The best managers of all time: #16 Valeri Lobanovskiy
#16 Valeriy Lobanovskyi
Valeriy Lobanovskyi was a gifted footballer with a degree in thermal engineering and was one of the first men to incorporate science into football as a manager. He married the two so methodically and seamlessly and it was ultimately a factor that resulted into him being recognized as one of the greatest managers of all time.
Valeriy Lobanovskyi was born in Kiev in the Soviet Union in 1939 and turned out as a left winger in a distinguished career for Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar Donetsk. He was renowned for his ability to score directly from corner kicks and his technical abilities.
Valeriy’s managerial career would begin to take off at Dynamo Kyiv, as he would win a staggering 27 trophies in two different spells at the club, including 12 league titles and 2 UEFA Cup Winners Cups. Kyiv would create history by becoming the first team from the Soviet Union to win a European trophy under his reign.
He would also, while still managing Kyiv, lead the Soviet Union to a bronze medal at the 1976 Olympic Games and the final of the 1988 European Championships.
Lobanovskyi managed at a time that wasn’t as technologically dependent as today. We’ve got used to a series of managers and clubs who use the wide array of statistical data that is available today to find the best players and fine tune their playing systems. It was a bold choice to rely on so much on data at that time, though, and while Lobanovskyi himself was a superbly technical player, reliant on skill, as a manager he relentlessly pursued science and the collective.
The Soviet Union was only just developing its first computers in the 1970’s and Lobanovskyi was immediately intrigued. He wanted to track player’s conditions and performance and use the technology available as best as he could.
Lobanovskyi played a high-intensity pressing system with his players, drilled with clear ideas on what to do without the ball and with it. Their passes were supposed to be quick and efficient, and the team moved together as a unit. The Kiev native was also a strict disciplinarian, with no tolerance for tardiness or any player who disagreed with his methods.
When Dynamo Kyiv dismantled Atletico Madrid 3-0 in the 1986 Cup Winners' Cup final, El Pais said that they "played like a team visiting from the future.” It was indicative of what an impressive unit they were under Lobanovskyi at that time.
Lobanovskyi’s second spell at Kyiv was even more impressive, and his overall record in 138 games in his second tenure as their manager had a 79.71% winning percentage. Staggering numbers, especially considering the mediocre phase they had been going through before his arrival.
They would also reach the semi-finals of the Champions League in 1999, losing narrowly 4-3 on aggregate to a great Bayern Munich team. They had already knocked out Real Madrid in the Quarter-Finals.
It should also be noted that only in his last years as a manager was he even allowed signing foreign players, having to work with the domestic talent available at the time.
The Dynamo Kiev stadium was renamed after the great manager when he passed away in 2002, ensuring his legend lives on. In another measure of his legacy, Andriy Shevchenko, one of the best strikers of his generation, flew to Kiev after winning the 2003 Champions League title with Milan to put his medal by the grave of his former manager.
Valeri Lobanovskyi is a man who would have been thrilled to be alive today, and see the impact science and technology have on football in 2016.
From cryogenic chambers and nutritional insights to quicken player recovery and improve fitness levels to the series of numerical analysis carried out on players during the course of a match, and even in training, Lobanovskyi would have been delirious.