2015 has been a good year for Dynamo Kyiv coach Serhiy Rebrov. Over the past twelve months, the pint-sized former Dynamo striker has led the Kyiv club to their first championship in six seasons and steered them through the group stages of the Champions League for the first time since the turn of the millennium. Once best known as the less glamorous half of Dynamo’s stunning Shevchenko-Rebrov attacking partnership of the late 1990s, he is now winning over a new generation of admirers as a successful manager in his own right.
Rebrov’s Champions League breakthrough has been particularly sweet. It has served to silence critics who had sought to downplay his domestic success by portraying it as primarily the product of arch rivals Shakhtar Donetsk’s disruptive exile from war-torn east Ukraine. In truth, Dynamo’s domestic decline had been down to a number of long-term factors, including but not limited to the emerging dominance of Shakhtar Donetsk.
The Kyiv club never really overcame the loss of the talismanic Valeriy Lobanovskiy, who managed Dynamo from the mid-1970s until 1990 and again from 1997 until his death in 2002. Lobanovskiy oversaw Dynamo’s rise to the top table of European football and is widely recognized as one of the great geniuses of the modern game. The innovative Ukrainian trainer’s influence at the club is hard to overstate – quite simply, he was Dynamo Kyiv. It is perhaps enough to note that his statue now dominates the approach to the club’s home stadium, which bears his name.
For a succession of subsequent Dynamo managers, this legacy has proved impossible to follow. After decades of continuity, the loss of Lobanovskiy threatened to destroy the entire Dynamo dynasty. Initially eclipsed by the rise of Shakhtar Donetsk, in recent years the club had actually started to fall behind the likes of Metalist Kharkiv and Dnipro Dnipropetrovk. Many began to whisper that Dynamo were in terminal decline.
The club was experiencing an unprecedented slump when Rebrov took over as caretaker Dynamo Kyiv manager in April 2014, having dropped to fourth place in the national championship. He was widely regarded as a stopgap appointment who would oversee things until Dynamo could recruit a big name manager with an international pedigree. It certainly didn’t help that he was replacing Oleh Blokhin, another former club legend who had starred during the Lobanovskiy era only to fail when tasked as manager with bringing back the glory days.
The Dynamo job was Rebrov’s first managerial position and there was little in his background to suggest he could turn the ailing club around. Nevertheless, after leading Dynamo to the Ukrainian Cup in his first month, the club offered Rebrov the manager’s job on a permanent basis. It was clearly a gamble, but he was at least a popular figure within the club and well loved by Dynamo fans thanks to his exploits during Kyiv’s last real period of international success.
For a few seasons in the late 1990s, Dynamo Kyiv ranked as one of the best sides in Europe. Rebrov was one of the stars of a team that made it to the Champions League quarterfinals and semifinals in successive seasons. His partnership with Andriy Shevchenko was regarded as the most potent in world football. When Shevchenko departed for Milan in 1999, it was Rebrov who carried Dynamo beyond the group stage of the Champions League in the following season. His ten goals in the 1999-2000 campaign remain a remarkable personal achievement, helping him to earn a place among the top fifty all-time Champions League goal scorers.
Rebrov’s subsequent career failed to live up to the promise of these early golden years. He proved disappointing at Spurs and West Ham in the English Premier League and played without great distinction in Turkey and Russia. Dynamo Kyiv remained his true love, and he was welcomed onto the backroom staff following retirement in 2009. Few had any idea he would go on to occupy the manager’s seat.
Rebrov has already achieved more than expected in his fledgling managerial career. He will be looking to build on this momentum in February when Dynamo face Manchester City as this year’s Champions League enters the knockout stages. The first leg will be played behind closed doors in Kyiv as part of a UEFA sanction for racial violence at Dynamo’s group stage clash against Chelsea. This is uncharted territory for most of today’s Dynamo squad, but for the club’s diminutive manager, it will be more of a homecoming.