KIEV, June 5 (Reuters) - Oleg Blokhin is Ukraine’s most famous coach, credited with leading them to their finest achievement to date, a place in the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup but now the pressure is on to do even better than that.
A blisteringly fast forward and prolific striker, Blokhin was one of the best players in the history of the Soviet Union, playing through the 1970s and most of the 1980s for Dynamo Kiev.
He became the Soviet national championship’s leading scorer with 211 goals, as well as making more appearances than any other player with 432 appearances.
He was also one of only five players from the old communist era to be named European Footballer of the Year, an award he won with Kiev in 1975.
After retiring as a player in the 1990s, the blunt and sometimes even rude Blokhin coached several Greek clubs whose fans nicknamed him “the Tsar”.
Blokhin’s status allows him to talk down to even the most famous players in the national team such as former Milan and Chelsea attacker Andriy Shevchenko, who enjoys iconic status in Ukraine.
“Names do not play football,” Blokhin told Reuters in an interview. “...If they did, I could be playing now.”
In 2003, Blokhin started his first stint as the head coach of the newly independent Ukraine’s national team.
Three years later, the team reached the World Cup quarter-finals by beating Saudi Arabia and Tunisia in the group stage and then Switzerland in playoff. They lost to eventual champions Italy.
In 2007, Ukraine failed to qualify for the 2008 European championship and Blokhin resigned after sharp criticism from fans and the media. He then spent a few years coaching a Russian, and then a Ukrainian, club with little success.
Ukraine’s football federation re-hired Blokhin in April 2011 in a last-minute attempt to mould a more competitive national team. As co-hosts, they felt they needed a tougher edge. Although Blokhin describes himself as a perfectionist, he says pressure to win the championship at home may affect the team’s performance.
“We did not have such a task during the (2006) World Cup,” he said.
On the other hand, he says, confidence is important.
“One must believe. We, too, did not think at some point we could defeat Bayern,” Blokhin said, referring to the 1975 European Super Cup final when his club Dynamo Kiev beat Bayern Munich in a two-leg match in which he was the only scorer.
Blokhin said he rarely watched recordings of his own matches, but showed the goals against Bayern, where he was opposed by another former European Footballer of the Year, defender Franz Beckenbauer, to foreign players, at one of his clubs, to assert his authority.
It remains to be seen, however, if his leading-by-example approach and occasional profanities will be enough of a motivation for the Ukraine team, who have had little time to practice in their current lineup. (Editing by Tim Collings)