Culture, Travel & Sport

Karpaty Lviv: Is a glorious return on the horizon?

The birthplace of Ukrainian football, Lviv may soon have a team back in the country’s top division.

In football, certain narratives seize the collective imagination, evoking a profound sense of hope. One such narrative is the resurgence of Myron Markevych as the head coach of Karpaty Lviv, illuminating a compelling chapter in Ukrainian football.

Embedded within the fabric of Ukraine’s cultural identity, the club and the city of Lviv stand as pivotal cultural beacons, the latter even recognised as the nation’s cultural capital. Fuelled by an audacious vision and an unwavering faith in Markevych’s leadership prowess, the club finds itself impeccably positioned to orchestrate a triumphant return to the Ukrainian Premier League (UPL).

The details of the contract remain undisclosed, adding an air of mystery and intrigue to the proceedings. Markevych’s arrival marks a significant shift for the club, as he replaces Andriy Tlumak, who could not guide the team to the UPL as Karpaty finished fifth in the second division this season. 

Reports suggest that Markevych is part of a three-year project to rebuild the club. Markevych returns to coaching after a seven-year hiatus and brings a wealth of experience. His previous stints as the head coach of Karpaty Lviv, spanning several years, made him the club’s most successful coach ever.

Markevych, a revered Ukrainian coach known for his patriotic fervour, captured the adoration of football fans even before Russia’s 2014 invasion. He was among the few top Ukrainian coaches who used the native language. However, during the 2022 Russian invasion, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Ukraine’s most-capped player, chose to stay in Russia as an assistant coach at Zenit Saint Petersburg. When asked about Tymoshchuk, Markevych expressed bewilderment, referring to their past collaboration in the Ukrainian team and bluntly remarking, “A dick is a dick”.

Birthplace of Ukrainian football

Lviv holds a distinctive position in the history of Ukrainian football as it is regarded as the birthplace of football in the country.

In 1894, the city witnessed an encounter between the local team, Falcon, and the esteemed Krakow national team, marking the first football match played in the city. Celebrating itself as the cradle of Ukrainian culture and football, Lviv has long been a nurturing ground for some of the nation’s most patriotic people. Hence, Russian people and Russian propaganda often refer to people from the Lviv region as Banderovites – in reference to the nationalist leader Stepan Bandera. 

Karpaty Lviv, established in 1963, derived its name from the majestic Carpathian Mountains and earned the nickname the Green Lions. Notably, Lviv emerged as a hub of anti-Soviet counterculture following the introduction of Perestroika and Glasnost by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986. The vibrant rock culture of the 1980s in Lviv laid the groundwork for the first anti-Soviet protests witnessed on Ukrainian soil, with Karpaty closely associated with these demonstrations.

In a move dictated by Soviet officials in 1982, it was determined that Lviv would be better served by a single club rather than two. Consequently, SKA Lviv merged with Karpaty Lviv, falling under the control of the Red Army. In 1989, Sovetskii Sport reported the emergence of a movement in Lviv aimed at undoing the merger and reinstating an autonomous Karpaty Lviv. Fans ardently desired the return of their club’s distinct colors, and for them, “the army structures of the club had become a symbol of Soviet oppression”. Nevertheless, this protest transcended sporting concerns, constituting a broader opposition against Soviet rule.

The crowning glory of Karpaty’s history came in 1969 when they achieved the unthinkable. As a team from the Soviet First Division, Karpaty won the Soviet Cup, defeating the formidable army team SKA Rostov in a David versus Goliath-like story. The victory was a source of immense pride for the region and symbolised the aspirations of a nation striving for autonomy. 

Karpaty also played a pivotal role in developing Ukrainian football, becoming a founding member of the Ukrainian Premier League. Since gaining independence, Karpaty has primarily competed in the Ukrainian Premier League, achieving a notable third place finish in the 1997-98 season. They also reached the Ukrainian Cup final twice, narrowly losing to the dominant Dynamo Kyiv on both occasions.

What distinguishes Karpaty from its counterparts in Ukraine is the presence of a resolute and well-organised ultra group. This fervent contingent of supporters has established a tightly-knit and systematic community centered around the club, injecting a palpable fervour into each match. Previous surveys have indicated that Karpaty Lviv is one of Ukraine’s most widely supported clubs, securing an impressive third place in social polls, trailing only behind Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar Donetsk.

Myron Markevych

Markevych has a proven track record of building successful projects from scratch. His previous tenure at Metalist Kharkiv and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, where he helped establish both clubs into a formidable force in Ukrainian football and European football.

He took Dnipro to the Europa League finals in 2015 in one of the greatest underdog stories. The similarities between the current situation at Karpaty and his previous achievements suggest that Markevych can replicate his past successes – at least in helping to rejuvenate Karpaty and bring them back to Ukraine’s Premier League.

However, challenges lie ahead for Markevych and Karpaty. The club’s growth and ambitions have outpaced its actual achievements. Building a successful team requires more than just financial resources; it demands a step-by-step approach, focusing on player development, club management, and infrastructure. The shortage of qualified players in Ukrainian football poses an additional hurdle, necessitating unconventional thinking and the establishment of solid scouting networks.

Restructuring the current squad is imperative for Karpaty’s ascent. Reinforcements in defence, wingers, and strikers are needed to bolster the team’s competitiveness. Learning from the experiences of other successful clubs, Karpaty should consider enhancing its scouting system to help build a better player recruitment system, primarily as the club aims to return to the Ukrainian Premier League.

Despite the obstacles, there’s a hopeful atmosphere enveloping Karpaty Lviv. Myron Markevych’s arrival has revived fans’ spirits, infusing them with optimism. The club’s growing media coverage and Markevych’s expertise and esteemed standing point toward an exciting future for the team. The triumphant days of Karpaty might be within reach, eagerly anticipated as this resurgent powerhouse emerges on the Ukrainian football scene.

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