By Adam Pate of UkrFut24.
Earlier this year, I was interviewed on Sky Sports News ahead of the Ukraine versus England quarter-final match at Euro 2020.
During the discussion, I was asked if Ruslan Malinovskyi is the player to watch for Ukraine and ready for a move to the EPL.
There was surprise when I suggested that he would most likely not start on the day. In the end, he did not even appear in the full squad.
Since then, he has played less than one half of football for the National Team.
Malinovskyi, for those of you who may be less aware, has become the star name of Ukrainian football following his move to Serie A in 2019. He had a quiet start to his time in Italy but had become an integral part of the national team (Zbirna).
However, his domestic form from March to May in Serie A, lifted him to star quality level, with goals and assists coming in almost every game before the end of the season.
Playing just of Zapata for Atalanta, the two formed an incredible partnership, linking up with some outstanding play.
Malinovskyi hit six goals and created seven more following the March break as Atalanta surged into the Champions League places once again.
All across Ukraine, fans were getting whipped up into Malinovskyi fever ahead of the delayed Euro 2020 Championship. He was going to be the driving force, bringing creativity to a team that has historically struggled to finish their chances ever since legendary Andrii Shevchenko retired. However, it failed.
To understand a little further, we need to look at where Malinovskyi excels in Atalanta. His heat map taken from SofaScore, highlights his most effective part of the field.
Atalanta like to play two creative players just off the main striker, with Malinovskyi drifting to the right. He particularly excels in those pockets of space that can appear between wide and central defenders.
However, both Andriy Shevchenko and his successor Oleksandr Petrakov both have followed the Ukrainian tradition of playing with two wingers, creating a dilemma about where to maximise his talents.
In the second heat map, taken from his international appearances in World Cup qualifying, it was clear that Shevchenko was asking him to play a lot wider than his role for the Italian giants. This left him up against markers who would restrict his space and as such his output deteriorated.
Coupled with an injury that required surgery this July, he was not in the finest form at the start of this season. However, Ukrainian media exploded during the first international window in early September with surprising accusations.
As mentioned above, game time was at a premium and new manager struggled to see how Malinovskyi would benefit the team. Vitali Buyalskyi had taken the final advanced position in the team, following his great form for Dynamo Kyiv during the opening months of the season.
It should be mentioned that Shevchenko had been regularly criticised for not calling up the very player. Nobody is quite sure what went on behind the scenes but accusations off private conversations were brought to the public sphere. Malinovskyi claimed that the new manager had been critiquing him behind closed doors with senior members of the squad.
Moving forward to October, he was subsequently dropped from the squad. Press conferences were ablaze with fun and games, as the manager refused to play ball with the assembled press before a vital match in Helsinki.
The Ukrainian national team minus Malinovskyi finally broke the cursed drawing sequence and came home from Finland with a 2-1 victory.
All seemed well with the world and the squad assembled in Lviv for the first of the vital doubler header with Bosnia. A draw has made qualification all the more difficult. However, something is afoot.
Rumours started circulating in the press that Malinvskyi had called the manager privately to air his grievances and find a way to move forward.
After all the criticism in the press over the previous two months, the country was surprised and nonetheless excited at the possibility of his return.
With the squad announcement this week confirming the rumours, Malinovskyi will re-join the squad next month before the vital match the close the qualification cycle. Will he be Ukraine’s saving grace? He certainly has the talent to excel in the international game.
It would bring the 2021 international calendar to a fantastic close with him scoring the playoff qualification winner. We can all dream.