Ukraine’s West Ham misfit Andriy Yarmolenko motivated to silence doubters against England

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 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Given Andriy Yarmolenko’s indifferent form for West Ham, England would be forgiven for thinking they have nothing to fear when they take on Ukraine on Saturday.

The forward started just one Premier League game for the Hammers last season, making a further 14 appearances off the bench, and he failed to find the net in that time.

It has led to many questioning Yarmolenko, not least because he is one of the highest earners at West Ham, however the 31-year-old is not fazed by the criticism.

In fact, Yarmolenko loves nothing more than being written off and a quarter-final showdown with England at Euro 2020 feels like the perfect moment for him to silence his doubters.

“I have repeatedly said: the more journalists write that I am old and cannot play football, the more it motivates me to work and prove to my critics that this is not the case,” he said. “Do it more. It helps me get better.”

Being written off is nothing new for Yarmolenko, who has been fighting his whole life. He started playing football when he was four years old, but his family was so poor he had to make do with a home-made football.

His talent led to him joining Dynamo Kiev’s academy at the age of 13, but he left after a year as it was deemed that he wasn’t physically ready. Undeterred, Yarmolenko eventually returned and went on to score over 130 goals for the club.

Critics have always followed the forward and that is perhaps no surprise given the expectation around him when he did break into the Dynamo Kiev first team. Yarmolenko was heralded as the ‘new Andriy Shevchenko’, who incidentally is now his manager at Ukraine, and such a tag brings with it immense pressure.

While at club level it would be wrong to compare Yarmolenko’s exploits to Shevchenko, who won the Ballon d’Or during a stellar career, on the international stage, the 31-year-old has lived up to the hype.

He may have struggled for West Ham, but Yarmolenko has scored 42 goals in 98 games for Ukraine and only Shevchenko has managed more. He has shone at Euro 2020 scoring two goals in four games and laying on an assist for Oleksandr Zinchenko during the last-16 win over Sweden.

Yarmolenko is Ukraine’s talisman and, with regular captain Andriy Pyatov no longer in the starting XI, their stand-in skipper. He is relishing the role and the chance to lead, particularly after a season where he contracted Covid-19 and was dogged by injuries.

“I missed football, I sat in reserve at the club for almost a year, recovering from injuries,” he said. “I had already started to be written off. This motivated me, and I purposefully prepared myself for the national team.

“I did a great job, came to the location of the team even earlier than needed, and did a lot of work with all the guys. I want to play, I want to show quality football. This requires a lot of work.”

The hard work is paying off for Yarmolenko, who is fully focused on his country and not the prospect of leaving West Ham this summer.

“All my thoughts are only with the national team. When I go to the club, then I will deal with other issues,” he said.

West Ham may be ready to sell Yarmolenko but, who knows, perhaps tomorrow night may force them to think again. The Hammers, and England, should be wary about writing him off.

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