The continued instability in the country of Ukraine has led six players, all from South America, to refuse to fly back to the country and participate in preseason with Shakhtar Donetsk. The club has won the Ukrainian Premier League for five straight years now, and has not finished below second since the 1995-1996 season. They have created a strong core of Ukrainian and Brazilian players recently, and had hoped to begin having competitive success in European competitions soon.
The six Shakhtar players that are troubled by the instability in Ukraine and the city of Donetsk are Facundo Ferreyra, Ismaily, Dentinho, Fred and two of the team’s star players, Alex Teixeira and Douglas Costa. Both Costa and Teixeria have been with the club for the past four title-winning seasons despite being just 23 and 24 respectively. Another Brazilian star on the Shakhtar Donetsk team is the 21-year-old winger Bernard. He has yet to report back to preseason training because he was part of the Brazilian World Cup squad, and is still on his four-week mandatory rest period. Some believe that, like his fellow Brazilian countrymen, he will protest going back to Ukraine and try to force a sale through to another European league.
The owner of Shakhtar Donetsk, Rinat Akhmetov, the wealthiest man in Ukraine, has said recently that the club will financially punish any players who do not return. He also claimed that each of the players are worth “tens of millions of dollars,” and that there will not be any sort of clearance sale for the players because of their actions. According to transfermarkt.com the combined market value for the six players is around €57 million.
Ukraine has been all over the news recently because of the tragedy involving another downed Malaysian aircraft. Flight MH17 is reported to have been shot down by pro-Russian separatist in the Ukraine’s east region, which borders Russia. Conflict had previous raged around Shakhtar Donetsk’s home city of Donetsk for months. Pro-Russian rebels now control the city, but the Ukrainian military is attempting to re-take it.
Many believe that the Ukrainian Football Federation will pass judgment on July 22 for whether or not Shakhtar is able to play their home games in Donetsk, while the conflict is occurring in and around the city. The team trained in Switzerland for preseason because of the occupation of their hometown. In addition to the team being absent from the city, Akhmetov has also not lived in Donetsk in recent months, because of the conflict. If the Ukrainian Football Federation rules that the team are not to play in Donetsk for the upcoming season, Akhmetov wishes that the team play their home games in Kharkiv, a city a little less than 300km to the north west of Donetsk.
UEFA, the governing body of European football, has already declared that teams from Ukraine will not be drawn against teams for Russia in Europa League and Champions League competitions. Both the Ukrainian Football Federation and the Russian Football Union had expressed concerns over the security of matches between the clubs from their respective countries. The general director of CSKA Moscow has said, “in light of the current political situation, this decision is certainly logical.”
The manager of Shakhtar Donetsk, Mircea Lucescu, has claimed it is not the six South American player’s desires to be missing from the squad, but that of their agents. In an interview with Segondnya Newspaper, he claims that the agents want to eliminate the player’s contracts and make them free agents by exploiting the political situation in Ukraine. By making them free agents, they would need to sign new contracts, which the agent would get a percentage of the money to his name. Whether or not it is the players or their agents who are instigating the lockout of the Shakhtar Donetsk club, many are still troubled by the instability in Ukraine.
Commentary by B. Taylor Rash