Unravelling the enigma of football in the post-Soviet republics
The Ukrainian Premier-Liha isn’t just about the Dynamo Kyiv/Shakhtar Donetsk cartel, even if it has been absolutely aaaaages since anyone has broken their duopoly on the top two spots (Chornomorets Odessa were runners-up in the 1995/96 season, to save you a trip to Wikipedialand).
Although if you listen to some people, there are forces at work ensuring that’s exactly what the Premier-Liha is about, and that’s just they way they’d like to keep it, thank you very much (well for one of the pair, anyway).
That isn’t good news; especially if you happen to be one of the 14 clubs whose name isn’t Shakhtar Donetsk or *ahem* Dynamo Kyiv.
Like Metalist Kharkiv.
Myron Markevich’s side have been bronze medallists for the past four seasons and they're well on their way to establishing themselves as a credible third-force; certainly sufficient progress has been made to warrant a few nervous glances over their shoulders from the big boys in the direction of Ukraine’s second-largest city, at least.
And according to the not-so-thinly veiled outburst by the club’s president Oleksandr Yaroslavsky recently, Metalist’s threat to disrupting the status quo and nabbing one of those coveted Champions League spots is the motivation behind the Football Federation of Ukraine’s decision – whose chief just so happens to be Hryhory Surkis, co-owner of the Kyivites with his younger brother/club president Ihor – to throw a match-fixing charge-shaped spanner into the works of Metalist’s plans for the new season.
It relates to their 4-0 win over Karpaty Lviv in Kharkiv two years ago.
Not one to mince his words, Yaroslavsky issued an anti-FFU polemic on the club’s website, stating that “a very dirty method was used against us – they have tried to tarnish our reputation, to deprive us the opportunity to climb the podium and to keep us separated from the European Cup.”
He continued: "I believe that we will manage to restore justice and cancel this openly repressive decision of the FFU's Control and Disciplinary Committee. If not, we can simply forget about fair play in Ukrainian football. The championship, where undesirable rivals are turned into outsiders by an administrative decision cannot be fair. This is not football any more.”
It’s probably not what Michel Platini wanted to hear. Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovych had only sent the Frenchman a missive earlier this month affirming everything was fine and dandy, and that his country was back on track with its preparations for Euro 2012, save for a bit of a delay on the runway at Kharkiv’s airport.
Maybe he’ll be pleased the FFU are taking a zero-tolerance approach to what they say is match-fixing, as they’ve hit Metalist (and Karpaty) with a hefty nine-point deduction.
Ukrainian football aficionados won’t need reminding the game in April 2008 featured a dreadful second-half performance from Karpaty defender Sergei Lashchenkov that hasn’t exactly added credence to the whole conspiracy theory thing (that isn’t such a cockamamie idea); the Moldovan not only scored an own goal, but also managed to get himself sent off for a wild trip on Jajá when the Brazilian striker was through on goal, the klutz.
The FFU have named Lashchenkov, who has since moved to Olimpik Bakı in Azerbaijan, as an intermediary in a deal which they say involved Metalist’s general manager Yevgeny Krasnikov chucking $110,000 in the direction of the Karpaty players.
The pair have subsequently been banned from all Ukrainian football activities for life.
Supporting the FFU’s claims is a video purportedly showing the Moldovan admitting said offence, which Lashchenkov denies. He says the tape has been doctored.
Oh, and to add a further twist, the Kharkiv public prosecutor’s office halted an investigation into the whole affair, citing a lack of creditable evidence.
Both clubs – who’ll represent Ukraine in the group stages of the Europa League this season – have also been fined $25,000 and sundry bans dolled out to those behind the scenes, while the Karpaty players were issued punishments of $10,000 each; $5,000 for substitutes.
Yaroslavsky claims this is just the latest obstacle his team have overcome since their promotion five years ago, that he says have included, among other things, “prejudice refereeing decisions… to put us on an unequal footing with other participants in the competition.”
You have to feel sorry for Myron Markevich in this maelstrom. He combined his role as manager of Metalist with that of the Ukrainian national team. Markevich hasn’t been implicated in the trial, but his position with the latter was arguably made untenable, and it’s hardly a surprise he tendered his resignation.
And he didn’t hold exactly back in his criticism either, staunchly stating: "The FFU chiefs have completely discredited themselves with their recent decision to penalise Metalist. I have no moral right to continue working in an organisation which purposely destroys Kharkiv football."
The 59-year-old added: "I was and still remain the head coach of Metalist. I cannot betray my native club."
Initially the FFU rejected his resignation (like there’s any way it was feasible for him to continue), but for the next two friendlies against Poland and Chile his deputy Yuriy Kalytvyntsev will take charge (the chap who won the European Under-19 Championships with Ukraine last year).
Spurs/West Ham flop Sergei Rebrov and Gennady Litovchenko, who are both coaches at Dynamo Kyiv, look like they’ll be involved in some capacity too.
It’s a shame for Markevich. Leading out the national team at the European Championships on home soil would’ve been the pinnacle of his managerial career, and now it’s probably going to be someone like Sven-Göran Eriksson assuming the reins.
Apparently the Swede has already offered his services. Unfortunately.
There are reports that three Metalist players, Denys Oliynyk, Marko Devich, Serhiy Valyayev, have said they no longer wish to represent Ukraine anymore as well.
This isn’t the end of the issue by any means though, as both clubs have launched an appeal and the punishments are on ice, pending a verdict from UEFA/the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
This one’s likely to run, whatever the outcome…
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