Ukraine Under-21 midfielder Yevgen Konoplyanka is already earning comparisons with playmakers like Rafael van der Vaart and Diego and with national coach Myron Markevich monitoring his progress, the FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk youngster has "extra motivation" to shine.
Skilful, quick and intelligent, the 20-year-old is already a regular for Dnipro as well as the Ukraine Under-21s, but is eager to try his luck with the senior national team whose coach Markevich has watched him closely. "Markevich's interest is unexpected, but it's very good news," Konoplyanka told UEFA.com. "It gives me extra motivation. The national team have friendlies coming up, and if they call me up, I will count that as progress. I will do my best to do well, but if it doesn't happen I will carry on with the U21s. Aiming for the U21 EURO and the Olympics is a huge challenge for me."
With his side third in the Premier League table, Konoplyanka has been proving quite a handful for opposition defences this season, not to mention the more experienced players whom he is challenging to dislodge from Dnipro's starting lineup. "My team-mates say that I am quick, which is very important on the wing," he explained. "So when I move out to the wing, our playmakers Serhiy Nazarenko, Ruslan Rotan, Maxym Kalynychenko or Sergei Kravchenko can supply me with the ball."
While he is largely used on the flank by his club, he has been deployed as a playmaker with the U21s, and is just as happy in either role. "I feel comfortable in both positions and the coach's faith is very important to me," said Konoplyanka. "I can play as a defensive midfielder if it is the right thing for my team," added the youngster, who hit his first league goal against FC Zorya Luhansk in February.
Konoplyanka is used to being flexible; the Kirovgrad-born player was moved from being an out-and-out forward to a midfielder by Dnipro coach and former Soviet Union left-back Volodymyr Beszonov. "That was a joint decision. I like to come inside and look for the ball," he said.
The only real weakness in his game according to Markevich is an inability to track back and tackle, but Konoplyanka is already working on that. "I've played in attack for most of my career, and this is still an issue," he agreed. "I don't have that much experience but I'm working on my tackling and other things. I try to be active and focused whenever I am playing, but I still make mistakes here and there. I feel that I'm making progress but, to get myself to the next level, I have to do even better."