Unravelling the enigma of football in the post-Soviet republics
Mircea Lucescu is a lucky chap. The Romanian not only guided Shakhtar Donetsk to their fifth Premier-Liga title in Ukraine last week with a 1-0 win over Dynamo Kyiv at the Donbass Arena, but he’s also pen pals with current darling of the British media and LMA Manager of the Year, Roy Hodgson.
And you know with Roy that he wouldn’t just bash out an email to his pal in eastern Ukraine – they'd be too impersonal for an affable chap like him – the correspondence from west London would be a lovely handwritten piece, sent in an envelope with a wax seal.
Roy’s stock in Eastern Europe skyrocketed after Fulham dumped Shakhtar out of the Europa League this season, and his name was even mentioned in one Russian newspaper editorial as a worthy candidate to replace the outgoing Guus Hiddink as national team boss.
Going into last Wednesday’s game against archrivals Dynamo knowing a win would see them take an unassailable six-point lead into the weekend’s final round of matches, what better fillip for the Pitmen than to receive a letter from Roy, courteously replying to Lucescu’s good luck missive sent ahead of the Europa League final?
He spoke deferentially of his pal, and proclaimed that Shakhtar were ìby far the best we have come across in the Europa League and you outplayed us in both gamesî, before signing off with a similar good luck message for their Dynamo fixture.
NMTB hopes the relationship flourishes. They are already on first name terms and the blog is looking forward to seeing birthday cards exchanged; maybe a quick text of ìo zi bunaî before Roy sets off for a Sunday drive in the country; a postcard to the Lucescus from Hodgson’s caravan holiday in Cromer, or wherever he’s going on his well deserved summer holiday this year, perhaps.
Back to Ukraine, and yes, you’d perhaps have guessed it would be Shakhtar or Dynamo at the summit of the Premier-Liga table come the end of the season. (And also that there would be a good chance Metalist Kharkiv would be third.)
Predictable it may be, but boring the year was not and we were treated to a humdinger of a title race. After Dynamo blazed an early lead (seven points at one stage) and inflicted a 3-0 defeat on Shakhtar in Kyiv on match day 14, you’d have thought it was game over.
But no. Shakhtar went on one of those incredible runs which makes people scoff when you tell them that there's more to Ukrainian football than the ìbig twoî by winning 13 and drawing one of the 14 league games that followed that 3-0 reverse.
Saying that, the championship did effectively boil down to Wednesday’s Shakhtar-Dynamo game.
52,518 – a record crowd at Fortress Donbass - gathered to witness a match officiated by an Italian hairdresser, who also happened to be a qualified referee.
Shakhtar’s owner Rinat Akhmetov said it would be ìhardî for a Ukrainian to take charge of a game of such magnitude, so the appearance of foreign officials could become a regular occurrence in the Premier-Liga if he gets his way.
They're welcome to Howard Webb.
Lucescu has assembled a good, solid side at Shakhtar; it works in Ukraine.
Probably going on the belief that Brazilians aren’t as adept at defending as they are attacking, a hardworking, determined base of Eastern European players comprises the back five, while the samba stars in front of them are allowed to do their thing.
There were five Brazilians in the starting line up against Dynamo, while Douglas Costa was on the bench (there's not room for all of them) and Alex Teixeira is ìone for the futureî the club are slowly introducing into first team affairs since his arrival in January.
Conveniently for Shakhtar, unearthing the next Kak· has been made that little bit easier, because from this year the Brazilian championship is being broadcast on Ukrainian television which will save on all them long haul flights, although their scouts probably enjoyed the jaunts to South America during the harsh winters the city experiences.
Poor old Julius Aghahowa; he doesn’t get a look since his return from Wigan.
The Brazilians have scored 38 times between them in the league this season, so it wasn’t a surprise when Ilsinho was at the other end of Darijo Srna’s right-wing cross that evaded Olexander Shovkovsky, and he duly swept the ball into an open net in the 15th minute for the game’s only goal.
Ilsinho also hit the crossbar in the second half, while Jadson missed a penalty but Shakhtar’s rarely-troubled defence yet again kept a clean sheet and the club claimed their fifth title since independence, which is in no small matter down to their home form.
15 league games in Donetsk yielded 14 wins and a draw, while they only conceded six goals. It puts into context the enormity of Fulham’s success in the Europa League earlier in the year.
The last round of fixtures were meaningless at the weekend, so Lucescu rested most of his first XI for the match against Tavriya Simferopol – even Aghahowa was given a better seat to watch the game from; the Nigerian moved from the stands to the bench, where he spent 90 minutes watching Shakhtar win slighter closer to the pitch than he usually does.
He must’ve been gutted when the fourth official put his board up for Shakhtar’s third substitution and the number 24 of Ruslan Fomin was displayed to replace Teixeira during their 3-2 win.
Roy is no doubt penning a congratulatory letter as you read this, so in the meantime Lucescu has been forced to settle for a message on the Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s personal website.
Never Mind the Bolsheviks home
----------------------------------------------FourFourTwo.com: More to read...Blogs * News * Interviews * Forums * HomeFollow us: Twitter * Facebook * Twitter (NMTB)
Nice to hear about Islinho scoring. Such a talented and underrated player. Should be going to South Africa me thinks.
Latest European Football News
Heynckes hints at Lewandowski transfer
Monaco sign Moutinho and Rodriguez
Zenit to sign Tymoshchuk but snub Arshavin
Gibraltar admitted as UEFA member
Utrecht beat Twente to close in on Europa
75% of all TV is Bale
On the road to ruin
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010