Unravelling the enigma of football in the post-Soviet republics
It might not be too long before you start hearing a lot more about Bruno. Not Frank or Brookes.
Nope, we're talking 19-year-old Bruno Renan, who last week became the zillionth Brazilian to turn out for Shakhtar Donetsk. (That’s not an official figure, but that seems to be a state secret, as their press officer didn’t want give NMTB an exact number).
The midfielder played about an hour of Shakhtar’s cup tie at FC Poltava on Wednesday, and he’s someone Mircea Lucescu rates highly.
Chelsea were rumoured to be sniffing around Bruno before he pitched up in Ukraine last year, which brought the total number of Brazilians currently on the club’s books to eight; nine, if you're a pedantic so-and-so and include Eduardo.
And it isn't a coincidence not one of these occupy a place in the Romanian manager’s backline, mainly because his ethos is this: the solid, but unspectacular eastern Europeans keep them out at one end, while the Brazilians, with all their flair and creativity, put them in at the other.
There’s every chance Mister will "go Brazilian" in the January transfer window, too. Shakhtar’s globetrotting scouts have been back in South America to check up on Santos’s Alan Patrick, a midfielder who’s already rejected their advances once this year.
And during the last international break the club took two 16-year-old wonderkids along with the first-team players not away with their countries – so, basically their Brazilian contingent – for two fixtures against Turkish sides in Antalya.
Willian (yes, Willian) Araujo dos Santos and Italo Silva Dantas were spotted over a year ago by an ex-Southampton player now clocking up the air miles with the Ukrainian champs.
You’d imagine Oleksiy Cherednyk has been on more far-flung trips than Judith Chalmers over the last nine years, and judging by the number of players he revealed to have scouted in a recent interview with Salon Dona i Basa (1,259), it’s fair to say he’s not been sat on his backside swigging fancy cocktails in the hotel bar.
It was Cherednyk whom advised Shakhtar they could do a whole lot worse than slapping in a bid for Neymar last year, which they subsequently did last December.
One problem the club face is persuading players to relocate to eastern Europe. Donetsk is an unprepossessing industrial city and not everyone finds Ukraine an appealing place to live, not even if Rinat Akhmetov is waving his chequebook in your face.
When Ilsinho was at Shakhtar he admitted the extent of his knowledge about the country before he arrived was the cold weather.
Cherednyk’s world-weary wingman is Serhiy Atelkin, a former Shakhtar striker, but the pair don’t hunt in packs and on their last trip went their separate ways at the airport. According to his chat with Salon, Cherednyk travelled to Belo Horizonte and Sao Paulo, while Atelkin visited Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro. Their souvenirs for Mircea Lucescu were 120 CDs of player footage.
It isn't just Brazil where they go looking for their future stars though. Shakhtar have two scouts on permanent European duty and another couple in South America, while China and Africa are other potential shopping destinations. Certainly though it’s the Brazilians who've captured the imaginations of Ukrainians.
There are currently 29 of them in the Vyscha Liga:
8: Shakhtar Donetsk6: Dynamo Kyiv4: Metalist Kharkiv3: Karpaty Lviv2: Metalurg Zaporizhya, Volyn Lutsk1: Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Metalurg Donetsk, PFC Sevastopol, Tavriya Simferopol
(There's also Leonardo at Chernomorets Odesa in the Persha Liha, Ukraine’s second tier.)
The Brazilian championship is now broadcast live in Ukraine, and the friendly between the two countries in Derby recently generated massive interest out east.
Although Shakhtar are synonymous with importing Brazilians, they weren’t the first Ukrainian club to bring one to the Vyscha Liga. The pioneers were Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, now managed by Juande Ramos, who signed Emerson (not the big-haired bloke once of Middlesbrough) some 14 years ago.
It does take time for them to settle. Mercedes, as Emerson was christened by Dnipro’s fans on account of his speed, loathed the weather and food when he arrived in Ukraine, while Douglas Costa – one of Shakhtar’s key players this season – endured a difficult bedding-in period.
There aren’t any cliques, but it certainly does help to have a few of your fellow countrymen around and Dynamo Kyiv’s boys from Brazil are close chums off the pitch, judging by Leandro Almeida’s postings on Twitter.
(Photo courtesy of Leandro's Twitpic)
It doesn’t always work out for the Brazilians, mind, and the likes of Ilsinho, Elano and Matuzalem all left in acrimonious circumstances, although the South American presence in Ukraine has indubitably raised the level of the league. Brandao is the second-highest foreign scorer in the Vyshcha Liga after Dynamo Kyiv’s Uzbek striker Maksim Shatskikh.
Marcelo Moreno, Shakhtar’s Bolivian striker, is also finding his feet in Ukraine. He didn’t exactly set the Premier League on fire during his loan spell with Wigan, but Mircea Lucescu has attributed his recent upturn in form to his time in Lancashire.
"I can say that after returning from England, Moreno completely changed," enthused the boss. "He gives his best both during training and matches. He lacked the understanding of our game, but now he is an integral part of it and it all turns out well for him. He pays less attention to discos and bars because here he has to choose: dance floor or football pitch. Perhaps he chose football."
The nightlife in Wigan must be sh*t.
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