by Tom Lees - 1st February 2016
Young Ukrainian starlet Viktor Kovalenko had quite the 2015 to remember, making his professional debut at club level, representing his nation at three different age categories, competing in two different international tournaments and being called up to the senior Ukraine squad. Not too many players have experienced a year quite like the Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder.
A product of the Shakhtar youth system, Kovalenko had impressed for the Under 19 side in the Ukrainian youth league before being rewarded for his displays with his first team debut for Shakhtar in February 2015. Once given his chance for the Hirnyky, Kovalenko has never looked back and has gone onto be a permanent feature around the first team squad, both in domestic and continental competitions. Although the majority of his playing minutes for Shakhtar have come as a substitute, Kovalenko is still only a teenager and is competing for one of the giant sides in Ukraine. It’s a real sign of the player’s quality that he has surpassed much bigger names already in the Shakhtar midfield pecking order.
Internationally Kovalenko has represented Ukraine at all youth levels and produced some outstanding displays. In the summer of 2015 his talents were called upon by Ukraine twice in a short space of time as he was selected for both the FIFA Under 20 World Cup and the UEFA European Under 19 Championship tournaments. The impressive midfielder really made his mark during the Under 20 World Cup as he was awarded the golden boot, for contributing 5 goals and 2 assists to the Ukraine side. Since the summer tournaments, Kovalenko has become a regular in the Ukraine Under 21 side and was even called up to the senior national team for a European Championship qualifying match against Slovakia in September, although the young star remained an unused substitute.
Primarily used as an attacking midfielder playing behind the frontmen, Kovalenko also has the ability to drop deeper into midfield and operate as a box to box force. He has great composure with the ball at his feet, fantastic vision and ability to hit a long pass to create attacks. A hard worker for the team, with great energy levels, Kovalenko delivers all action performances for the team and is still on hand to find space in the attacking areas to score and provide goal scoring opportunities. A player with a sweet right foot and deadly long range strike, Kovalenko has the ability to cause opposition goalkeepers a number of problems both from open play and set piece situations. As Kovalenko matures as a footballer, he will use his footballing intelligence to his advantage and perhaps pick and choose his moments to utilise his enormous talent to maximum effect.
A player that will be seen as the future of Ukrainian football, Kovalenko will be coveted by the game’s biggest clubs in the near future and will have to plan his career carefully. Expectations on him are growing, 2015 was a year that his star began to shine and as Shakhtar battle with Kiev domestically and Ukraine head to the European Championships in the summer, the hopes of thousands will fall on young Kovalenko to help achieve their dreams. A football star that Ukraine really needs, the youngster from Donetsk has started to get the World talking, a real name to keep a close eye on over the coming months and years.