Thursday, May 19, 2022
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Shakhtar Donetsk - It's Like Watching Brazil

Shakhtar Donetsk Badge

With Ukraine dominating world news for all the wrong reasons, perhaps now is the time to remind ourselves that despite their often over- inflated status, footballers are people too. Including those who hail from the hotbed of it that is Brazil- with Shakhtar Donetsk responsible for bringing several of them to Eastern Europe since 2004, when the legendary Mircea Lucescu was appointed manager.

 

 

The decision to combine the attacking flair of the South Americans with a robust locally sourced defence would ultimately reap dividends of the sort Nevio Scala had enjoyed during the 2001-02 season. When the club won both the Ukrainian Premier League (for the first time) and cup during his sole season, just a point separating the Miners and Dynamo Kiev in the race for the title and the men in orange emerging as winning cup finalists against the same opposition.

 

The new man in the dugout would win the cup once again just ten days after his arrival, the building blocks of what was known to some as the most Brazilian club in Europe having been laid down with the 2002 arrival of Brandão from Iraty Sport Club. Over the course of eight years at the Donbass Arena he helped himself to three league winners medals and 65 goals, 15 of those helping him finish as Vyscha Liha top scorer for the 2005-06 season.

 

It wasn't until Lucescu arrived, though, that the team found itself filled with a fair few of his fellow countrymen. The new manager's strategy backed by club president Rinat Akhmetov, who “wanted to make Shakhtar the pride of the region, the biggest attraction in Donetsk. He wanted to succeed in the Champions League and play spectacular football.

 

The Brazilians were part of the concept, alongside the brilliant Donbass Arena, the marketing and all the rest.” As Jádson, Elano, Matuzalém and Fernandinho all arrived to bolster the midfield, with Willian, Ilsinho and Luiz Adriano joining them in time for the following campaign.

 

As Oleksandr Tkach, former editor of Tribuna, would add- "Shakhtar were ready to spend a lot on the players themselves. Their scouting system in Brazil didn't try to unearth hidden gems, but rather focused on the most talented prodigies who starred for the youth national teams.

 

They offered very good salaries, but also explained that everything will be built around them. The players were told that there are many Brazilians at Shakhtar, and all of them are happy. Therefore, Brazilians expected to feel at home there."

 

And so it would seem they did. Indeed, it would be Jádson & Adriano who would help deliver the UEFA Cup trophy as Shakhtar beat Werder Bremen in 2009's final, the apex of the plan which would end in eight league titles and six domestic cups over twelve years for the man appointed to spearhead it. A treble then followed in 2010-11 as they followed up with league, cup and super Cup wins as well as reaching the quarter finals of the Champions League, asserting themselves as something of a dominant force in Ukrainian football.

 

A reputation backed up with another league and cup double the following season, the super Cup added to yet another league and cup by 2012-13 as Europe began to sit up and take notice. Willian and Fernandinho sold to Chelsea and Manchester City respectively, the fees paid for them helping go some way to bringing in around 100 million Euros in transfer revenue. Even without them though, Luiz Adriano finished as domestic top scorer- another league title the result!

 

But then, as now, war reared its ugly head. The Donbas War forced the club to move to the Arena Lviv in July of 2014 as tensions between anti and pro- Russian factions threatened to tear the country apart.

 

Shakhtar went on to finish second in their first full season away from the Donbass and, yet another Brazilian, Alex Texeira finished as joint top scorer in the league before moving to China with Jiangsu Suning for 50 million Euros. Consequently breaking both the Ukrainian and Asian transfer records. The man who signed him also moved on, to be replaced by Paulo Fonseca after signing off with a second place finish.

 

Fonseca then helped himself to a league and cup double as his first order of business, with no less than eight Brazilians in his first team squad- Ismaily, Dentinho, Bernard, Marlos, Taison and Alan Patrick available- Marlos the league leader in assists.

 

By that point 29 Brazilians had donned the cult orange shirt, with twelve more of their number now evacuated to Romania as Russia attempts to lay waste to Ukraine. League football is naturally suspended and only Alan Patrick and Ismaily remain from the Lucescu years. Dodô, Vitão, Marlon, Maycon, Marcos Antônio, Júnior Moraes (now representing Ukraine), David Neres, Tetê, Pedrinho & Fernando added by latest manager Roberto De Zerbi, who took charge in May of last year and was winning the super Cup by September, again beating Dynamo Kiev...

 

Who in quite the twist are now themselves coached by Lucescu!

 

After a single season with Zenit St Petersburg, the possibility was mooted that he might return to Ukraine and more specifically Donetsk, but he declined out of apparent respect for Fonseca. Not without reminding everyone that in effect it was him who had laid the groundwork for their ongoing success, his Brazilian import business still booming...

 

"That wouldn't be the right thing to do. Shakhtar have a successful coach now [Paulo Fonseca, who moved to Roma in 2019]. I had a great spell in Donetsk and built the system that continues to work. There is no chance of me going back."

 

After making the previously unthinkable move to Kiev a year later he was quick to acknowledge that a lot of his good work had perhaps been a little sullied in doing so at least.

 

"I know that my relations with Shakhtar fans have been quite damaged now, but I wanted to feel alive again. Football is my life, and I sat at home for a long year. I really missed football. I couldn't refuse such an offer." Lucescu went on to further cement his legacy by leading Dynamo Kiev to the 2021 league title.

 

As things now stand, he currently sits behind his former employers. His strategy helping them to 47 points and top spot at the time of writing, in this most awful of curtailed seasons that may see a dramatic end to their Brazilian connection.

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