola added, referring to the fact Zinchenko joined City as a midfielder.

While Zinchenko may still be proving himself at the Etihad, he is already a cornerstone of his national side. 

In 2016, at the age of 19 he scored his first goal for Ukraine against Romania, eclipsing current head coach Andriy Shevchenko as the country’s youngest ever goalscorer.

Shevchenko recently said, ahead of his team’s Euro 2020 opener on June 13 against the Netherlands, the qualifying matches had allowed newcomers like Zinchenko and Atalanta midfielder Ruslan Malinovsky to gain vital experience.

Major clubs, he noted, would be watching.

“Zinchenko and Malinovsky are the image of Ukraine. They are raising our prestige.” 

“Zinchenko has come an outstanding way. He is a self-made man,” Artem Frankov, the editor-in-chief of ‘Football’ magazine, said.

“There are only two players in the Ukrainian national team who play in big European clubs,” he told AFP. 

“Therefore, Zinchenko is doomed to be the leader in the national team.”

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