Valeriy Lobanovskiy enjoyed a great deal of success during his 30-year career as a football manager, particularly for his time at the helm of Dynamo Kiev as the USSR and Ukrainian national teams. He was renowned for introducing scientific methodology to his work and as an authoritarian personality driven to succeed. Regrettably, the new documentary about him Lobanovskiy Forever lacks the purpose and conviction that so typified the man himself. Instead, it’s a whistle-stop tour that struggles for real insight and doesn’t seem sure whether it wants to serve as introduction for laymen or a greatest hits for fans.
Montages show the successes of Lobanovskiy’s multiple spells in the Dynamo Kiev dugout while the likes of Carlo Ancelotti and Andrei Shevchenko sing the praises of his teams’ dynamism and the benefits of his disciplinary management style. However, if this parade of highlights is to serve as a primer for the uninitiated its a problem that the narrative often becomes confused by slightly over-excited editing and a distinct lack of connective tissue. For those already versed in the period and Lobanovskiy’s career, meanwhile, the conventional combination of archival footage, match coverage and talking heads will probably feel familiar and somewhat superficial. This is especially the case with the treatment of his infamous management style in which he pioneered measurement and numerical analysis.
In a modern world in which sport is governed by the likes of British cycling’s ‘aggregation of marginal gains’ this is a fascinating area that is undeserved by a couple of anecdotes and a dearth of real scrutiny. Equally, when director Anton Azarov speaks about the film, he conveys much more about the political implications and motivations for Lobanovskiy’s managerial approach than his film manages to. It touches on wider notions of national and local identity in the USSR period but, again, this surface level appraisal rather than substantive enquiry. It leaves Lobanovskiy Forever falling into an uncertain middle ground that tries to be all things to all men and ultimately fails to deliver on any, or even really define what they are.
It’s clear that Azarov admires Lobanovskiy for carving out such an iconic position within the Soviet world that he found himself, and the fond memories of various Kiev legends are enjoyable to listen to, but its not quite enough. “Football is unthinkable without stage direction on the pitch,” says one interviewee and you can’t help but think it a sage piece of advice for Azarov after what is ultimately a gilt-edged chance squandered.
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Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson