Interesting Article on Dynamo and Shakhtar

Discussion in 'Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, & the former Soviet Repu' started by gaijin, Nov 9, 2004.

  1. gaijin

    gaijin New Member

    Aug 1, 2004
    This was nabbed from FourFourTwo. All credits go to the author Jonathan Wilson who wrote it. I had to edit it slightly....


    A wild night in Kyiv. It’s mid summer, but the wind howls across the flat bowl of the Dynamo stadium, dragging with it dirty great sheets of rain. Hundreds of fans have taken refuge under the trees on the hill in the lea of which the ground nestles; those who haven’t huddle under umbrellas virtually all of which are black, giving an oddly sombre feel to the occasion, although that’s undermined by an incessant parping of horns that makes it sound as if the game were being watched by a gaggle of irate geese.

    A week ago, only penalties separated the sides in the Ukrainian Super Cup., Dynamo Kyiv finally prevailing, but tonight Shakhtar Donetsk are in control. Zvonimir Vukic has already hit the post with a dipping free-kick, and Romanian teenager Ciprian Marica has gone close with two headers when the away side take a 35th minute lead. Vukic, having a fine game, crosses from the left side of the box, Andriy Vorobei misses an attempted overhead kick at the near post and the ball bounces for Polish defender Mariusz Lewandowski to jab home.

    As he runs to the Shakhtar fans to celebrate, they unfurl a huge orange shirt that stretches almost from the bottom of the stand to the top. There are no more than 1,500 of them gleefully bouncing up and down, but that’s a huge number of away fans for Ukrainian football – this after all, is a Thursday night, and Donetsk is 12 hours away by train (or an hour and 45 minutes by plane, if you dare run the risk of the grass beginning to the runway at Donetsk International.) Very few of them, though, will have paid their own way: when Rinat Akhmetov, the richest man in Ukraine became president of the club in 1996, he decided he wanted all the trappings of, an if it takes fleets of free buses to get away fans to games, so be it.

    Free travel for fans is far from being the greatest of Akhmetov’s extravagances, though, as we found out at the club’s training centre in Donetsk a few days later. As Ukrainian teams tend to quarantine their players the night before a game it’s perhaps to be expected that there will be more to it than a couple of Portakabins in a field, but their base is extraordinary, more five-star hotel than boot-camp. Our tour guide is Mark Levytsky, a shambling bear of a man with large glasses and a neat grey moustache. He looks like a Greek shipping magnate but, once a top sports journalist he is now one of Shakhtar’s vice-presidents.

    There are pitches and gyms and rehab rooms, as you’d expect, but things take a leap into the surreal when Levytsky points out an aviary with a flourish of his linen-suited arm. “Some of the players, and one or two of the coaches,” he explains, “are interested in birds.” It’s a sentence English directors must have uttered on any number of occasions, but there the context is purely ornithological. Players are under a lot of pressure, he explains, and so it is important that they can relax. And if the birds don’t take their fancy, there’s always the large fishing lake, or the basketball court, or a myriad of other pleasant distractions. “The working conditions are incredible,” says Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu. “I’ve never had facilities like this, not even when I was Internazionale. You cannot compare this with anything.”

    Maybe the facilities have to be world-beating: how else, after all, would Akhmetov attract players to the blasted east of the Ukraine, to the Donbass, the heartland of the nation’s mining and steel industries? And attract players he has: in his eight years at the club he’s spent around $60 million on transfers, an unprecedented figure in this part of the world. If Lucescu is to be believed, the Brazilian midfielder Matuzalem spurned interest from Arsenal, Roma, Juventus, Valencia and Barcelona to join Shakhtar for a Ukrainian record fee of $12 million. “He came here because he saw the set-up.”

    If there is energy about Shakhtar, it’s reflected in the town of Donetsk, which is undergoing a remarkable transition. The Donbass has always looked east rather than west, most people speak Russian rather than Ukrainian, and it remains the centre of Ukrainian socialism. Accordingly, the main street is named Artema, after a local hero of the 1917 revolution , an along it still strides a huge black statue of Lenin; incongruously though, he appears to be marching to the local McDonald’s Perhaps he intends to give Ronald a piece of his mind, but a quick glance around would tell him he’s fighting a losing battle. To his left is a German Bank, to his right an ersatz Irish pub, and straight ahead, just over the road from McDonalds, is the Donbass Palace, a luxury hotel developed by Akhmetov with nightly rates for rooms ranging from $200 to $2,500. Capitalism has come to Donetsk, and to judge by the number of new developments and buzzing nightlife, the town as well as the football club is thriving.

    It wasn’t always thus. In Soviet times, Donetsk was just another grim industrial city while Shakhtar bobbed along in Dynamo Kyiv’s wake, as all Ukrainian teams had to. “In those days” former Dynamo players Jozsef Szabo recalls, “It was like a pyramid, with Dynamo at the top. The patron of the club was [the late leader of the Ukrainian Communist Party] Volodmyr Sherbytskyi. He was a big football fan, and if there was a great player at Shakhtar or any Dnipro or some other Ukrainian club, he would make a telephone call and the player would be in Kyiv – no money or anything like that.” In Soviet times such a system made sense. Dynamo represented all of Ukraine, taking on central authority as represented by the big Moscow clubs, or teams from the other Soviet republics who were in a similar position – Dinamo Minsk for instance, represented Belarus, as Ararat Yerevan did Armenia. And Dynamo, of course won approval by being hugely successful, first under Viktor Maslov, the legandary Valeriy Lobanovskyi whose pioneering use of computers in the statistical analysis of matches and training led to the establishment of the coaching laboratory that endures to this day. So great was the general Ukrainian identification with Dynamo that even when they met Shakhtar in Donetsk, Levytsky says, half the crowd would be supporting them.

    But after independence came resentment. Dynamo grasped the capitalist nettle early, and profited hugely – and, many claim not entirely legally (though in fairness, it’s hard to imagine that anybody who profited in the early days of post-Communism did it entirely legally.) Their total dominance of the league bore people rigid. Where once the transit of the best players to the capital had the greater purpose of elevating Ukraine at the expense of Moscow, when Dynamo took four players from Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk the day after pipping them to the title in 1993-94 season, it just meant that the following season’s title race would be even more one-sided. It hardly helped their reputation when they were suspended from European competition in 1995, after an alleged attempt to pay off the Spanish referee Lopez Nietto ahead of a Champions League game against Panathinaikos.

    Dynamo still dominate Ukrainian football. Hrihory Surkis, the president of the Ukrainian football federation, is the brother of Ihor Surkis, the president of Dynamo. These days, though, they have to share their power with Shakhtar, whose former vice-president Ravil Safiullin is head of the Professional League. There are deeper currents than merely football though. Hrihory Surkis is a key figure in the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (United), a grouping of Kyivan oligarchs . Under normal circumstances, they would stand in opposition to the so-called Donetsk Caln, of which Akhmetov is a part, but because SDPU(U) has been desperate to prevent reformist Viktor Yushchenko becoming president in the October/November elections, Surkis has been forced to back Viktor Yanukovych, the Donetsk candidate, and so for a while, an uneasy truce has existed between the two. And that is bad news for everybody else, because it means that they can no longer pay one off against the other.

    Karpaty Lviv, one of Ukraine’s oldest and proudest football clubs, were relegated last season, their fans believe because their president Petro Dyminskyi dared oppose the political might of Surkis. Rigorously insisting on “fair play” the English term being used across Europe – he also refused to pay off referees or indulge in the practice of “three for three” by which a co-operative of teams towards the bottom of the table exchange home wins to the detriment of those naive enough to draw. Nobody seems to doubt that such things go on, but the official line is that proof is difficult to come by.

    On the way from Lviv to Donetsk we visit Dnipropetrovsk and meet Ihor and Volodomyr, two fans of Dnipro who finished third last in the Ukrainian league season. The first thing Ihor says when talk turns to football is: “You know Dynamo runs the Federation and Shakhtar the League?” To him, this is simply fact: If Dnipro ever dare challenge the duopoly, they will be beaten down. So if the team you follow can love only finish third, what’s the point? “A man can love his wife,” Ihor says, “even if knows she doesn’t look like Brigitte Bardot.” True enough, but most fans surely dream that there will come a time, for two brief hours that on a cup final afternoon, when football will enact its magical transformation and she will.

    Since that dream is simply impossible in Ukraine, and because of a proliferation of other entertainments and the simple fact that the quality is nothing like it was 15 years ago, attendances have fallen dramatically – although there have been recent signs of a revival. More because Akhmetov prefers games to be played in full stadiums than for financial reasons, Shakhtar are desperate to attract more fans to matches, offering free tickets and inviting supporters to training sessions where they can quiz their president. They even offer a VIP package, costing around three times the usual entrance fee, by which fans get a cushion, a copy of the club newspaper and a lunch box that includes sandwiches, chocolate and, pertinently for anybody who remembers the British comedy “The Fast Show” sketch about the nouveaux middle class fans in England, a tube of Pringles.

    Fans in the Ukraine, though will never generate the kid of revenues harvested in Western Europe, simply because they aren’t rich enough. Merchandising is virtually non-existent because multi-national sports companies charge a uniform rate across the world. A replica Adidas Shakhtar shirt, for instance costs $50 whether bought in London, Tokyo or Donetsk, and if the prices seem high to an foreign fan, it’s worth a fortune in Ukraine, where the average monthly wage is around $75.

    Crowds in Donetsk are less of concern than elsewhere. They may not attract the vast numbers that saw them regularly win the trophy the Soviet authorities awarded each season for having the highest average gate, but they still attract around 25,000 for home games and they have more season ticket holders than any other Ukrainian club. Dynamo oddly, despite the 80,000 they drew for the Champions League games (which are shifted from the Dynamo Stadium to the Valeriy Lobanovskyi Stadium) are well down the list. The most common explanation seems to be that, like so many industrial areas, the Donbass has an intense regional pride, and Shakhtar plays a key part in that identity, as was proved by the thousands who turned out at the airport after they won the Ukrainian Cup last season. “The people work very hard and they need football,” says Lucescu. “It has a social role beyond sport. Akhmetov is spending his money for all the people.”

    Shakhtar’s history is rooted in the mines and the factories. Donetsk was originally known as Yuzivka, after John Hughes, a Welshman who set up the first ironworks. In 1924 it became Stalino, an only in 1961 adopted its present name, which derives from the River Siversky Donets in the basin of which it lies. The word “shakhtar” itself means miner, and before that name was adopted, the club was known as Stakhanovets after Aleksei Stakhanov, the local miner who produced such prodigious quantities of coal that the Soviet authorities, attempting to increase industrial production, lionised him as an example for other workers. Even the club’s colours – orange shirts and black shorts – are said to represent the experience of miners ending their shift and leaving behind the dark of the pit for the brightness of the day.

    Despite the fanaticism of their support, Shakhtar were little more than also-rans in the Soviet times, their only successes being their four cup victories. But everything changed in October 1995 at a home match against Tavriya Simferopol. After missing several games following and attempt on his life, the clubs’ then president Aleksandr Bragin (or “Alik the Greek” to give him his underworld nickname) took the fateful decision to put security concerns to one side and go watch his team. He and Akhmetov, who was then his right hand man, went first to the nearby village of Dokuchayevsk to see the reserve side play, then hurried back to Donetsk for the main game. He went straight to the VIP entrance, but by the time he had got there, the game had begun. Rather than wait for Akhmetov, who had been held up in traffic, he and his bodyguards rushed straight through up the stairs to the top of the stand.

    “It was a very humid day,” recalls Levytsky, who was a journalist at the time. “I was leading the TV broadcast and I was sitting in the commentators cabin just below the VIP lodge. We saw before the game that Bragin’s security people had gone through the place, but I can’t remember whether they used sniffer dogs as Akhmetov does now.”

    The area was pronounced safe, but a few seconds after Bragin had opened the door and entered the passage leading into the box itself, there was an almighty explosion. “They had recently constructed the roof on the main stand,” says Levytsky, “and when the bomb went off there was such a sound that I thought one of girders must have snapped. The game went on for 20 to 30 seconds before the referee realised what had happened and took the players off.”

    He removes his glasses and rubs a finger across his right eye before continuing. “I stopped commentating and what had happened. I saw a TV reporter running away and asked him what was going on. He told me not to go into the VIP lodge because it was too terrible to look at. Then I saw Safiullin who was the brother of Bragin’s wife and at the time was Shakhtar’s vice-president. We went into the lodge together. There was bits of bodies everywhere. Then Safiullin saw a severed arm, and recognised that the watch was the president’s. That was when we knew he was dead.” Four bodyguards were also killed.

    Earlier this year, at a trial in Luhansk, the one surviving member – or so he claims – of the group that carried out that attack confessed how they had tailed Bragin for several days before planting the bomb and detonating it remotely. “As to who ordered the assassination,” Levytsky goes on, “there is no clear answer, but in the early 90’s criminal groups were dividing up the territory of the former USSR, and it was rumored in Donetsk that the assassination was something to do with that.”

    Akhmetov, though, did not step straight into the breach. “Until then Bragin and Akhmetov were not really dealing in football,” says Levytsky. “Some people said they were so close they were like brothers, but they just lived in the same district, both had Tartar origins and they were business partners. Akhmetov is very clever and scrupulous man and he didn’t agree to take it on until he had done a detailed audit of both the financial and football sides of the club. He is ambitious and wants only to be first. As a club we never celebrate unless we have won, unlike others who would maybe be happy with second.”

    Until now, though for all his investment, Shakhtar have largely had to settle for second. They did win the league title in 2002, but Dynamo Kyiv that year – as their fans are quick to point out – had fallen apart after the death of Valeriy Lobanovskyi. Donetsk’s star, though is rising, and if Akhmetov ever saw the club merely another business, he does not now. So emotionally attached is he that in September 2000, after Arsenal had come from two down to beat Shakhtar at Highbury through two late Martin Keown goals, he was the last person to leave the ground, slumping in his seat until the lights went out around him. “He’s fallen in love with the club,” says coach Lucescu. “Maybe when he was a young child he wanted to be a football player. His passion for the club makes me passionate.”

    Passion is a word used a lot by Shakhtar. Three years ago, the team, then coached by eternal runner-up Viktor Prokopenko, saw a sizeable lead dribble away in the weeks leading up to the winter break. When asked whether he was frustrated by the way his side persisted in attacking at all times, never closing games down, a Shakhtar supporter shrugs that is the spirit of the club, that they are all about heart and passion. By comparison, he says, Dynamo with their scientific approach, computer print-outs and laboratory are little more than footballing machines. With all this, all out passion game, little wonder that what success Shakhtar have had has come in the cups. A flurry of foreign coaches – the Italian Nevio Scala and the German Bernd Schuster preceded Lucescu – may have blurred the heart-head dichotomy, but it has not erased it. “Dynamo has a history of both great victories and great losses,” explains Shakhtar’s captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk. “We can oppose them using our solid miner’s character.”

    Levytsky’s counterpart at Dynamo is the urbane Serhiy Polkhovsky. He compares Shakhtar to Rastignac, the ambitious youth created by Balzac who first appeared in Pere Goroit. When the comparison is relayed to Levytsky, he snorts. “Let them read Balzac,” he snorts with a dismissive waft of his arm. “We will concentrate on football.” Typical Kyivans, he suggests, always over-intellectualising. Even the club song, after eulogising miners leaving the pits to watch the team, contains a snide reference to the division, suggesting that, “not only students with books are waiting for Shakhtar’s victory.”

    The laboratory still holds sway at Dynamo. “Since Lobanovskyi’s time here, we have used the same training programme, which was produced from the special laboratory we developed,” says Joszef Szabo. A vice-president at the club, Szabo coached the team between Lobanovskyi’s second and third stints in charge, remaining, he admits, always I the shadow. “The laboratory would develop some plan and would look at it and then change it according to his opinion. It was the same for me. I took something from the lab and we introduced some changes according to what I thought. Bit I knew that Lobanovskyi would think and tried to do the same thing. There’s still somebody who closely follows [the coach] Oleksiy Mykhailychenko step after step and gives him the statistics.”

    Having been his assistant since July 1997, Mykhailychenko was the obvious choice to succeed Lobanovskyi, but he had a near impossible task: how can you follow an icon so respected that more than a million Ukrainian’s flooded the streets of Kyiv on the day of his funeral to bid him a final farewell? Despite winning the successive league titles, the fans were never impressed. Indeed, shortly after the Shakhtar match and following a 2-1 home defeat to Trabzonspor in the Champions League, Mykhailychenko was sacked. “It seems that times have changed,” says Szabo, “and so it may be necessary to introduce some changes to our playing style.” Nonetheless, it’s Szabo who has replaced him. “Valeriy Vasylyovch always said that football doesn’t stand still,” Dynamo midfielder Andriy Husyn says. “Lobanovskyi’s principle of striving for self-perfection has remained the same, but I cannot compare his work with those who have followed him.”

    A major part of Lobanovskyi’s genius was his ability to constantly adapt and evolve the, but Polkhovsky believes that he too was beginning to struggle towards the end of his life. “He had internal torments,” he says. “Previously a word, a glance, was enough to assert his authority and explain what he wanted. Maybe it was typical of the Communist system, but now players have greater freedom and an individuality. They become stars – like Beckham, what is Beckham? A pop-star? – and so they do not put the team first.”

    In other words, Lobanovskyi, a product of socialism struggled to come to terms with the advances of capitalism – which it could be said, could hardly be better represented than by Shakhtar. And therein lies the paradox. Dynamo, rich and rapacious in the early 90’s, still play in a style born of Communist ideology, while Shakhtar, pride of the industrial, socialist east, are thrusting big-spenders.

    Certainly on the evidence of the opening game of the season the tide is turning in Shakhtar’s favour. Dynamo improved after half-time, and had Maris Verpakovskis not slipped after being put through by Jerko Leko four minutes in, it might have been a very different story. Soon after Jan Lastuvka made a brilliant diving save to turn away a Maksim Shatskikh snap-shot, but the game was settled six minutes from time as the substitute Igor Duljaj touched home a cross from Vukic for Shakhtar’s second. “We should have been 3-0 ahead by half-time,” says Lucescu. “It should never have got as tight as it did in the second half. The problem is that they forgot about playing, and started to think that they might beat Dynamo Kyiv, and that is when you get problems.”

    Dynamo’s history and tradition of success still represent a major hurdle to Shakhtar, and they do have a habit of making late charges, but never before had they lost a home Ukrainian league game by more than one goal. It’s hard to avoid the sense that the Ukrainian order is finally changing.
  2. metros11

    metros11 Member

    Sep 11, 1999
    Highlands of NJ
    New York Red Bulls
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Thanks for the article, that was a great read.
  3. Shurik

    Shurik New Member

    Nov 2, 1999
    Baltimore, MD
  4. Justin O

    Justin O Member+

    Seattle Sounders
    United States
    Nov 30, 1998
    on the run from the covid
    Fascinating indeed. Thank you for posting this!
  5. London Wanka

    London Wanka Red Card

    Nov 11, 2004
    Thought it was a pretty good intro on Shakhter as the team is not really known in the West. 4-4-2 is a **********ing brilliant publication.:) Luv it. :)
  6. Forza Moskva

    Forza Moskva New Member

    Sep 20, 2004
    Mila Kunis' Crib
    can someone sum that up in a sentence or less... if it's 1000 words, its 998 too many
  7. Shurik

    Shurik New Member

    Nov 2, 1999
    Baltimore, MD
    Donetsk mafia rich. Soon come to pop cap in Kyyyv arse.
  8. gaijin

    gaijin New Member

    Aug 1, 2004
    eh? :rolleyes:
  9. gaijin

    gaijin New Member

    Aug 1, 2004
    Bump - good article.

    Sorry, back for a bit. Had to bump this; in light of the bumpy madness.

    And we can also see Russian Scouser's first incarnation in this thread. :D

    Ahahaha. Now that is funny.
  10. Bigpapa42

    Bigpapa42 Member

    Dec 15, 2004
    The Wastes of Canada
    Arsenal FC
    Interesting read. Its hard to find good detailed information on Shakhtar, and this is even well-written.

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