How Ukrainians are developing in the football industry in the North East

In 2022, as the events of a full-scale war unfolded in Ukraine, not only did politics and geopolitics change their course, but the football arena also felt the impact of these challenging times.

Clubs in the North East took notice of talented Ukrainian players, allowing them to continue their careers in conditions of relative stability and safety.

In an exclusive interview with SportsByte,  football expert and Ukrainian-British journalist Andrew Todos gave his analysis of Ukrainians’ development in the North East football industry.

Todos is a sports journalist and football expert, the founder of Zorya Londonsk – a source for Ukrainian Football in English.

Nazariy Rusyn – Sunderland AFC (September 1, 2023)

Photo by Ben Cuthbertson / BC Photography

Nazariy Rusyn joined Sunderland from Luhansk’s Zorya at the beginning of September.

The 25-year-old forward showcased himself as one of the outstanding goal-scorers, having scored 13 goals in 30 matches in the previous season of the Ukrainian Premier League.

After making his debut for Sunderland at the end of September, Rusyn made nine Championship appearances, recording one assist. At the beginning of December, the Ukrainian was injured, and after recovery, spent six consecutive games on the Sunderland bench.

In the match against Preston, Rusyn appeared on the field as part of Sunderland for the first time since November 25. Rusyn started for the “Black Cats” for the fifth time this season.

“It has been good to see Michael Beale put faith in Rusyn over the past few weeks and seeing that trust rewarded with his first goal for the club against Preston,” said Todos.

“Under [Tony] Mowbray, he showed some glimpses of his quality too.”

The Ukrainian forward also performed in the FA Cup match against Newcastle United, which ended with a score of 0-3.

“Sadly, Rusyn had a very quiet game against Newcastle, and it looked like he was being isolated/overlooked by teammates who didn’t want to play the ball in behind or over the top.”

Ivan Struk – Sunderland AFC (Aug 1, 2023)

Photo by Ben Cuthbertson / BC Photography

In December 2022, Ivan Struk, who lives in England, signed his first professional two-year contract with Chelsea but later changed clubs, moving to Sunderland.

At the trial of young football players, organised by Chelsea, out of nine trialists who demonstrated their skills and abilities, only Struk was offered a contract.

Struk proved himself at the national tournament among U16 teams. He scored a goal in the match against Wolverhampton. The midfielder made an assist in the game against the future winners – Chelsea.

“The 16-year-old central midfielder has signed a pre-scholarship with the Black Cats, who he has already represented at under 18s level, and will officially join the club in the summer,”- Si.com.

Struk has already played for Sunderland at the youth level against Wolves and Newcastle Utd with the under-18s in the lineup.

“Struk joined in the late summer/autumn of last year and has only been playing games for the academy sides, so it has been difficult to get a true overview of him, but he was highly praised at Chelsea. Hence, he should have a bright future,” said Todos.

“Struk being a central midfielder – believe he is not shy to get a tackle in and help build up attacks going forward. He is only 16, so he still has plenty of time to develop.”

Timur Tuterov – Sunderland AFC (April 6, 2023)

Photo by Ben Cuthbertson / BC Photography

In April 2023, Timur Tuterov, 18, moved from the Kolos youth team to the English club Sunderland. After that, he joined the Ukrainian U-19s national team and now plays for Sunderland U-21s.

He has only made two under-21s appearances this season due to an injury setback.

“Everything is fine now. This is the most important thing,” – Tuterov told Ukrainian outlet Sport.ua.

“The recovery process lasted a month and a half. It’s sad that I missed so much, because I was in good shape in the pre-season.”

Todos, providing valuable insights into Tuterov’s capabilities, highlights his ability to excel both on the flanks and at the centre, accompanied by an impressive burst of pace.

“Tuterov’s pace and close ball control is a unique factor for him. When playing for Ukraine U19s he’s utilised this well. He’s not afraid to go for goal anywhere in and the box either.

“Both Rusyn and Tuterov are versatile forwards. They can play down the wing or centrally. Both aren’t the tallest but are able to utilise their pace and ball driving abilities to get into goal scoring positions or to set up teammates.”

A brief insight into Ukrainian players’ progress in Sunderland AFC

Incorporating Todos’ insights, he gives a deeper understanding of the advancements made by Ukrainian players within Sunderland.

  • What features of these players’ styles of play do you see? What elements do they bring to their teams?

“Rusyn is a really versatile forward. He can play across the attacking line. He has a lot of pace and strength despite not being very tall and still wins aerial duels and holds the ball up well. He likes links up with his teammates well too. He does prefer running onto the ball from deep passes rather than ball into feet. Feel as a centre forward he’d really benefit with a partner or support striker/midfielder just behind him.

“Tuterov is similarly versatile. He can play outside as well as centrally and has an abundance of pace too. Good dribbler and ball striker. Good composure. I think he just requires building a bit of mass and strength to help the transition to senior football.”

  • How do you rate their adaptation to the English football environment? Did they quickly adapt to the style of play and the demands of the tournaments?

“Rusyn has taken a few months to get used to the Championship. I’d say he’s probably still in the adaptation process too with an injury setting him back for a month of playing time. He’s still learning the language too but I’ve heard that is coming along well. The fact he’s scored his first goal is also a positive. It’s good that he broke that duck and can now focus on scoring more goals for his side.

“I think he just needs some faith put in him by the manager. If Beale gives him a good run of games as a starter going forward, he’ll find his groove and keep contributing. No reason why Rusyn shouldn’t be aiming to hit 10 goals before the end of the campaign.

“Tuterov has been at the club and in England for a bit longer than Rusyn. In a recent interview with Ukrainian media, he revealed that the adaptation period has been good. He’s picking up the language well and he’s got a good relationship with Rusyn. They’re helping each other to settle in. The fact he’s already made a few appearances for the PL2 side and trained with the seniors means he’s progressing in the right direction.”

  • What specific impact do you see these players making to their teams? Are there any visible improvements or nuances they add?

“If Sunderland played a bit more direct or at least tried to feed in Rusyn with some long balls then I think the Ukrainian could become really effective for his side. He’s got lots of pace to run into space or onto balls and to win duels. And he makes so many good runs but they just don’t seem to noticed or picked out by other players. We’ll see how Beale addresses this going forward.”

  • What do you think is the outlook for these players in English football? Can they become key figures in their teams?

“Rusyn is obviously best placed to become an integral member of the Sunderland starting XI. The fact he is getting starts and plenty of time on the pitch under Beale indicate he’s being trusted by the manager. Now, he just needs to go on a bit of a run when it comes to goal contributions. Let’s just hope Beale can employ a style of play that allows for the exploitation of the runs Rusyn consistently makes.

“Tuterov at 18 has lots of opportunities ahead of him. He’s not played any senior football before, so I expect to see him slowly get integrated into the senior side over the next couple of years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go on loan to a League One or Two side to help facilitate that.”

Opportunities for Ukrainians to prove themselves in football at the initial stage in England

Todos also shared his advice for young talents aspiring to play in the English Premier League and other top teams.

“The earlier you arrive in the UK as a player especially from Ukraine the easier it will be to adapt to the British system. It’s a lot more intense, more pressing and more pace during the games compared to the UPL.

“Also, the most important thing for sure is the language. If you have a grasp of English before moving it will make the adaptation period so much more straight forward.”

Football holds a prominent position in Ukraine, being one of the most popular sports. Young talents from Ukraine actively seek opportunities to showcase their skills in England.

Kirill Pronin, a former player in Ukrainian youth academies, has graciously shared his future aspirations within the English industry.

Pronin initially honed his talents with the Kharkiv Metalist teams, making a significant impact up to the U16s level, and he made a strategic move to Kharkiv Gelios, where he continued to make waves, contributing his prowess to the second U18s team. In 2023, the 26-year-old striker showcased his skills on the field as a dynamic midfielder for North Shields.

Before moving to England, Pronin was pivotal in cultivating an engaging football blog tailored for the Ukrainian youth. However, plans underwent substantial changes. In an exclusive interview with SportsByte, Pronin reflects on his forthcoming career in this new context.

“Before the war in Ukraine, I actively began to develop my channel on YouTube. We wanted to provide entertaining content and attract young people to football, so we did tournaments and made amateur matches.

“I plan to create the same plans with Ukrainians in England. Because of the war in Ukraine, many young guys under 18 have arrived in the UK, with whom we want to organise a new team and create content about football life in England for the Ukrainian audience. We know how difficult it is for young guys to adapt, so in 2024, we will actively work on this.”

An inspiring tale from Ukraine to Morpeth Academy

Pronin acquaints SportsByte with Volodymyr Hotsuliak, a football player playing for Morpeth Academy, who made the courageous move from Ukraine amid the onset of a full-scale war.

Volodymyr Hotsuliak has been a midfielder at Morpeth Academy since the summer of 2023. He is an 18-year-old footballer and a graduate of a Sports School in Ukraine U16s.

Recommended by his family residing in England, they believed the Morpeth Academy’s standard was quite commendable. Hotsuliak got a spot on the team after his initial trial during a friendly match.

Hotsuliak opened up about his accomplishments that may pave the way for a promising career in professional sports.

“Throughout my time with the academy, we’ve competed in over 20 matches, spanning inter-city and local fixtures. While the club I play for boasts numerous achievements, earning personal accolades proves challenging given the high calibre of football in England,” said Hotsuliak.

“I see my football journey as a path toward personal growth. Morpeth is just the beginning for me, and as we progress with the times, I aspire to elevate my game. My goal is to raise the bar and position myself closer to professional football, including contracts and salaries, in the near future.

“To achieve this, I need to secure my place and strive to work at my maximum potential, which is precisely my plan for 2024.”

Ukrainian footballers are making a swift impact on the English football scene, showcasing their prowess on the field. It is a remarkable experience to witness Ukrainian football clubs and their players compete at such a high level.

Stay tuned for the latest updates on Ukrainian football through official sources as Zorya Londonsk, ensuring you don’t miss out on the latest Ukrainian sports news.