Juande Ramos last night predicted that his brilliant winger Yevhen Konoplyanka would be perfectly focused on tonight’s Europa League match with Tottenham Hotspur, after a winter in which he came desperately close to leaving Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk for Liverpool.
Tonight’s game is Dnipro’s first competitive match for more than two months, after Ukraine’s long winter break, during which time Konoplyanka very nearly left for Anfield, only for Dnipro president Igor Kolomoisky to refuse to sign the paperwork at the last minute.
Konoplyanka may very well end up in England this summer, as no one is going to just stop being interested in such an interesting player, but for now, Dnipro head coach Ramos has told Konoplyanka to knuckle down.
“The fact is that players don’t concentrate on their individual personalities,” Ramos said yesterday. “They have to bear in mind the success of the whole team, and he will do his best to help his team succeed.”
Ramos, the former Tottenham manager, has seen enough of Konoplyanka’s recent efforts to be confident that he will continue to produce more of his idiosyncratic brilliance in the next few months.
“He had a very successful training camp in Spain and he trains a lot, follows all of the directions, and tries his best,” Ramos said, Konoplyanka having helped Dnipro to win a friendly tournament in Marbella earlier this month. “I am sure he will do his best in this competition and in this round and will help us succeed in this round.”
It is little surprise that Dnipro are putting so much faith in Konoplyanka. He is not just their best player – leading the “Hero of the season” rankings on their website – but the most exciting talent to emerge from Ukraine since the generation of Andrei Shevchenko and Sergei Rebrov.
Konoplyanka, now 24, made his Dnipro debut at 17 and has been there ever since, flourishing away from Ukraine’s biggest sides, Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk, and, accordingly, never in the Champions League. He is a punchy left winger, with a brilliant first touch and change of pace. His stronger foot is his right, and he is just as effective darting inside and shooting as going down the line.
It was one of his infield explosions that first made him famous in England. When Ukraine came to Wembley in September 2012 for a World Cup qualifier, Konoplyanka put them 1-0 up in the first half, coming inside, skipping past the slow lunge of Steven Gerrard and hitting a dipping shot from 30 yards into the far top corner of Joe Hart’s goal.
In the return fixture in Kiev, Konoplyanka was Ukraine’s best player, so much so that Kyle Walker – England’s right-back that day – recently rated him, along with David Silva, among his three hardest ever opponents.
As early as 2012, as Konoplyanka was preparing to make his first exciting excursion into tournament football, Ramos said that he would be fairly priced at €50m (£40m). Of course, Liverpool were not close to paying that much for him, but would have brought him to Anfield were it not for a late change of mind by owner Kolomoisky.
There had been previous interest from closer to home, first from Dynamo Kiev and then Zenit St Petersburg, but Konoplyanka now seems likely to head west this summer, with the Premier League or the Bundesliga his likeliest destinations.
Konoplyanka is not keen to sign a new contract and Dnipro seem fairly resigned to his exit. “If Konoplyanka continues in the same train and plays the way he plays,” admitted Dnipro director Andriy Rusol, “it is a matter of time before he goes into a good European club.
“It is 1,000 per cent sure that Liverpool will attempt to buy Yevhen in the summer. And with plenty of experience in dealing with our club, that will make it more organised and likely to succeed.” If Konoplyanka continues to play like he can, starting tonight, Liverpool might have some competition.
Spurs game goes ahead
The Tottenham game will go ahead at the Dnipro Arena this evening despite the recent political violence in Ukraine. Another Europa League game, Dynamo Kiev versus Valencia, has been moved to Cyprus, and an official day of mourning has been declared for today. But there has been no violence in Dnipropetrovsk and Uefa has decided not to move or postpone the game there.