Football is filled with contentious personalities. Hard-man defenders, stroppy strikers and mercurial midfielders are as common within the game as corner flags and crossbars. It’s rare that a day passes within the sport without one or more of the participants creating controversy for the press and problems for their management.
Which is why we are allowed to shed more than a few tears when a true gentleman of the sport hangs up his boots. These few good men keep our faith in the game alive. Their professionalism is a shining example to young prodigies too often transfixed by that heady blend of talent and tantrums.
So take a bow, Anatoliy Oleksandrovych Tymoshchuk, a man whose legacy will boast a pristine record both on the pitch and off it. A player who physically stood at just under six foot but whose dedication and demeanor has cemented him as a true giant of Ukrainian and Russian football.
As adored in St. Petersburg as he is in Donetsk. As respected in Russia as he is in his homeland. At a time when Ukrainian and Russian relations are stretched beyond any historical measure, all sides can agree on the talent, temperament and tenaciousness of the man from Lutsk.
The fact that Tymoshchuk can unite people on such opposing sides should come as no surprise. His role in the dressing was often that of peacemaker and mediator. Dick Advocaat described him as ‘a professional from head to toe’, before going on to state that, while he was manager of Zenit, Tymoshchuk would always wear the captain’s armband. Praise like this from a manager like Advocaat should thunder in the ears of every footballer. In lesser players such words could arouse a sense of ego and entitlement. But not Anatoliy.
After all, for him, the role of captain was a familiar one. Entrusted with the position for Shakhtar Donetsk and Ukraine as well as during his spell under Advocaat, here was a player who embraced responsibility. Further confirmation, as if any were needed, that his was the coolest head in the dressing room. A fact also reflected by the litany of trophies, medals and individual honours he collected during his twenty-year career.
His popularity even reached outside of earth’s atmosphere when cosmonaut and Zenista, Yuri Malenchenko, waved a club shirt bearing Tymoshchuk’s name whilst aboard the International Space Station. Proving that the midfielder’s stellar reputation really was capable of defying gravity.
On the pitch his record speaks for itself. A winner of the Bundesliga on two occasions. Russian champion on two occasions, and Ukrainian champion on three. And one of the only players to win the UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup and UEFA Champions League respectively. He was even voted the best player in Ukraine in a 2011 poll and is the country’s most capped player since its independence in 1991. It is arguable that, along with superstar, Andrei Shevchenko, Tymoshchuk is the most influential Ukrainian player of his generation.
Perhaps a player’s legacy is best defined by the void he leaves after the floodlights have faded. In the case of Tymoshchuk, the gap is glaring. Whether we’re talking about Zenit or Ukraine, his departure coincided with a sudden dip in consistency. A team needs a hunter-gatherer, someone to sweep up loose balls and tie the defence to the attack. Without the expert positioning and endless poise, not to mention fierce shooting, of Tymoshchuk, his former teams struggled to regain their previous prowess. The lack of similar players emerging will only make his departure even more poignant.
The loss is evident for all to see but the legacy eclipses any sense of sadness. At a time when sporting role models are almost impossible to come by, Tymoshchuk’s greatest gift to football is his history of integrity. A man who never lost focus, never shirked responsibility and always answered when called upon. If there were a few more men like Anatoliy Tymoshchuk on the pitch, the game we adore would be called into disrepute with much less regularity.
When all is said and done, there is no greater epitaph for a player than that.
Author: John Torrie
A writer by trade, John’s love of Russia led to him embracing the motherland’s beautiful game. As with everything he loves, John just had to write about it and that’s why he’s here.