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Oleksandr Zinchenko

In collaboration with Golden Concept

World Exclusive

Photographer: Will Cornelius Videographer: Steven Halliwell Location: North London Tailoring: Forbes Watch: Golden Concept

In the world of football, there are players whose impact extends beyond the confines of the pitch; Oleksandr Zinchenko is one of those players. With an unshakeable determination, he has become a beacon of light and a source of inspiration for millions facing an unimaginable struggle. He embodies the spirit of resilience, patriotism, and hope that we have all come to associate with the Ukrainian people and is using his platform to shed light on the struggles of his people.

In this world-exclusive interview, Alex talks about life, football and the experiences that have shaped him.

A decade ago, Oleksandr ‘Alex’ Zinchenko was yet to make his mark as a professional footballer. While most aspiring players were making their mark in the first team, Alex and his family were grappling with the harsh reality of fleeing their homeland due to the devastating conflict in the Donbas region of Ukraine. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the first time Alex and his family would experience turmoil in their homeland.

On the 24th of February 2022, Russia initiated a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, triggering a significant escalation in the Russo-Ukrainian war. It’s a day that will live long in people’s memories worldwide, especially Ukrainians. In the following 18 months, thousands of lives have been lost, and millions have been displaced in the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

Rather than showing signs of slowing, the conflict continues to worsen. Consequently, it is more important than ever for the global community to unite and take action. As a footballer, Alex recognises his unique position of influence and is more determined than ever to harness the power of ‘the beautiful game’ and his platform to uplift the lives of Ukrainians and shed light on one of the darkest chapters of his life so far.

“At the beginning of the invasion, it was so difficult to focus on football because all my thoughts were with my country and my people who were suffering more than you can imagine,” says Alex, reflecting on the earliest days of the war. “I was faced with two options: either give up, do nothing, and try to move forward as best I could, or find an opportunity to help my people and represent my country in the best way possible.

“Football is the most beautiful game in the world, loved by everyone, and I want to use it as a voice.”

“I must carry on, be strong and exhibit our mentality as Ukrainians. Whatever happens, we stand up and always move forward. We never surrender.”

Despite facing significant challenges on and off the field, Alex’s extraordinary journey to football superstardom is characterised by his resilience and determination to succeed.

Born and raised in the small Ukrainian town of Radomyshl, Alex encountered his first setback when he joined the local football club. Being younger and smaller than the other players, he struggled to get involved and find his place within the team.

Nevertheless, with that unshakeable resilience and an indomitable drive to succeed that he has become known
for, Alex gradually made his mark, leaving no doubt he was destined for greatness. His exceptional talent quickly attracted the attention of scouts, leading him and his family to boldly move 350 miles south to join FC Monolith. 

After 18 months, he eventually joined the ranks of Ukrainian powerhouses Shakhtar Donetsk, where he would later captain their youth team. However, Alex’s journey took an unexpected turn in 2014 when the war erupted in the Donbas region of Ukraine. With the country embroiled in conflict, Alex and his family were forced to abandon their home and leave football behind.

Their path ahead was marked by immense challenges and turbulence, but Alex’s unwavering passion for the sport promised brighter days. In just two years, he would go from playing on the streets of Russia to gracing the Premier League, signing with Manchester City in July 2016. Although initially loaned out to Dutch club PSV Eindhoven to gain valuable playing experience, his performances quickly caught the attention of Pep Guardiola, who recognised his potential and brought him back to the Etihad.

While excelling at club level, Alex’s dedication to representing his country has always remained ever-present. Since his international debut in 2015, he has become an integral part of the Ukrainian national team, inspiring a new generation of footballers.

“When I was a child, I could never have imagined achieving what I have in football,” reflects Alex. “I have played on the biggest stages, a dream for every child around the world, and I am just one of them. One thing I have learned is that everything is possible in life. You will get there if you have a dream and work hard to achieve it.

“Everyone’s circumstances are different, but if you don’t achieve something you’ve dreamed of, you didn’t want it enough.”

“Sometimes health or injuries can play a role, but if you want to achieve something, you will do everything you can to take it with both hands.”

Alex’s breakthrough season arrived in 2018-2019 when he played a pivotal role in Manchester City’s treble triumph, securing the Premier League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup. Despite predominantly playing left-back, his attacking prowess and exceptional technical abilities shone through, propelling him to superstar status.

“I’m the luckiest person in the world because I had this experience in life that I can share with other people,” says Alex. “I’m so grateful to Pep and all of his staff at Manchester City for everything they have done for me. My experience was priceless, and the years I spent with the club were an absolute pleasure. I can’t thank everyone in the club enough for everything they have done.”

Alex’s lifelong dream came true when he joined Arsenal last summer, a club he had admired since childhood. The opportunity to wear the iconic red and white jersey of Arsenal proved irresistible, fuelled by his deep-rooted connection with the club and idolisation of its best-known stars during the noughties.

“Ever since Thierry Henry and Cesc Fàbregas were at the club, I used to dream of playing for Arsenal,” reveals Alex. “Just the other day, I saw Fabregas and told him he had been my idol when I was 17. He played well consistently without pressure, which is one of the most challenging aspects of football, especially when he was making his first steps at Arsenal.

“From the moment I joined Manchester City, there were always rumours about whether I was staying or leaving, but my intention was always to remain with the team unless something happened outside my control. But I knew that one day if the time came for me to leave, there was only one club in the Premier League for me, and that was Arsenal.

“Thankfully, that happened, and I’m so grateful for this opportunity. I’m enjoying my time here and have everything I need to grow and achieve all my ambitions. Now, it’s all in my hands, head, and of course, my feet.”

As Alex enters the next phase of his career, Arsenal fans eagerly anticipate his second year at the Emirates, hopeful that he not only fulfil his childhood dreams but contributes to the club’s revitalisation. Over the past 12 months, we have caught glimpses of Alex’s impact at Arsenal, which is even more remarkable considering the personal battles he has been facing.

At the time of writing, the devastating effects of the war in Ukraine have claimed the lives of at least 62,295 people, displaced approximately 17 million individuals, and left at least 15,000 people missing*. Unfortunately, the conflict shows no signs of abating, so Alex is more determined than ever to keep the media spotlight on Ukraine and its fight for justice.

Earlier this summer, in support of Alex’s mission, SWM and Golden Concept collaborated to create something unique that resonates with Alex, his fans, and the Ukrainian people. The result was a one-of-a-kind Apple Watch Case adorned with the national colours of Ukraine.

The response has been unprecedented and overwhelmingly positive, with an outpouring of support from fellow professional footballers, Ukrainians, and the broader public in recent weeks. Despite this, Alex remains resolute in his commitment to do more for his country.

Next month, the world will tune in to the Game4Ukraine charity match at Stamford Bridge, where Alex will captain one of the teams alongside his compatriot Andriy Shevchenko. All funds raised during the event will be directed towards reconstructing and restoring the Mykhailo-Kotsiubynsky Lyceum in Chernihiv Oblast, a school struck by missiles, in March 2022.

“I’m trying to represent my country in the best way I can, which is why it means so much that SWM and Golden Concept have chosen to support the cause, given their reputation,” says Alex.

“For Ukrainians, it’s been challenging because it has been many years since we were in this position. Looking back through history, we have suffered as a nation a lot because of war, but this last year has been the darkest period of my life and for my family.

“It’s been tough to see what’s happening back home. We still have family living there and are doing everything possible to make things better. But all of us have completely changed since the invasion, that’s for sure. It’s been a horrific time.”

The weight of turmoil and hardship bears heavily on Alex and his family, yet it only strengthens their determination to contribute positively to Ukraine’s future. They find solace in believing their collective efforts can bring about meaningful change, which is why Alex’s commitment to his country extends far beyond the present despite the damage inflicted. He envisions a future where he can return to his homeland alongside his loved ones once his football
career ends.

“When my football career is over, I am 100% certain that I will move back to Ukraine with my family because, for us, it is the best place in the world,” affirms Alex. “Our country has incredible people, a unique culture, and beautiful places to explore.

“I think people need to realise what Ukraine has to offer. I often tell my teammates that if I could take them to Ukraine for a few days, they would never want to leave. They laugh, but it’s true – Ukraine has so much to offer.”

His profound appreciation for his homeland and its people stems from his belief that it has much to contribute to the world. Despite Ukraine’s ongoing challenges, Alex still believes there is hope for a brighter future.

Fortunately, Alex has found solace and strength in his and his country’s support. He recalls the heartfelt encouragement from strangers during his darkest moments, acknowledging the immense value those simple words held for him. For Alex and the millions of Ukrainians who share his struggle, the support from around the world serves as a reminder of the strength that arises from unity and compassion.

“I would like to say a mass thank you for all the help and support during the toughest period of my life,” expresses Alex. “I remember walking to the store the first month after the invasion, and some children told me, ‘We are praying for your country, and hopefully, everything will end soon.’ Those simple words meant the world to me.

“That’s why I want to thank the people in the UK and worldwide for everything they have done for me and the Ukrainian people. I want to use my platform to shed light on the harsh reality of what is happening in my country – the people who have lost their homes, their jobs, and those who have lost loved ones. It is impossible to truly grasp unless you find yourself in this position, so I am using my platform to show the world the truth.”

A significant factor in Alex’s success throughout his career has been the unwavering support of his family. Their love and encouragement have played a vital role in his personal and professional development as a footballer and a human being.

On the pitch, Alex’s improvement is clear for all to see. He’s become a true leader at Arsenal and nearly led the club to its first Premier League title in 20 years. Ultimately, it wasn’t meant to be for Alex and his teammates, but his impact at the club cannot be denied nor ignored.

But having spent time with Alex, what’s most notable is his unflinching desire to improve the lives of those around him and alleviate any hardships his family, friends, and fellow Ukrainians may face. Their well-being is a constant source of motivation, propelling him forward on his quest to be a better footballer and a better person.

“My family has always been there for me, pushing me forward,” Alex reflects. “Now, my wife and daughter inspire me to strive for better every day. I work tirelessly to improve their lives. I am incredibly grateful for my amazing family, and they are the ones who motivate me the most.

“I love the challenges that come with football, and I try to keep my targets high as that’s key to a happy and successful life. As a footballer, I understand that my career will not be long. Experienced players who are much older than me used to say that you don’t realise how quickly your career will pass by. That’s why you need to see every day as an opportunity to do your best and be better than you were yesterday.

“But, being a good person is more important than being a football player. I hope I am a good person, but ultimately, judging is up to others. I hope my legacy is that whoever speaks about me does so positively. In my football career, I will continue pushing myself until the end because the sky’s the limit. I will strive to achieve my dreams. However, life has taught us that we can never predict what the future holds.”

I'm so grateful to the SWM team; it was an amazing experience. From the moment I opened the door, everything was done to the highest level; it was a pleasure. Sometimes when you do something like this, you are already counting down the seconds until it finishes, but if everything is perfect, you don't even notice the time. With SWM, I could spend even more time. It was a fantastic experience. Thank you so much.

Alex Zinchenko

The collaboration with Alex Zinchenko was something that we are proud and privileged to have created. The project was about giving Alex the platform to shed light on what is happening in his homeland. We knew it was an emotional topic for Alex, and we wanted to deliver something special that resonated with him, his family and the Ukrainian people. With the support of our partners at Golden Concept, we created a bespoke Apple watch case exclusively for Alex that reflects his personality and the people of Ukraine.

We thank Alex, his team, and everyone involved in the project for helping us create something extraordinary.

Liam Milburn & Andrew Davidson - Directors