Football: Luzhny is the dynamo who drove on Kiev

Peter Drury, the ITV football commentator, kicks off the first of his weekly columns by explaining his affection for the Champions' League's most successful underdogs
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The Independent Online
SUDDEN, REPEATED exposure to a city and its football team can - provided familiarity's contempt is avoided - lead to the most improbable emotional attachments. I hereby declare an affection, acquired over last European season, for the city of Kiev, its principal football team and, in particular, its former captain and right-back - now the property of Arsenal - Oleg Luzhny.

A fan's tendency selectively to forget the deeds of an outstanding opponent may require Arsenal folk to be reminded of just how fortunate they are to have acquired Luzhny. So utterly commanding was he against them in the Champions' League last autumn that it would come as little surprise to learn that David Dein and Arsene Wenger had the cheque with which to purchase him written and post-dated by last Christmas.

Luzhny's (albeit brief) Premiership debut at Derby the other night prompted me to dig out the video of Dynamo's Wembley performance in October. Right from the opening images, he cuts an imposing figure. Shoulder-to-shoulder, in exchanging pennants, he matches Tony Adams for breadth of frame, his colleagues united around the same automatically respected leadership.

Throughout the game, a gap-toothed grin reveals a relish for his lot in life which, remember, pre-dates any pay-packet of Western proportions. Nine minutes in, he is booked for a silly trip on Remi Garde. Ron Atkinson, in commentary, observes that, given Luzhny's vulnerability to the red card and presumed subsequent unwillingness to over-commit in the tackle, Marc Overmars should be allowed to fly at him. Overmars tries. Overmars tries again... and again and again. But, rarely have those free-flapping Dutch wings been so clinically clipped. So clean is the tackling that the notional dismissal is never mentioned again.

Defensively, that night, Luzhny was close to impeccable. But it is his athleticism which most impresses. Nicknamed "The Horse", one moment he is threatening Nigel Winterburn in Kiev's attacking third, the next - unaffected by another 80 yard sprint - he is thwarting Overmars again.

Like one of those triathletes who run, swim and cycle vast distances without coming up for air, he boasts a pair of lungs that appear to require a refill only once every three weeks. I would love to have seen him on Superstars, because, gamely though Kevin Keegan and Trevor "eight points" Brooking tried, I have a feeling that here is the footballer who might have lived with Brian Jacks. What's more, he would still have sufficient breath to speak with Ron Pickering after the squat thrusts.

That Wembley evening was the first of five occasions on which I saw Dynamo Kiev play last season. As well as a couple of very recommendable restaurants, two visits to their city revealed a place and a population growing in self-esteem. There is evidence the players are increasingly responding to their celebrity status at home and, despite the financial lure, no longer automatically assume that West is best. Pride in Ukraine's hard- won independence is also a factor in making home where the heart is. Last season's first XI was almost identical to that of the previous year as the stars and the political figures who employ them determined on a campaign for Europe's top prize.

All of that meant that, inside Munich's Olympic Stadium last April, with news of Manchester United's deeds being heartily cheered each time a Turin update reached the scoreboard - (yes, be in no doubt that the Munich fans fancied United) - there was a corner of my heart beating for Dynamo Kiev. Clearly, United were every right-thinking Englishman's preference to win the European Cup, but Dynamo would have been worthy runners-up. They deserved their night in front of the world and the world would have enjoyed watching them.

That was not to be and, notwithstanding the temptation to stay at home, the team is now denuded, among possible others, of the striker Andriy Shevchenko (pounds 15.7m to Milan) and Luzhny. It will be fascinating to discover whether their eternally forlorn-looking coach, Valery Lobanovsky, has new talent to fill old boots.

Harshly, Dynamo Kiev are still made to qualify for the Champions' League and, having triumphed in Lithuania, were winning again in Denmark this week. Meanwhile, after a night admiring Gary Rowett's plying of the right- back's trade for Birmingham against Exeter, I got to catch the last few moments of my favourite practitioner on the box, only to discover him in Arsenal's midfield. Wenger's implied compliment to Lee Dixon - who is hanging on to his natural role - is great indeed.

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