Yarmolenko: 'It was a huge shock to the system when football stopped'

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Joel Sanderson-Murray

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West Ham United have been one of the surprise packages of the Premier League season so far.

They currently find themselves in the top-half of the table after winning six of their 13 games so far in 2020/21 including the stunning 3-0 victory away to Leicester.

Premier League

West Ham

It’s been almost a year since David Moyes returned for his second spell in charge to find the Hammers struggling in 17th, just a point above the relegation zone. The Glaswegian got the job done, comfortably keeping the club in the top-flight.

Pre-season expectations at the London Stadium would’ve been to ensure relegation was avoided again but West Ham fans could be forgiven for starting to dream about other aspirations after their team’s start to the campaign.

Their 31-year-old forward Andriy Yarmolenko, however, is remaining tight-lipped about changing those aspirations and is intent on keeping his feet on the ground.

“We’re in great form and our main goal is to reach those three points while giving all we can,” he said, speaking exclusively to OneFootball.

“We’re all united around the fact that we aim to win games.

“I don’t want to say anything [about where West Ham will finish].

“Under Manuel Pellegrini we were fourth in the table and then it didn’t end up too well for us so I don’t want to say anything as it may not come to fruition.

“So I’d rather stay silent and just do our best.”

The Ukrainian international has been at the club for two-and-a-half years after he arrived from Borussia Dortmund in July 2018 for a reported £18m fee.

Yarmolenko has made 41 appearances in that time, scoring nine goals but has found his game time limited recently, with just over 90 minutes of Premier League action so far this season.

An impressive showing in the 5-1 Carabao Cup win over Hull City in September where he scored two goals and provided two assists sent Moyes a reminder of his ability but that hasn’t been enough to dislodge the likes of Jarrod Bowen and Pablo Fornals from the first team just yet.

“I want to play in every game.

“I’m ready to give my best efforts in order to get my spot in the starting eleven.”

It was Pellegrini who brought Yarmolenko to the club but it was more than just the allure of playing under a Premier League winning manager that attracted him to east London.

“When I was joined West Ham my prime interest was to play under Pellegrini.

“But I was also talking to Sergiy Rebrov and he spoke about this very special tier up in the stands and about this very special relationship between the fans and the players and he told me you have to experience that.

“I really enjoy living in England.

“I like the English people, I think it’s similar mentality with the Ukrainian people. I’m from Ukraine, so it’s also cold there.”

Yarmolenko’s love for football is evident and it was the only path his life seemed destined to head down, with a desire to to enjoy the sport from an early age.

“My favourite toy when I was a kid was a football.

“Kids these days they have like Spiderman, Batman and all these things but all I needed was a ball.

“Playing football was the only thing I wanted to do.

“My dream was always to play to the full massive arenas with thousands of screaming fans, it’s a feeling that basically gets me high.”

Unfortunately for the majority of 2020 these arenas haven’t been full of any fans, never mind the thousands that Yarmolenko yearns for.

The coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a halt at the start of the year, with the sport industry being forced to stop in its tracks in the spring.

There hasn’t been a full stadium since Leicester City’s 4-0 win over Aston Villa at the King Power stadium on March 9, but after a three-month stoppage, the Premier League returned behind closed doors in June.

But what was it like to be a footballer in a period where they were unable to engage in the one activity their world usually revolves around?

“It was a huge shock to the system when football stopped.

“You don’t understand what is happening or what is going on, then you see people dying and it’s a massive human tragedy.

“It was very hard to comprehend the whole situation.”

West Ham stepped out on to the London Stadium pitch in front of empty stands for the first time against Wolves on June 20, a game the Hammers lost 2-0 and Yarmolenko appeared in from the bench.

“It was a great shock to the players coming on to the pitch. We are used to playing for the audiences and playing with a lot of emotion. 

“For all of my career, me and my fellow players, we play for the fans.

“We play to show our best and receive this acknowledgement and to receive the ovation and feel the emotion but we’re seriously missing that type of feeling.

“It’s like being in the theatre and being an actor on stage and playing to the empty seats without any sound, any applause or any confirmation of your talent.

“It’s very, very hard.”

Thankfully for Yarmolenko, and the West Ham fanbase, supporters are being allowed to return to stadiums around the United Kingdom once again, albeit in small numbers.

The Irons are based in one of the areas that are currently classed as being in a Tier 2 risk area by the UK Government, meaning they are allowed a maximum of 2,000 people in the stands.

The club did however welcome back some supporters in person when they took to the field to face Manchester United on December 5.

“Fans are back in the stands and we can start looking forward to seeing full stadia once again which will invoke positive emotions.

“It will be such a huge relief but it’s still very difficult to play under the present circumstances.”

We might be still some time away from seeing full stadiums again but this tiny aspect of normality we are being presented with at the moment is appreciated by every lover of football.

Especially Yarmolenko.