PROFILING HIS BEST ATTRIBUTES ASSESSING HIS FUTURE ANALYSING HIS STATS LEARNING ABOUT HIS STORY SO FAR
This profile was originally published in the seventh edition of the Scouted Football Handbook, available here.
Who is Vitaliy Mykolenko?
Situated on the banks of the Dnieper river lies Cherkasy, home to Ukrainian international Vitaliy Mykolenko. The city has a rich history and for decades has been one of Ukraine’s many industrial hubs.
Mykolenko spent the first 13 years of his life in Cherkasy, before uprooting in 2012. His destination was the nation’s capital city. His goal, a career in professional football with domestic greats and European giants, Dynamo Kyiv.
The 21-year-old has been an integral part of Ukraine’s national sides since, helping the team to the semi-finals of the 2018 UEFA Under-19 European Championship where he faced the likes of Moussa Diaby’s France, England and Turkey in an unbeaten group stage.
At that time, Mykolenko was used predominantly as a left-sided centre-back, as he was at under-19 level with Dynamo. Nowadays, Mykolenko’s athletic skill set best equips him as a left-back, a role he has shown no signs of surrendering for club or country.
Despite his absence for Ukraine’s Under-20 World Cup victory last summer – he withdrew due to injury – he is currently first choice for the senior side and has been throughout the latest of cycle of European Championship qualifiers. Mykolenko started and finished seven of the eight group games, as Ukraine went unbeaten. While he does feature in a back four with the national team, at present, he is probably better suited to a back five when he steps up to a top-level league. His attacking attributes as a wing-back in a five-man defensive system are compatible with a higher level.
In a back four, he could quite easily be targeted by opposition coaches due to his tendency to commit to challenges when it would be wiser to stand up and delay his opponent. His sliding lunges look fantastic when they are successful, but foolish when they are not.
Vitaliy Mykolenko's style of play
Vitaliy Mykolenko is an incredibly hard-working full-back, covering almost every inch of the left-hand touch-line whenever he plays. He is aggressive in his attacking, finding himself in possession in the final third often – largely due to the domestic superiority of Dynamo Kyiv – and makes frequent overlapping runs.
Dynamo are a possession-heavy team, with full-backs who effectively double as wing-backs. The attackers who typically start wide, Benjamin Verbić and Viktor Tsygankov, tuck inside into the channels, allowing more room for the full-backs down the sides and facilitating one-twos in attacking phases.
Seemingly iron-lunged, Mykolenko routinely had the most touches for Dynamo in a given match; he registered over 100 touches in almost half of their 2019/20 Europa League fixtures. In the same competition, no player completed more open-play passes into the penalty area during the group stage. When considering the wealth of talent in the data pool, for a left-back to lead that particular metric is something of note.
As alluded to already, Mykolenko is an athletic competitor. He was moved to a left-back role to best utilise his natural stamina and hurtling stride, and his physique is similar to that of a middle-distance runner.
As a consequence, he possesses good speed across all areas of his game, which makes him effective at making recovery runs, covering lateral spaces and carrying out his defensive actions quickly and sharply – albeit the latter can sometimes be a hindrance.
It is perhaps surprising that a player who was schooled as a centre-back is much better at attacking than he is at defending; Mykolenko’s crossing is one of his main attributes. He is more than content to go wide, overlapping his inside forward, before wrapping his foot around the ball and delivering all manner of crosses and cut-backs into the penalty area.
There is good variety in his deliveries too, which explains his assists haul across three professional seasons. Often, with the ball travelling towards the corner flag, Mykolenko elects to whip a well-weighted cross into the penalty area. The whole movement is impressive, as he maintains balance, shaping his body to get optimum contact on the ball.
Even when he appears unsteady moving at speed, he maintains quality and power in his crossing. Other times, Mykolenko will opt for what could be described as a driven cut-back. From deeper positions, he is adept at clipping gentle crosses towards a target inside the area, showcasing a full range. Notably, the vast majority of his deliveries are kept away from the goalkeeper and rarely overhit.
There are defensive deficiencies to his game which could be ironed out – the first is a tendency to be overzealous in his tackling. Mykolenko typically dives into sliding challenges and gives away needless fouls. If he fouls at a similar rate when he moves to a side who are less dominant in a more competitive league, he will be punished for what will be perceived as naivety.
Mykolenko tends to struggle too in one-on-one situations, particularly when facing up to an attacker and lunging in. His style is very black and white, it neglects the many shades of grey crucial to being a well-rounded defender.
Positionally, Mykolenko is relatively secure. At Dynamo he takes on an attacking role but with Ukraine, in a back four, he knows how to tuck in as part of a disciplined defensive structure. His athleticism allows him to cover lateral spaces quickly and effectively, which makes him a natural fit for this role.
That alertness helps him read opposition play swiftly too; he ranks highly for interceptions and loose balls recovered across all competitions, indicating his awareness and concentration levels are excellent.
Forecasting Vitaliy Mykolenko's future
Mykolenko will be on the radar of plenty of European clubs, however not holding an EU passport may deter potential suitors due to many leagues’ restrictions on non-EU players. Nevertheless, it is widely expected that, as one of Dynamo’s best academy products, he will leave the club at some point – even if many are reluctant to do so.
Moreover, barring the emergence of another outstanding Ukrainian left-back, Mykolenko will almost certainly start for his country for the foreseeable future and beyond. He is part of a talented crop of young Ukrainians, but a defence that has proven to be incredibly miserly of late. An appearance at EURO 2020, twelve months after its intended start date, looks increasingly likely. That will be his best chance at garnering the attention of western football fans, media and clubs alike.
Editor’s note: Vitalyi Mykolenko has now joined Everton, for a fee that reached over €20 million, and it’s a logical deal on paper. You can read about his new team-mate, Nathan Patterson, here.
Mykolenko is a great athlete at left-back that loves to overlap. He is comfortable in possession having played at a dominant team domestically: Dynamo Kyiv.
Mykolenko is at times a reckless defender that is too keen to lunge into challenges and overcommit.