Happy Birthday to Oleksandr Zinchenko

Oleksandr Zinchenko, a premier player for both Ukraine’s national team and Arsenal, turns 27 today. Zinchenko was recently encountered during the monumental match of Ukraine versus Italy, which obviously held great significance for these nations, albeit for very different reasons.

For Italy, the main goal covered footballing matters – recovering from the disappointment of not qualifying for the Qatar event and rekindling the joyous memories from the festive night at Wembley two years ago. On the other hand, our opponents view time somewhat differently. It was Zinchenko, the captain of the Ukrainian national team, who highlighted this sentiment during a pre-game talk in which he stressed the importance of victory. “It will be a final, the final of our life considering the moment we are living through. We won’t need any further motivation to face it. We know well how much happiness each of our victories brings to Ukrainian citizens. When I saw the images of our soldiers watching the games, I got goosebumps. That deeply motivates us,” he said.

The match ended in a goalless draw, allowing the Italians to celebrate. Ivan Zazzaroni, editor of Corriere dello Sport, scrutinised the event with a clear-eyed gaze: “Let realism and seriousness prevail once for all, especially in judgement: we have a national team that individually is not superior to Ukraine, twenty-second in the world ranking. Players like Sudakov, Dovbyk, Tsygankov – keystones of surprise package Girona in La Liga – and Mudryk, along with Trubin and Zinchenko, are just as good as ours. They are also used to competing at high levels,” he said.

Zinchenko, when he was just starting his football career with a brief stint at PSV and a significant tenure in the national team, entered the radar of some Serie A clubs, in particular, Napoli, which followed him since he stood out in Russia, playing for Ufa.

Initially, it seemed that a loan move from Manchester City to Napoli was imminent. The idea was for him to be the deputy to Callejon, perhaps one day replacing him altogether. Unfortunately, the operation was reportedly blocked by Maurizio Sarri, who preferred the guaranteed experience from Giaccherini rather than betting on a new purchase.

Zinchenko’s growth as a footballer has been undoubtedly affected by his time at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola, and his subsequent move to Arsenal has been another influential experience. Arsenal’s coach, Arteta, made it quite clear how much he values the Ukrainian player. “I know him very well; he’s an exceptional player and will add competitiveness in the dressing room,” he said upon Zinchenko’s signing.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it has become increasingly challenging to discuss Zinchenko’s footballing prowess. This is partly a testament to his active participation in public protests – a move that Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola has strongly defended: “What would you do if the UK was attacked? How would you feel? In Yugoslavia, no one did anything, and they killed each other for years. Unfortunately, there are many wars in the world, and many innocent people who just want to live in peace are dying,” Guardiola explained.

Zinchenko deleted a social media post wishing Russian President Putin a “slow and painful death”. He has been visibly emotional on the field, often moved by the solidarity shown in various stadiums. Speaking to BBC Sport, he shared what life now means for those in his homeland: “My wife woke me up in the middle of the night crying and showed me the videos, the photos. I keep crying, I can’t stop imagining what the birthplace I was born and raised in will look like, I think everything will be deserted. If it wasn’t for my daughter and my family, I would have rushed there myself. I know my people, and they all feel the same way. They’re fighting for their lives. I’m proud to be a Ukrainian, and always will be.”

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