Zinchenko’s Italian Renaissance?

Oleksandr Zinchenko playing in the RFPL for FC Ufa. Source: Tass.ru

Reports in both England and Italy have emerged over the weekend that ex-FC Ufa star Oleksandr Zinchenko is close to joining SSC Napoli. Rumours of the switch were first broken last week by ESPN and La Gazzetta dello Sport but the financial aspects of the deal have now been leaked. It is rumoured to be a full season loan for a reported fee of €500,000 which will become a permanent €6 million deal if he makes 25 appearances of 45 minutes or more.

Zinchenko was Guardiola’s fourth Manchester City signing in July 2016 as part of a £1.7m, five-year deal, but has not yet played for the Citizens, spending the whole of the 2016/17 season out on loan at PSV Eindhoven, however, the young Ukrainian failed to impress at the Dutch giants, starting only four games all season and making twelve appearances overall for the first team, registering just the two assists, both against minnows ADO Den Haag. As a result, Zinchenko dotted between the PSV first team and reserve side. For PSV Jong, Zinchenko didn’t score but did garner a very impressive nine assists in just six seven games.

As followers of the RFPL will know, Zinchenko undoubtedly has the talent to thrive for Manchester City, with his dazzling displays in a typically defensive Ufa side in 2015/16 at the tender age of eighteen. He registered two assists but was both Igor Kolyvanonv and Evgeny Perevertaylo’s attacking fulcrum as the Bashkortostan side avoided the dreaded “second season syndrome” and finished twelfth. The Ukrainian is very versatile, having played in every position from full-back to attacking midfield for Ufa, and Andrew Flint, covering a game between Ural and Ufa in April 2016, outlined his main assets as his wonderful dribbling ability, keen vision, and astute technical ability with the ball at feet.

Zinchenko himself outlined why his loan spell at PSV was a disappointment, in an interview with Zimbra towards the end of the Eredivisie season, he claimed;

“The competition will last two games and then we will make a decision, I’m not happy here. That makes sense when you play no minutes for seven games in a row. I do not understand why I am the one that is never used. It is simply the choice of the coach and it is not to discuss. I will not be sorry. It is a strange experience, but I’m sure it’s good for me”.

The young Ukrainian clearly admits his time in the Netherlands did not go to plan, which is to his great credit and does blame manager Philip Cocu for not giving him more game time, but there need to be questioned as to why this was the case. Former Ajax head coach Aad De Mos weighed in on the debate in Holland, telling Dutch regional Omroep Brabant;

“You see in his body language that he is currently a bit is overwhelmed. And that’s a shame because he has real potential. His dribbles for me are a little like that of Arjen Robben. He does not play for nothing [sic] in the national team of Ukraine. He would have come into his own this season much better with Ajax or FC Twente. There it is more likely that boys play like Zinchenko. (Philip) Cocu doesn’t see it in him. It is better for all parties if Zinchenko leaves at PSV”.

Although De Mos has now got his wish of Zinchenko leaving PSV, he directly blames both Cocu and PSV themselves for their unwillingness to blood youth, unlike Twente and particularly Peter Bosz’ young Ajax side. Cocu last season, however, was more than willing to blood youth, regularly fielding Gastón Pereiro, Steven Bergwin, Jürgen Locadia, Jorrit Hendrix and Bart Ramselaar. All of the aforementioned players both played more minutes and appeared more times than Zinchenko, with only Locadia older than 21 at the time of writing. The average age of the whole squad in general last season was 22.35, incredibly low by modern football standards – as a way of comparison the squad with the lowest average age in the RFPL last season was Tom Tomsk at exactly 24. Although De Mos is right in inferring that younger players did generally see more playing time and were more successful at Ajax and Twente, as Peter Bosz and René Hake fielded the top 23 lowest squads by average age last season – with Ajax’s on the last match day of the season against Willem II an impressively low 20.4, including teenagers Matthijs de Ligt, Justin Kluivert and Kasper Dolberg.

Zinchenko is right in refusing to allow this disappointing spell let him down, as his technical quality and ability is irrevocable and not under doubt, and Guardiola himself has confirmed this in the past. In a press conference after a preseason friendly with Borussia Dortmund in 2016 in which the Spaniard took Zinchenko aside mid-match to have a word, he claimed;

“Aleks is a young, young talent – he’s so intelligent and has a lot of quality. He’s played two games and of course we have to see his level but we’re so, so happy about his performance”.

Although Guardiola was merely responding to a journalists line of questioning, such an endearing statement from one of the best managers in the world is not to be taken lightly. Zinchenko has since impressed during Manchester City’s preseason with performances full of guile and genuine skill on the ball. As such, many City fans are unimpressed with his impending departure to Napoli, especially with the permanent clause inserted.

As yet though, his best days and most impressive football has still been played in Bashkortostan for Ufa in the Premier League. No matter which sky blue he ends up appearing in next season, it is good to see RFPL graduates performing for such illustrious clubs in Europe, and under either Pep Guardiola or the genius that is Maurizio Sarri, the young Ukrainian’s game will only further improve.

Author: James Nickels

Born and raised in South Shields, the direct mid-point between Sunderland and Newcastle in North-East England during an era of sustained success and European football for the Magpies, while the Black Cats floundered in the lower divisions, so naturally I decided to support Sunderland. I’ve developed an interest in Russian football over the last decade or so, but it piqued while studying for my Masters’ Degree in Russian and Soviet History, and I’ve been hooked by Spartak Moscow ever since. Considers Eduard Streltsov the best of his generation, and a fond proponent of his repatriation.

Leave a Reply