Eastern European football expert Manuel Veth shares his insight on Borussia Dortmund’s latest addition, Andrey Yarmolenko.
Andrey Yarmolenko is finally a Borussia Dortmund player. Twice already Dortmund were close to bringing in the now 27-year-old Ukrainian winger from Dynamo Kyiv. Both in the summer of 2015 and in January 2016 the transfer failed. This summer, however, with Dortmund having just received €105 million, plus bonuses that will grow this deal to a lofty €148 million, for Ousmane Dembélé and the fact that Dynamo had missed out on the Champions League the stars were finally aligned to make this deal happen.
Dynamo, in fact, are desperate for cash as the wealthy Surkis brothers, who own the club, have found some of their assets frozen after the Ukrainian PrivatBank was nationalised. Dortmund in the meantime were willing to offer €25 million straight up—enough to convince Ihor Surkis, the younger of the two brothers, who is in charge of the daily operations at Dynamo, to sign off on the deal.
Ousmane Dembélé to Barcelona and the financial problems at Dynamo, therefore, combined to see the completion of Yarmolenko’s move to Dortmund. The two year period between the Westphalians first approaching and finally landing Yarmolenko is perhaps the biggest concern about the transfer.
Two years ago in 2015 Yarmolenko was at his peak and could have moved to some European clubs. Dynamo had just reached the quarter-final of the Europa League and had finally wrestled away the Ukrainian Premier League crown from their arch-rivals Shakhtar Donetsk. That season Yarmolenko scored 14 goals and 14 assists in 26 UPL games, and he added another four goals, and seven assists in 11 Europa League matches.
With this kind of record in mind and the fact that Surkis had promised him that he would be allowed to leave should Dynamo win the championship in Ukraine it was no surprise that BVB was interested in signing him. But Surkis went full stop retracted his promises and offered a $5 million contract tax-free with a new promise that Yarmolenko would be allowed to go after the Champions League group stage.
It was for that reason that Dortmund came asking once again in January. But with a new contract in place and Dynamo having drawn Manchester City in the round of 16 of the Champions League Surkis once again proved to be a difficult negotiation partner. Dynamo won the championship once again that spring and Yarmolenko managed 13 assists and ten goals in 23 UPL games.
The problem, however, was that the Ukrainian Premier League as a competition was struggling. Furthermore, Yarmolenko often seemed complacent in his game and was often criticised for having taken Dynamo’s money over a challenge abroad. Then came the European Championships in France and Ukraine performed poorly at the tournament crashing out of the group stage.
As a result, the interest abroad seemed to dry up. Domestically, Dynamo struggled and was once again overtaken by Shakhtar Donetsk. As for Yarmolenko, there was a sense that he was no longer the dominant dynamic player of his earlier 20s and that he had somewhat regressed playing in an inferior competition.
Hence, it was a bit of a surprise that Dortmund came calling once again after Dembélé left. Given his overall numbers, 137 goals and 89 assists in 339 games for Dynamo and the fact that he was willing to take the challenge and join a top club abroad finally shows that he is willing to forego his cushiony contract at Dynamo and push himself in one of Europe’s best leagues.
It will now be up to Peter Bosz to get the best out of Yarmolenko. Playing with better players in a fast pace league should suit the Ukrainian. When he was at his top, he was a bit like a more robust version of Arjen Robben. Quick and athletic Yarmolenko is famous for cutting in from the right to finish off attacking plays with his powerful left boot.
Strength, athleticism and pace are certainly his strengths. On the flip side, Yarmolenko has never learned how to backtrack as the slower pace in Ukraine meant that teams are not as aggressive in the pressing game. Bosz, however, likes to press high and whether he can teach Yarmolenko to play in that style is a major question mark.
There are therefore upsides and downsides to this deal. In recent years we have seen two strong wingers arrive from Ukraine in the Bundesliga. The first was Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who after adjusting to the league became a major star, and the second was Douglas Costa. Douglas Costa took the league by storm, but soon his lack of tactical awareness showed off, and Bayern München has since sold him.