Late February, 2020. Grigor Pasha, the manager of Ukrainian second-tier club MFC Mykolaiv, is sitting at home, smoking a pipe of Turkish tobacco and staring at his laptop. His sleeves are rolled up.

When I arrived here in the early summer — My! That sunlit world full of dreams appears in my mind now like a different planet — I realised that the squad needed strengthening.

But there was so little resource and so little time! All I could do, really, was plug a few holes with players who I hoped might just be good enough. Adequacy would, as it were, be more than adequate.

We signed players like Kunev and Kornutyak.

But time has shown that the squad still isn’t good enough. So now, as we are about to resume training after the winter break, I’ve been desperately looking through the database, reading reports, and talking to our (frankly, barely adequate) staff, trying to find some real talent.

I feel like some astronomer, manically monitoring the signals from whatever telescopes I have at my command, all the while saying to myself, ‘There must be life out there somewhere!’

And now here, his photo staring out at me from the screen, is a player. A proper player.

Brazhko — I give you Volodymyr Brazhko. Just turned 18; on the books of Dynamo Kyev; and (at this point, I nearly faint) available for loan.

Talent. The boy has talent. Touch. Pace. And he can play. Such things are almost unheard of here in Mykolaiv.

‘Hello. Grigor Pasha here. Manager of Mykolaiv…No, well, perhaps you haven’t: we’re in the second tier. I need to speak to Olexiy Mikhailichenko…Yes, that’s right, the manager…No, he doesn’t. But it’s somewhat urgent…About a transfer…No, quite, I’m sure we wouldn’t have the money, but you see it’s a loan deal…Thank you…Hello, Olexiy…Er, no, we haven’t…Well, very well, I do apologise: Mr Mikhailichenko…It concerns a loan deal…Brazhko. Volodymyr Brazhko…Yes, our first team, yes…I was actually thinking in terms of the end of next season…Oh, yes, we’ll play him. The lad will get game time, no doubt about that…I won’t lie to you, Mr Mikhailichenko — oh, Olexiy, thank you — I won’t lie to you, Olexiy: our facilities are no more than you’d expect for a second-tier club…er, yes, that’s right, a lowly second-tier club, currently lowly that is… but our medical team is way, way above expectation. The jewel in our crown. Volodymyr would be looked after like a prize thoroughbred, I can promise you that…I see, there wouldn’t be a fee…And you’d pay his wages…Oh, yes, Mr Olexiy, very fair, very fair indeed…You’ll get back to me when you’ve spoken to him. I see. I look forward to speaking again, Olexiy.’

Mm. I’ve been keeping back a bottle of перцівка for special occasions. I think it’s time for a celebratory shot.



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