Who are FC Olimpik Donetsk?

They are making an impressive top-flight debut only three years after reaching the second tier and field a 41-year-old player-president: UEFA.com introduces FC Olimpik Donetsk.

Olimpik player-president Vadim Gelzin
Olimpik player-president Vadim Gelzin ©FC Olimpik Donetsk

Few expected FC Olimpik Donetsk to figure strongly on their Ukrainian Premier League debut but despite Monday's 5-0 defeat at FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (when three late goals skewed the scoreline), they lie an impressive fifth with ten points from seven matches.

Previously they had held FC Dynamo Kyiv and beaten FC Zorya Luhansk, FC Hoverla Uzhhorod and FC Metalurh Donetsk, despite having to play their home games away from their home city and in the capital. UEFA.com takes a look at the upstarts with a 41-year-old player-president.

FC Olimpik were formed in 2001 and two years later won the Donetsk regional league. The following season they reached the Ukrainian amateur championship finals to earn a passport to the professional ranks.

They competed in the third tier for seven years before marking their tenth birthday with promotion. Three years later, they topped the first division and made their Ukrainian Premier League bow in July with a 4-0 loss at FC Chornomorets Odesa. They also went down 5-0 at home to FC Shakhtar Donetsk but otherwise have impressed and continue to field club president Vladyslav Gelzin.

Donetsk-born Roman Sanzhar was in the Shakhtar academy but never played for their senior team. He tried his luck at some other clubs before moving to Olimpik, newly promoted to the third tier, at 25. He played there for eight years, making 226 appearances and having a long spell as captain, and even scored their first professional goal.

Switching to coaching, he was initially assistant before stepping up and securing promotion to the top flight in his first term with a 20-game unbeaten run. At 35 he is the youngest-ever coach in the Ukrainian Premier League (indeed, six years the junior of Gelzin).

European U19 champion Dmytro Yeremenko joined this summer
European U19 champion Dmytro Yeremenko joined this summer©FFU

Key players
Olimpik's squad is not one full of stars, with most of the players coming from their 300-strong academy. Home-grown talents have included Igor Levchenko, goalkeeper in Ukraine's 2009 UEFA European Under-19 Championship-winning squad, as well as senior internationals Dmytro Khomchenovskiy, Dmytro Grechyshkin and Serhiy Bolbat.

They all left, but 2009 U19-winning midfielder Dmytro Yeremenko joined this summer along with experienced striker Volodymyr Lysenko. The leaders of the group are defender Dmytro Grishko and Nigerian midfielder Sheriff Isa – the most valuable player of last season according to Olimpik fans.

Their game is built on disciplined team play with mutual support in all areas of the pitch. Their 4-5-1 formation can easily switch to 5-4-1 against the bigger teams, with a counterattacking style similar to Costa Rica at the last FIFA World Cup.

"There are some pluses and minuses here," explains boss Sanzhar. "When the president is in the team, it is much easier to discuss working problems with him. Of course it is not that easy to criticise him on the pitch, but once he enters there he becomes a player."

Gelzin played as amateur for different regional and city teams and trained with Metalurh Donetsk from 1999 to 2001. He was in no hurry to show himself to a wider audience, even after taking the presidency of Olimpik – making his professional debut only in July 2004 as a 31-year-old.

He proceeded to score his first goal in the second tier in 2007 and improved significantly. Now Gelzin has 22 goals in 134 outings and debuted in the big league as a late substitute in the 4-0 defeat at Chornomorets.