Oleksandr Zinchenko was in tears at full-time on Tuesday evening as Manchester City secured their place in the Champions League final with a 4-1 aggregate win over Paris Saint-Germain.
It represented the culmination of a quite remarkable story for the 24-year-old.
Zinchenko is no ordinary player and his journey into the elite has been paved with adversity.
Though the emotion of the occasion was enough to induce tears from any of Man City‘s players on an evening in which they exorcised the demons of their chequered European history in emphatic style, but for Zinchenko there was a much bigger story at play.
As a 17-year-old, Zinchenko was forced to flee war-torn Ukraine and terminate his contract with Shakhtar Donetsk.
He signed for Russian outfit UFA in February 2015 and, though the decision to move to Russia saw him brandished a traitor due to the ongoing political tension, he later made his Ukraine debut as an 18-year-old having impressed in a range of attacking midfield roles.
Little was known about the youngster at the time and his arrival at the Etihad Stadium was a mere footnote for a club well accustomed to making £50m+ signings.
Following a season-long loan with PSV Eindhoven in the 2016/17 season, Zinchenko returned to City and begun his transition from attacking midfield to left-back with a handful of appearances in the 17/18 campaign, completing six Premier League starts as a makeshift option.
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By the age of 20 Zinchenko was emerging as more than just a short-term solution to City’s left-back problem.
He was by no means the finished article and signs of physical weakness and positional issues left him exposed against high quality opposition.
However, Zinchenko was so impressive that Wolverhampton Wanderers, a club with ambitions of transcending into the Premier League elite, came calling for his signature.
An offer of £16m was accepted by the Citizens in 2018 but Zinchenko, just 21 years old at the time, rejected the offer and vowed to stay and fight for his place.
What a brave and calculated decision that proved to be.
Signs of tangible improvement were always obvious and Guardiola persevered with this intriguing project, starting him 27 times across all competitions in the 2018/19 season.
At the end of 2019 he was deservedly named Ukraine’s Footballer of the Year.
A year later he celebrated the winning of a domestic treble during what was an injury-hit 2019/20 season for Zinchenko personally.
Though he endured a rocky start to the 2020/21 season, with injuries and COVID-enforced quarantine forcing him to play just 12 minutes of City’s opening 14 league games, the immensely popular cult hero has gone on to truly cement his credentials as one of the biggest bargains in football history.
Zinchenko had the honour of captaining his country for the first time in March in three successive qualifiers against France, Finland and Kazakhstan.
For his club, meanwhile, Zinchenko’s impact off the substitutes bench in the first leg against PSG was widely considered to be the significant turning point that allowed City to overturn a one-nil deficit and take two away goals back the Etihad Stadium.
His reward: a starting berth in the second leg, which he took brilliantly well.
A marauding run into the left channel and expertly timed square pass to Kevin De Bruyne facilitated Riyad Mahrez’s opener, while a second-half block to deny Neymar was greeted by John Stones and Ruben Dias with the same zeal you’d expect to see from a goal at the other end.
With the Champions League final beckoning for City on 29 May, Zinchenko has every chance of starting on the left side of City’s defence in what would represent one of football’s most incredible success stories.