A Champions League final appearance for Paul Pogba might be enough to keep him at Juventus beyond a summer during which European soccer’s juggernauts are likely to come calling. But for Yevhen Konoplyanka and his long association with Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, this Europa League campaign is almost certainly a parting gift.
The Ukrainian side have been big outsiders throughout the knockout stages of European football’s second tier competition. But against the odds, they’ve made it all the way to the final of the 2014/15 Europa League, defeating Napoli 2-1 on aggregate to make it through to the Warsaw showpiece.
It’s a remarkable story and a testament to the club’s bristling youth academy. After all, the overwhelming core of this Dnipro side is centered around the club’s own graduates and the crown jewel of this clutch of stars is undeniably Konoplyanka.
“He is 40 per cent of our team!” said Dnipro striker Nikola Kalinic when discussing the midfielder’s influence, per Dino Fiorentini of Goal. “He is a top player, he could play in any European club.”
The dazzling winger was at his menacing best throughout the two-legged tie and has been so during Dnipro’s golden run to the final. His intricate dribbling style, intelligent movement and blistering speed has given the Ukrainians a crucial edge to their play, as was evident when Konoplyanka set-up Yevhen Seleznyov for the winner in the second leg against the Partenopei.
But glory in Warsaw will be nothing more than a golden farewell for the 25-year-old sensation, it would seem. Konoplyanka’s contract is due to expire this summer and with a clutch of Premier League clubs—including Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton—all apparently keen on the winger, he seems set to grace English football.
In truth, a move to a high-profile name could have already materialized. In January 2014, Konoplyanka came close to sealing a £15 million to Anfield, but the owner’s desire to cling on to his prize asset festered at the last minute and Dnipro point-blank refused to sign a piece of paperwork to complete a deal.
Reports also suggested he was on the brink of completing a switch to AS Roma in the mid-season window, but again, at the last minute the deal fell through. “I promised the President that I’d stay at Dnipro until the end of my contract,” said Konoplyanka when discuessing the Giallorossi interest, per football-italia.net. “As I understand it, the two clubs have reached an agreement, but not with me.”
Dnipro’s reluctance to sell and Konoplyanka’s obvious affinity with the team—his precocious talent has been refined with the Dnipropetrovsk outfit for nine years now—have been rewarded by this tremendous run to the Europa League final. Indeed, looking at the player in isolation, given the teams that have clearly been interested, perhaps his loyalty to the cause has held back his development.
But whoever gets Konoplyanka this summer will not only be getting a talented player, but a young man fulfilled too. Getting to the Europa League final will be a perfect way to leave his long-term employers and allow the winger to tackle his next challenge with distinction.
The Ukrainian international certainly has the quality to make a major impression in the Premier League. While his daring dribbling and array of technical skills are enough to thrill, there are other facets to Konoplyanka’s game which puts him a class above the workaday winger.
It’s been on show in earnest throughout this run to the final of the Europa League. Much of Dnipro’s play to get to the point in the competition has been founded on a stringent defensive effort and an unrelenting tenacity off the ball. To his credit, while he may be small in somatotype, it’s something Konoplyanka has played a part in.
The stardust the winger has sprinkled on Dnipro’s counter-attacks are a measure of the composure the Ukrainian has in dangerous ares of the field too, as illustrated by the three assists and one goal he’s bagged in the Europa League to date, per WhoScored.com. Bring that impactful streak to England and he’ll be a star.
For any of the aforementioned trio of Premier League teams, Konoplyanka would definitely add something fresh to their attacking surges. Liverpool need a player to add balance from a wide position, as do Tottenham, while the Toffees are crying out for a player who boasts the kind of guile the Ukrainian possesses in his dazzling feet.
On a free transfer, whichever club lands him will have themselves a coup. And with Europa League glory potentially the perfect parting gift, expect Konoplyanka to tackle the next facet of his career with the vim and poise he’s showcased so consistently during his ascension with Dnipro.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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