Despite winning the greatest individual accolade in football, Oleg Blokhin is rarely mentioned outside Ukraine.
They say sporting success is in the genes. For Oleg Blokhin it certainly was. His Russian mother Kateryna Adamenko was a USSR star at pentathlon, sprinting and long jump. Father Vladimir was a police officer and also a sprinter.
With this background, it was no wonder the Dynamo Kyiv legend was known for his raw pace. He once clocked 11 seconds for the 100m and had made his professional football debut while still in his teens.
Born in 1952 in Kyiv, when the capital remained as part of the Soviet Union, Blokhin started at local side Dynamo in 1969.
His success with one of the biggest clubs in Ukraine, alongside Shakhtar Donetsk, is highlighted by the fact that he only failed to hit double figures four times in his 19 seasons.
With such a formidable forward within their ranks it was no surprise that Dynamo were seen as one of the dominating teams domestically during this period, winning nine Soviet top league titles.
In Europe they also showed their prowess. Triumphs in the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in 1974-75 against Ferencváros and 1984-85 over Atletico Madrid are testament to this.
Blokhin unsurprisingly played a part as Kyiv conquered Europe for the first time. He scored both goals as they saw off CSKA Sofia 2-0 in the first round before his late goal at Frankfurt gave them a vital away win and saw them progress to the quarter-finals.
Dynamo’s talisman failed to find the net in either game against Bursaspor. However he was on the scoresheet in their first leg win over PSV Eindhoven which effectively sealed a final place.
A customary goal for the local star followed in the showpiece against Ferencváros as Dynamo claimed a league and European double.
European Star (again)
The following year he fired three goals past World Cup winner goalkeeper Sepp Maier. Kyiv added the UEFA Super Cup title, making Dynamo the only Ukrainian club to win multiple European honours.
Their second European Cup Winners’ Cup came 10 years later. Blokhin got off the mark in a first round thrashing of Utrecht before netting his second goal of the competition in a comprehensive quarter-final victory over Rapid Vienna.
A double followed in the last-four first-leg against Dukla Prague. All but confirming the Ukrainian side’s place in the Lyon showpiece.
After taking an early lead against the Spaniards, Blokhin grabbed the all important second goal five minutes from time to claim a third European trophy.
All this success for Dynamo, especially in Europe, was all the more laudable considering the Soviet Union backdrop.
For his entire playing career, Blokhin’s home country of Ukraine was under USSR rule, only gaining independence in 1991 following the dissolving of the Soviet Union.
The big Ballon prize
Blokhin’s breakthrough in Ukraine came in a three-year period from 1973 where he scored 20 or more goals in all competitions for three consecutive seasons.
The last of these campaigns, in 1975, saw him claim his greatest individual honour; the Ballon d’Or. Outstanding given he was the first Ukrainian and only the second Soviet to win the award after Dynamo Moscow goalkeeper Lev Yashin.
It was not in a year where the World Cup or European Championships were being held. Plus Oleg Blokhin was playing in what could be considered an inferior league. So it made it all the more impressive when he beat Germany legend Franz Beckenbauer by 80 votes. At the time, this was the largest winning margin in Ballon d’Or history.
This year was arguably the best of Blokhin’s career on a team and individual basis. He netted 23 times in their league and European triumphs as well as winning the biggest individual honour in the sport.
The Golden patch
There was a comedown for both player and team though. Without their talisman firing, Kyiv could only manage an eighth place finish in 1976.
From the following campaign however, they returned to their rightful place in the Top League. They recorded a top-three finish for the next seven seasons, winning three titles.
Their 1977, 1980, 1981 title-winning campaigns saw them lose a cumulative eight games with Oleg Blokhin leading the charge, netting 17, 19 and 19 goals in the respective seasons.
The 1977 season saw the end of Blokhin’s remarkable scoring run in the top-flight, having finished as top scorer in five of the previous six seasons and helped him win the Ukrainian Footballer of the Year award nine times in a decade from 1972, only missing out in 1979 to Shakhtar’s Vitali Starukhin.
Becoming a nine-time recipient of the award still stands as a record, alongside his three Soviet Footballer of the Year awards from 1973 to 1975.
At the 1982 World Cup in Spain, Blokhin scored his first goal at a major tournament for the Soviet Union when he grabbed the second in an eventual 3-0 win against New Zealand.
Four years later, he again scored on the biggest stage with the opener in a victory over Canada at the 1986 Mexico World Cup.
That these goals were the only ones at major tournaments for such a prolific forward came as a surprise especially considering his 42-goal haul was a record for his country as the only Soviet to reach a century of caps, although 1982 saw defeat in the second group stage while they were knocked out in the round of 16 in 1986.
Blokhin on the biggest of biggest stages
However, he had already featured at the 1972 Munich Olympics where his seven-minute hat-trick against Mexico sealed a place in the second group stage and although the Soviets missed out on a final place, Blokhin opened the scoring in the bronze medal match as they shared it with West Germany.
The 1976 Olympics saw Oleg Blokhin net in a group win over North Korea as they won the bronze medal outright, beating Brazil 2-0.
Within two years, the USSR’s national championship’s all-time record goalscorer (211) and appearance maker (432) left Ukraine for Austrian side Vorwärts Steyr, becoming one of the first Soviet players to venture overseas.
During his two seasons in Austria, Blokhin’s scoring touch deserted him, scoring just nine times with his new side earning promotion from the second tier and finishing a respectable ninth in the Austrian Bundesliga.
By 1989, Oleg Blokhin was in his late thirties and ended an outstanding playing career in Cyprus at Aris Limassol, finishing fourth in the Cypriot top-flight.
He then embarked on a managerial career, with some success in his homeland as he led Ukraine to the 2006 World Cup, their first major tournament as an independent nation and led them Euro 2012.
A year back at Kyiv, this time back on the sidelines, was disappointing as they failed to qualify for the Champions League. This did little to tarnish a wonderful legacy however.
Whenever his name is mentioned, fans are sure to remember the goals scored and titles won as a player.