The surname of Shakhtar Donetsk and Ukraine forward Andrii Vorobei translates into English as sparrow, and after being voted the best player in the Ukrainian League for 2000, the 22-year-old is certainly flyinghigh.

Vorobei, the first non-Kyiv Dynamo star to win the award, richly deserved the honour. During the year, no one in Ukraine came close to matching his marksmanship; his 25 League goals broke the previous record of 20 set by Andrii Shevchenko in 1998 and in total he hit 37 in 50 competitive games.

However, it was a match in which Vorobei did not score that he remembers most fondly D his international debut, as a substitute, against England at Wembley last May. “Up until then I had only dreamed about a place in the national side,” says the forward.

A product of the famous Shakhtar youth academy, Vorobei turned professional at the age of 16 in April 1995, but he was not exactly rushed into action. He made his first-team debut against Prykarpattya in September 1997 and did not score his first senior goal until July 1998 against Tavriya.

But Vorobei has been so impressive in the past two years that he has even managed the considerable feat of wringing praise from the usually taciturn Ukraine national coach Valerii Lobanovskyi.

“Vorobei is a very good front-runner with natural talent,” says Lobanovskyi. “But the most important thing is that he understands a coach’s ideas and puts them into practice on the pitch. He is a hard-working boy too.”

The emergence of Vorobei has clearly increased Lobanovskyi’s options in attack. Previously, the coach employed a classic 4-4-2 system, with Shevchenko and Serhii Rebrov up front; now he has introduced a more adventurous 3-5-2 formation, positioning Vorobei just behind the strikers. The inventive and stylish youngster looks the perfect partner for the front two, and after creating goals for Shevchenko in the World Cup wins over Armenia and Norway last autumn, Vorobei now appears irreplaceable.

“In past, failed qualifying campaigns, we did not have a player like Vorobei,” says Rebrov. Shevchenko is another fan, noting that: “He can both organise the play and finish.”

Thanks to some outstanding performances in this season’s Champions League, Vorobei has several big European clubs drooling over him. And though he remains in Ukraine for now, it is probably only a matter of time before he goes West, following in the footsteps of former Shakhtar players Andrei Kanchelskis and Serhii Rebrov.

Club Shakhtar Donetsk
Country Ukraine
Born November 29, 1978, in Donetsk
International debut May 2000, v England
International caps 4 (0 goals)
Honours Ukraine League Player of the Year 2000