Yevhen Konoplyanka is one of the most exciting prospects to have emerged from Ukraine in recent years, and has been gaining attention around the globe. In the recent January transfer window, he had been subject to probably the biggest transfer saga of the month, looking set to sign for Liverpool, only for the deal to collapse in the latter stages of the window. May that have been a blessing in disguise?
With several English clubs, i.e. Chelsea, Arsenal, Man Utd and Tottenham, having sent scouts to watch the winger, there should be little doubt of his ability. At the meagre age of 24, Yevhen has solidified his place in the national team, and is seen as its star; and Ukraine isn’t that bad, right? But let’s look at the stats, shall we: eight goals in 28 appearances and two goals in 20 appearances in the past two seasons doesn’t make for brilliant reading, but he has won ‘Player of the Year’ at his club, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, twice already – in 2010 and 2012. This season, he’s already stacked up nine goals and six assists in 25 appearances for both club and country. 25 appearances and eight goals for his country also speaks volumes about the player's pedigree.
After initially starting out as a central midfielder when he emerged from the youth ranks, Konoplyanka now plays on the left wing, though he is also capable of playing on the right just behind the striker. Being primarily right-footed, it is no wonder that Yevhen likes to cut inside to create shooting opportunities for himself. Defenders, though, should be wary – the boy’s got frightening pace. In the England vs Ukraine game, Konoplyanka had Kyle Walker in his pocket – beating him with trickery and pace - and while Walker isn’t the best defender, not a lot of people have the legs to outsprint him. Yevhen Konoplyanka is a technically strong winger; he’s got pace, a divine touch and a few tricks in his arsenal. But it would be wrong to write him off as a direct, one-dimensional player. One of his best attributes is his creativity; his knack of knowing when to hold-up the ball and wait for support just to play someone in behind the defender or when to make the killer pass into the box.
There are a few concerns, however, such as his weak foot. Defenders will know to show him onto it, and thus limit his impact – just ask Antonio Valencia. Yevhen also plays in a substantially weaker league, and has also been critisized for his lack of effort, i.e. not tracking back or pressing enough. Former Arsenal and Ukraine defender, Oleg Luzhny, has voiced his concerns over the Ukrainian’s probable move to England, stating that “Konoplyanka's style of play is better suited to Italy or Spain. The game in England is totally different - it's about power. You have to run back and forth, back and forth. You run at speed up and down, and it's like that for 90 minutes.”
Yevhen Konoplyanka looks like a decent player at the moment, showing signs of brilliance at regular intervals. But he’ll have to work on several facets of his game. Also, one has to worry if he will be able to adapt to a more physical league should he move to England.
The boy’s got the skill, but does he have the guts?