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Zinchenko’s latest transfer: Arsenal and West Ham want a defender – here’s why

It’s a quirk of footballing history that even its brightest, most famous and most iconic teams are littered with players who don’t fit any of these criteria, men who, although great professionals who have ended their careers with shelves full of trophies and medals, were undoubtedly remarkable recipients of time, place and circumstance.

Stéphane Guivarc’h remains the modern reference of the genre, famously leading the way in the 98 World Cup for a legendary French team which, at Euro 2000, chose between Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka and David Trezeguet at the centre-forward, but there have been many others tarred with the same brush since.

Some may seem deserving of it and others less so, depending on how you rated Joan Capdevilla or Oleguer, how highly you regarded Jesper Blomqvist or Massimo Oddo, and whether you can recall whether Kleberson was in fact half decent until until he signs for Manchester. United.

Until six months ago, many would have put Oleksandr Zinchenko on the same side.

At Manchester City, in the most expensive football team ever assembled, made up almost exclusively of marquee signings with a few reserve keepers and academy graduates (including Phil Foden), Zinchenko doesn’t fit the mould.

The Ukrainian midfielder by trade arrived unannounced in 2016 from Russian side Ufa in a deal worth less than £2million, was immediately loaned to PSV and is returned a year later to gradually stumble into a semi-regular role in the side instead. as a makeshift left-back, a position that remained a problem throughout Pep Guardiola’s reign (Fabian Delph was perhaps his most trusted predecessor).

By the end of last season, Zinchenko had made exactly 100 appearances for City, winning three Premier League titles, five domestic cups and starting a Champions League final. Yet it was still quite difficult to offer a fair assessment of his abilities, or rather, few outside the Etihad were particularly striving to do so.

A dependable and adaptable team player, lucky to be playing under one of the game’s great managers in one of the most dominant teams in English football? Or a weak link that said manager seemed eager to upgrade almost every time a transfer window opened? Probably a combination of both.

And then, on February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine.

At just 25, Zinchenko became, at least in the sports world, a de facto spokesperson for his nation, thrust unwittingly into the limelight as the most recognizable footballer, who just happened to play for the best team on the planet. . league followed.

He wanted to return to his homeland to fight but was convinced by his family that his presence and platform here could be more powerful, embodied in this iconic image of the Premier League trophy wrapped in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag on the last day of the season.

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He continues to shoulder the burden in the most dignified way imaginable, speaking with raw emotion and sometimes raw anger no doubt amplified by his own experience of fleeing the war in Donbass as a teenager.

“Everyone must live in peace and we must stop war completely,” he said after Sunday’s heartbreaking World Cup playoff loss to Wales. “Today it’s Ukraine, but who knows tomorrow? We must stay together.

With Zinchenko’s appreciation the man came a belated appreciation of Zinchenko the footballer, a series of acclaimed performances, including in the dramatic Premier League final against Aston Villa and in Ukraine’s emotional win over Ukraine. Scotland, causing its stock to soar.

Suddenly you recognize a superb technician and creator, a brave ball carrier and an alert athletic defender, whose versatility is such that some of the clubs are lining up to take him out of City’s hands as he enters the final year of his contract – including Arsenal and West Ham – have made him a target in various positions.

“Oleks showed me the importance and the value of being a good guy,” Guardiola said in 2019. While his human qualities have been on display in recent months, they have finally trained those he has on a soccer ball. get into it too.

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