Lobanovsky has developed the ultimate school of football science, one that makes the supposed Goodison version of slide-rule precision passing seem like a children's laboratory set by comparison. He started 30 years ago when he was made coach of Dneproprtovsk, enlisting the help of the dean of the local Institute of Physical Science, Professor Anatoly Zelentsov. Working on the theory that a player ought to know where to pass before he gained possession, they taught their charges to memorise set moves on and off the ball. They also formulated a computer programme to analyse matches, dividing the pitch into nine squares and measuring how often each player went into each area and how much work he did with and without the ball. Each player is awarded a mark computed to the third decimal point and is also tested by computer for reflexes, endurance, balance, nerve and memory (woe betide anyone who does not know which colleague ought to be in which square at any given time of a set move).
Students of the traditional British school of hit-it-and-hope might laugh but the Lobanovsky-Zelentsov formula, playing by numbers, has been a proven success. In Lobanovsky's first spell as coach at Kiev, Dynamo became the first club from the former Soviet Union to capture a European trophy. They beat Ferencvaros in the 1975 Cup-Winners' Cup final and also defeated Bayern Munich in the European Super Cup. Lobanovsky was coach again when Dynamo beat Atletico Madrid in the 1986 Cup-Winners' Cup final. And in 1988, after selecting his squad on the basis of performances in the computer tests, he guided the Soviet Union to the final of the European Championships.
After six years in the Middle East, coaching the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, Lobanovsky has been back at Dynamo for 11 months. And for a third time he is making the Kiev club a dynamic force in Europe. His players were afforded a standing ovation after they beat Barcelona 4-0 at the Nou Camp three weeks ago and victory at home to PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday night would put them into the quarter-finals of the European Cup. That would do much to restore the reputation of a club tarnished in the past by links with the Ukrainian mafia (who were reported to have operated a licence, through Dynamo, to export nuclear missile parts) and by the bribe scandal which prompted their shame-faced premature departure from the Champions' League two years ago.
Lobanovsky was already regarded as a national hero and his return has galvanised Ukraine's damaged sporting flagship. He commands the respect of his players not just because of his record. In his first spell as Dynamo coach, after seeing one of his players drunk he made him work as a groundsman for five months and then sold him to a minor club. Combining such authoritarianism and his extreme methods of preparation, Lobanovsky has produced some exceptional players. His two triumphant Cup-Winners' Cup teams both featured the striking talent of Oleg Blokhin. And his Group C Champions' League leaders are led from the front by the 21-year-old hailed as "the new Blokhin".
Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine's player of the year, stunned the Nou Camp to silence with a first-half hat-trick. He has been courted by Milan and by Manchester United but is reluctant to depart through the great gates of his home city. "I am flattered by the interest of such famous clubs," he said last week, "but I grew up watching players like Blokhin, who were coached by Mr Lobanovsky. I am happy also to learn from him..." And from his numbers too, of course.Reuse content