Valeriy Lobanovskyi is number 23 in 90min's Top 50 Great Managers of All Time series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next five weeks.
The life and career of one Valeriy Lobanovskyi is a story that contains an odd combination of philosophy, history, science and sport.
No, this isn't just an article revising your least favourite GCSE subjects at school, it's a tale of how a man who was right in the midst of the repressive Soviet regime, and managed to adapt to ultimately prove he had one of the great minds in football history.
If you want to truly understand Lobanovskyi's style and the way he wanted his teams to play, a good place to start would be the ideas of the father of communism, Karl Marx.
Valeriy Lobanovskyi: "The most important thing in football is what a player is doing on a pitch when he's not in possession of the ball, not vice-versa. So when we say we have an excellent player that comes from the following principle: one percent talent & 99 percent hard work." pic.twitter.com/FheXEGkWKQ— Mohamed Moallim (@iammoallim) March 7, 2019
Marx introduced the idea of collectivism rather than individualism, an ideology that the USSR would live by throughout the 20th century, until the collapse of the iron curtain in 1991.
His side's were drilled and coached to the point where their performances, particularly in attack, were like clockwork, as was the Soviet way.
Having grown up in the era of infamous Soviet science development, he worked in heating engineering in Kiev before turning his hand to football, where he came prepared to not only leave his mark on the game, but essentially change it forever.
An excessive disciplinarian, he got his message across to his players that no one was greater than the team, as well as becoming a pioneer in the way that professional footballers would diet, which kept his teams at peak physical fitness.
Lobanovskyi was as thorough and hard-working a manager as you are ever likely to see, a man who would leave nothing to chance, all for one collective goal. To win; and not just to win - to dominate.
But did all that work?
Well, 33 trophies in a 32 year managerial career (second only to Sir Alex Ferguson) would suggest...yes, yes it worked fairly well.
|Soviet Top League (1974, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1985, 1986, 1990)|
|Ukrainian National League (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001)|
|Soviet Cup (1974, 1978, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1990)|
|Ukrainian Cup (1998, 1999, 2000)|
|UEFA Cup Winners Cup (1975, 1986)|
|UEFA Super Cup (1975)|
|USSR Super Cup (1980, 1985, 1986)|
|Commonwealth of Independent States Cup (1997, 1998, 2002)|
|Soviet First League (1971)|
|Gulf Cup of Nations (1996)|
|UEFA European Championships Runners-up (1988)|
|Olympic Bronze Medal (1976)|
|European Coach of the Year (1986, 1988, 1999)|
|ESPN 8th greatest manager of all time (2013)|
He lived up to the stereotype of the big, scary, cold Eastern European who would stop at nothing to conquer all in front of him, but that would be a great disservice to his character.
As a player for his hometown club of Dynamo Kiev, he was a tricky winger with lots of pace and tricks who was an individual that took the game by the scruff of the neck when he was needed, a far-cry from the manager he would eventually become.
At 22, he helped Dynamo win their first league title, but he remained distant from the celebrations, choosing instead to concentrate on what was next for his career, something which irked his manager, the great Viktor Maslov, who was one of the great innovators of pressing football.
The two never saw to eye to eye, with both taking a polar opposite view of the game, but the apprentice would go on to not only eclipse the master, but take many of his view points as his own in his managerial career years later, which really took off at Dynamo in 1973, where he stayed for nine years before taking up the first of his three stints as USSR manager.
🎂 | Valeriy Lobanovskyi was born #OnThisDay in 1️⃣9️⃣3️⃣9️⃣! 🇺🇦— Football On This Day (@footieonthisday) January 6, 2018
🏆 x 13 Soviet Top League/Ukrainian National League
🏆 Soviet First League
🏆 x 9 Soviet Cup/Ukrainian Cup Comp
🏆🏆 UEFA Cup Winners Cup
🏆 UEFA Super Cup
🎗🎗🎗 European Coach of the Year
He collaborated with Anatoliy Zelentsov, a statistician who worked relentlessly to cover every area of weakness that their team may face, and it was a partnership that ended up becoming crucial in European football.
As quoted by Tifo Football, Simon Kuper wrote in his 1994 book Football Against the Enemy: "Zelentsov worked from the premise that since a fraction of a second’s thought can be too long in modern football; a player had to know where to pass before he got the ball.
“To this end, Dynamo’s players had to memorise set plays, as if they were American footballers, and had to run off the ball in set patterns.”
During their 17 years over three spells at the club, the duo won 12 league titles, six Soviet Cups and a UEFA Super Cup.
However, the rest of the continent truly took notice of that great Dynamo side when they destroyed Atletico Madrid 3-0 in the 1986 Cup Winners' Cup final, a performance which showed off breathtaking discipline, hard work and a total understanding from each player about their role.
The second goal in particular would be exhibit A in a museum regarding Lobanovskyi's style; a sweeping counter-attack with each touch timed to perfection, and though they may never have won the European Cup, his clear ability as a coach led to his national team appointment.
|Dynamo Kiev||1973-82, 1984-90 & 1997-2002|
|Soviet Union||1975-76, 1982-83 & 1986-90|
|Ukraine||1979 & 2000-01|
International football is obviously a different level when it comes to preparations, and with less time to work with his players, it became difficult for Lobanovskyi to implement his style.
They lost the 1988 European Championship final to the Netherlands, thanks to THAT Marco Van Basten volley, but that was as good as it got, having never come close to winning a World Cup.
His legacy in Eastern European football is arguably unmatched, and following his death in 2002 aged just 63, an outpouring of emotion and tributes flooded in from around the world.
Two days after his death, UEFA held a minutes silence before the Champions League final in Glasgow, and Lobanovskyi was awarded the title 'Hero of Ukraine', the nation's highest accolade, with Dynamo Kiev's stadium being renamed in his honour.
To show the respect he commanded in his home country, following AC Milan's Champions League victory in 2003, the great Andriy Shevchenko visited his grave to lay down his winner's medal.
That gesture sums up the football world's opinion of Lobanovskyi. He was an extraordinary man who had a nearly unmatched career, and his importance in the way he shaped modern football should never be overlooked.