It is safe to say that Ukrainian football has had a testing past few months. First of all they were one of the two hosts for UEFA EURO 2012, followed by the legendary Andriy Shevchenko hanging up his boots and then the departure of coach Oleg Blokhin, who has taken over the reins of the country's most successful team, Dynamo Kyiv.
It is now up to the nation's remaining experienced players to steer the eastern Europeans into a new era, and one of those with this responsibility on his shoulders is captain Anatoliy Tymoschuk. The 33-year-old, who is the most-capped Ukrainian international of all time, has already enjoyed a storied career both internationally and on the domestic scene, enjoying success with Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit St. Petersburg and Bayern Munich.
The three-time Ukrainian footballer of the year spoke to FIFA.com about the changes in the national team, his current struggles in Munich and what he still hopes to achieve as his career winds down.
FIFA.com: Anatoliy, last summer's UEFA EURO 2012 ended with Ukraine going out in the group stages. How did you feel about that?
Anatoliy Tymoschuk: Looking at the results, the outcome was somewhat unfortunate for us. However, we must see what the EURO gave to Ukraine. We are satisfied with the standard of the competition and how it went. I talked with players of other national teams and they were all satisfied with the level of competition in Ukraine. Overall our team has taken a lot from this tournament.
You are Ukraine's new captain, following in Andriy Shevchenko's footsteps. What can you say about him?
I played many years with Andriy in the [national] team and only have the best things to say about Shevchenko as a professional. He is one of the best Ukrainian players ever and winner of the "Ballon d’Or" in 2004. He was one of the best players in the world and scored lots of goals for AC Milan and Dynamo Kyiv. We communicate a lot and actually we are good friends.
Before Shevchenko retired, you were already vice-captain. How proud are you now you're the one leading the team?
It is a great responsibility when you wear the captain's armband and take on the role of team leader, even though this is nothing new for me – I've been captain on plenty of occasions for both club and country. The most important thing is to support your team-mates every single minute, and that's particularly crucial for the national team, where you're only together for a limited period of time. You have to set a good example to get the most out of the team.
What can Ukraine achieve in the future?
At the European Championship we showed that we are strong as a team. We now have a new generation of players, while fighting spirit and dedication have always been very important for the Ukraine team. The quality and skill of the players we have could increase our chances of achieving some significant victories. The first task today is to get to the finals of the World Cup. At this stage it would be very good result for our team.
You began your 2014 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign with a 1-1 draw in England, which was surely a good result?
Everyone knows how tough it is to play the hosts in the legendary Wembley. We played our football, we were not afraid, showed some heart and the team worked as a unit. We could have won, but also we could have lost, so generally it was a fair result.
That was followed by a draw in Moldova and a defeat at home to Montenegro...
We have a new generation of players and this is the time for the younger ones to gain experience and grow stronger – by playing matches for the national team and for their clubs. It will be a big plus if we get to the World Cup, but only once we are already there can we set the next target. I am confident that our team has it in them to achieve this result.
In the national team you are one of the key players but at your club you spend most of your time on the bench. This must be a difficult situation for you.
Of course it is difficult, because for the first time in my career I am getting so little game time at my club. There is quite a lot of rivalry for places in the first XI at Bayern. I do my best to prepare so that I am ready to start from the first minute of the game. It depends on the coach – he decides the squad. I can agree with it or disagree. However, I know that I have the potential to play the game from the first to the last minute and help the team.
What can Bayern Munich achieve this season?
In my first year in Munich, we won all the trophies except the Champions League, and this season we have already won a Super Cup in Germany, started the Bundesliga with a national record and been first in the league. Over the past three years, Bayern have played twice in the final of the Champions League. We unfortunately lost twice, though in my opinion we deserved to win at least one of those finals. But football is unpredictable and that's why it's interesting. This season we have every chance to win everything, including the Champions League.
If you do not get to play much in the next few weeks, would you think of leaving Bayern?
I am a Bayern player at the moment – the transfer window has closed and I am not a free agent. During the winter break I will have to think about it, consider all proposals and make a decision. Of course, I disagree with the situation in which I am now.
You are 33 now, so how long do you want to keep on playing? I assume that your last club will be one in Ukraine?
I do not rule that out. In Ukraine, it may be only one club - Shakhtar. I would also gladly finish at Volyn where I started my professional career. Lutsk is my hometown and Volyn is my home club, so I will never forget it. But my best years in Ukrainian football were with Shakhtar, so perhaps that is the only club where I could finish my career as footballer. But I am not thinking about the end of my career yet. As long as I feel good and feel strong, I can continue to help my club and the national team.