Sergei Rebrov emaulating the Lobanovskyi School at Dynamo Kyiv

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June 25 1988, the Soviet Union and Netherlands faced-off in the Final of Euro 1988, managed by Valeriy Lobanovskyi and Rinus Michels respectively.

Despite known for playing 4-3-3, Michels set his team up for the tournament in a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation matching his Ukrainian rival, relying upon the lethal finishing provided by Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten up-front, each scoring in a 2-0 victory.

These two masters of coaching created their own brands of footballing philosophies, promulgating them upon their predecessors, but Dynamo Kiev have finally managed to evolve beyond Lobanovskyi’s tutelage, in the process winning the Ukrainian domestic double for an eighth time.


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‘Total Football’ – Rinus Michels

Rinus Michels would spend the entirety of his playing career with his local football team Ajax Amsterdam. Michels transformed Ajax from relegation contenders, into the driving force of Dutch football.

During this period, he won the Eredivisie four times, the Dutch Cup in 1967 and Ajax’s first European Cup in 1971 before Barcelona came calling. Michels and his successor Johan Cruyff are considered the architects of ‘Total Football’, a tactical theory centered upon retaining a team’s organisational structure. Michels pushed for a natural balance which he coined as his ‘Total Football’, defining this as; ‘finding [a] balance between creative players and those with destructive powers, and between defence and attack – never forgetting the quality of [the] opposition and the specific pressures of each match’.

‘Scientific Football’ – The Lobanovskyi School

Michels’ legacy over Ajax and Holland is dwarfed by that of Lobanovskyi over Dynamo Kyiv who, as manager won 13 Soviet/Ukrainian league titles, nine Soviet/Ukrainian Cups, three USSR Super Cups, two UEFA Cup Winners’ Cups and the UEFA Super Cup once in 1975.

Yet his legacy spans far greater than just the impressive trophies Lobanovskyi has won as manager of Dynamo. When he suffered a stroke during a league match against FC Metalurgs and later died in hospital he was posthumously awarded the title ‘Hero of Ukraine’ for his contribution to the development of Ukrainian football.

Lobanovskyi developed his own ‘Scientific Football’, in which he would calculate a formula for each individual game, with an aim to draw all away games, in order to gain an ‘away point’. The closest proponent to this system in England is arguably Tony Pulis, a manager who would completely change his tactics and line-up against a same team depending if his own team are home and away.

Lobanovskyi utilised high levels of micromanagement while he focused upon gathering statistics and data on opponents. He was the first manager to record player analysis on a computer database. He ordered one in 1974 as his first act after taking over at Dynamo from Andrey Biba. The computer itself was acquired through military officials, leading to Soviet Intelligence to investigate him for spying.

On the pitch, Lobanovskyi advocated the ability to ‘switch from defence to offence quickly’, tweaking Viktor Maslov’s high-pressing 4-4-2, dropping a forward back into a ‘second striker’ position. In the 1975 European Super Cup Final against Bayern Munich, Petro Slobodyan lined-up behind Oleg Blokhin. The former occupied the space in which Franz Beckenbauer would usually be free to control, pressing high and enabling counter-attacks high up the pitch.

Seven of the 11 Soviet Union players in the 1988 Euro Final were Dynamo Kiev players as Lobanovskyi promulgated his successful formula upon the national team, with Igor Belanov lining up more as a second-striker behind Oleg Protasov, pressing the link between Rijkaard, Koeman and Arnold Muehren.

Since his death in 2005, 12 of the 14 managerial appointments at Dynamo either played and (or) coached under the great Ukrainian. Only Muscovite’s Yuri Semin and Valery Gazzaev were not part of the Lobanovskyi School in a concerted attempt to move away from his influence that Jonathan Wilson has even described as a form of ‘de-Lobanovskyification’.

‘Aggressive Football’ – Sergei Rebrov and the Class of 2015

Sergei Rebrov has created the best Dynamo team since he and Andriy Shevchenko, under Lobanovskyi’s tutelage, dismantled Barcelona 4-0 at the Camp Nou in 1998. Domestically, Rebrov was the leading scorer with 22 goals that season as Dynamo won the league ahead of Shakhtar. The class of 2015 likewise stormed to Ukrainian Premier League success, unbeaten and conceding only 12 goals in the process.

The 41-year-old is the first Dynamo manager to win the Ukrainian Premier League since Semin in 2009. Rebrov follows the Lobanovskyi School upholding him as a “second father”, but does not necessarily dogmatically follow his tactics.

The young coach relies upon control of the ball at Dynamo, with his midfield lynchpin Miguel Veloso pulling the strings in possession. In domestic matches, they line-up in an attacking 4-2-3-1, such as in the Ukrainian Cup Final against Shakhtar, Jeremain Lens started in place of Oleg Gusev with Sergiy Sydorchuk lining up behind the lone striker Artem Kravets.

This is similar to how Lobanovskyi lined-up his own teams in the aforementioned 1975 UEFA Super Cup Final and 1988 Euro Final. Rebrov’s Dynamo line up in a 4-5-1/4-1-4-1 in the Europa League, less disciplined and defensive than under Lobanovskyi and direct predecessor Blokhin.

This allows winger Andriy Yarmolenko to express himself creatively, alike to Yevhen Konoplyanka’s role at Dnipro. Despite this, Rebrov does still demand some Lobanovskyi-like defensive discipline, in a Europa League game against Aalborg he substituted Yarmolenko citing “Andriy didn’t work hard enough in defence”.

Brazilian central defender Betão echoes the new found freedom. Upon his return from a transfer to Brazilian Ponte Preta in January 2015 he claimed the club was “completely different”, further remarking that “Rebrov is a promising coach…he is closer to the players”.

Rebrov has combined the traditional Lobanosvkyi scientific defence with a new style of aggressive football employed by Diego Simeone at Atletico. Rebrov admires the way they “managed to play so well without having the stellar players that Barcelona had…their football – total control of the ball – does not suit Dynamo, but Atletico’s football – aggressive and compact – characterises us”.

This new aggressive approach defied Sergei Baltacha’s claim in 2012 that “People have stopped believing in Lobanovskyi’s philosophy”. This scientific philosophy has been developed further by Rebrov, as the protege is the first at Dynamo to step out beyond the shadow of the Master.

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Andriy Shevchenko

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