Back in 1985, Sergei Puchkov was a member of the FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk side that reached the quarter-finals of the European Champion Clubs' Cup, only to lose out to Aimé Jacquet's FC Girondins de Bordeaux on penalties.
He would later play in the UEFA Cup with both Dnipro and FC Chornomorets Odesa, and his final match as a player in UEFA club competition came in the autumn of 1990, when a George Weah goal gave Arsène Wenger's AS Monaco FC a 1-0 aggregate victory in a UEFA Cup second round tie. It is fair to say that Europe has haunted him ever since.
Continental competition looked a distant dream as recently as three years ago, however, when Puchkov was still coaching in the Ukrainian third division. That all began to change when he took the reins of SC Tavriya Simferopol in September 2008, and he now finds himself with two chances of leading the club into the UEFA Europa League as the Ukrainian Premier League season winds down.
Through to the Ukrainian Cup final for the first time since 1994, Tavriya – the first champions of post-Soviet Ukraine – also lie sixth in the league table with five fixtures remaining. A 6-1 win at FC Arsenal Kyiv at the weekend ended a run of three league games without a win for the club, and Puchkov is understandably taking aim at Europe.
"Our goal is to play in the Europa League," he explained. "To do that, we either have to win the cup or to finish in the top five in the league. There are still six weeks to go before we take on Metalurh Donetsk in the final. We have to concentrate on the league now so that we can go into the final with a place in Europe already confirmed."
Having collected just one away victory in the autumn, Tavriya have turned a corner this spring, winning three away games in the league and beating FC Volyn Lutsk on their travels in the cup semi-finals. "We are trying to get the maximum, wherever we play," said Puchkov. "We had been unlucky away, but hard work and desire have brought us results."
A Soviet champion with Dnipro in 1983 and 1988, Puchkov was an Under-21 international as well as a USSR Cup winner in 1989, and his experience continues to serve him well. "The lads are an open book to me; I know how they feel and what they are up against," he said. "Sometimes I have to be patient, sometimes tough, but I have a great rapport with them all."
That strong relationship remains a key feature of the Crimean outfit's squad. "I don't want to single anyone out," said the former central defender. "We are a team, a unit, where everyone is ready to help everyone else. Of course, we have leaders who can decide matches, but fighting spirit is still the main factor behind our success."