Dir: Anton Azarov. Ukraine. 2016. 92 mins
Lobanovskiy Forever may celebrate the legend of Dynamo Kiev football coach Valeri Vasilievich Lobanovskiy, but it also develops into a lament for a bygone era when football could fill stadiums, inspire nations and bridge the divide between classes and countries. It will be primarily of interest to fans and historians of the beautiful game, but there could be sufficient nostalgic interest in the copious black and white archive footage and the politics of the former Soviet Union to widen a potential audience. The film’s brightest commercial prospects will lie in the countries where Lobanovskiy’s name resonates down the decades.
Anton Azarov’s debut feature includes an abundance of testimony confirming Lobanovskiy’s unique focus and intensity
Lobanovskiy, who died in 2002, is regarded as one of the fathers of modern football with a focus on pushing his team to unprecedented levels of physical performance, understanding the geometry of how to use the pitch and planning strategies for victory. Under his strict regime, players were tested to their physical and psychological limits.
Anton Azarov’s debut feature includes an abundance of testimony from former players, colleagues and commentators confirming Lobanovskiy’s unique focus and intensity. Journalists question if he was ever seen to smile, and his sense of humour is dry to the point of being arid. This is not a man given to wild abandon. Even in the moments of his greatest triumph he is eternally unflappable, forever concentrating on the next game, the next mountain to climb.
The extensive use of old newsreels and footage of team training lends some depth to Lobanovskiy Forever, and paints a picture of a different era. Lobanovskiy was a player in his youth, a time when football was a weekly form of escape from the deprivations and challenges of life in the Ukraine. We witness scenes of vast crowds huddling together in search of a sustaining victory from their home team. “People came to watch games as if they were theatre performances,” recalls one veteran. Victory boosted workers’ productivity the next day and attending a football match was considered “the only legal way to manifest patriotism”.
As a manager, Lobanovskiy famously lead Dynamo Kiev to victory in the 1975 Cup Winners Cup, the first time a team from the Soviet Union had won a major European trophy. Commentators talk about the team with awe. Training sequences remind us of an era when the players turned out in snow and rain to train on ground mashed down into mud. There are no sports nutritionists or perfectly manicured pitches at the service of their preparations. Diving into swimming pools, running through snow and training to the point of exhaustion were all part of Lobanovskiy’s plan to create a team with agility, endurance and the hunger to become winners. The sense of that era as long ago and far away is underlined with the presence of a cello player, who opens the film by entering an empty stadium to play his lament in the middle of the pitch.
Lobanovskiy’s career as a coach manager for Dynamo Kiev and the Soviet national team seems emblematic of what was happening within the Soviet Union from the 1970s through to the era of glasnost. His achievements seem all the more remarkable as a stubborn individual in a state that required unquestioning loyalty to the system. The admiration for Lobanovskiy extends beyond the former Soviet Union, however, with contributions from an admiring Michel Platini and Carlo Anchelloti who both pay tribute to the qualities of the individual and the influence he exerted on the game across Europe.
Even those with precious little interest in football will leave Lobanovskiy Forever with an understanding of the contribution he made to the game and why he matters and that in itself is a considerable achievement for director Azarov.
Production company/International sales:
Das Boot Production
Producers: Dimitri Simonov, Yanina Sulima, Serguei Polkhovski
Screenplay: Dimitri Simonov, Serguei Polkhovski
Cinematography: Mikhail Markov
Editor: Andrei Gulyanic
Features: Oleg Blokhin, Jozsef Szabo, Michel Platini, Carlo Anchelotti