Why a Shakhtar Donetsk Champions League Triumph Would Be Good for Football
Out of all the 16 remaining teams in the UEFA Champions League, a win for Shakhtar Donetsk would perhaps be the most romantic of all.
Tactically exciting and logistically organised, Mircea Lucescu's Ukrainian behemoths are punching above their weight. However, when you look into the reasons why, it's not difficult to understand.
Here's an inside look at the Hirnyky, and once you reach the conclusion, hopefully you'll share my admiration for a well-run, modest club.
Mircea Lucescu Loyalty
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The kind of loyalty Mircea Lucescu has been shown by the Shakhtar Donetsk board doesn't happen very often in world football.
Not many receive a statue in their honour for long-standing service like Sir Alex Ferguson (via The Daily Mail), as owners are becoming far more trigger happy as we delve further into the 21st century.
With the Hirnyky, Lucescu has pulled in six Ukrainian league titles, four Ukrainian Cup wins and one UEFA Cup—an impressive trophy cabinet that makes them the undisputed heavyweights of Eastern Europe.
After questionable periods in charge of Internazionale and Besiktas, the Kroty were wise to pour their faith into the Romanian—especially since the mindless hire-and-fire trend had hit Europe by then.
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Shakhtar Donetsk have one of the stranger buying policies in world football.
Owner Rinat Akhmetov is worth an approximate $16 billion (via Forbes.com) and remains a local hero and lifelong Hirnyky fan.
Rather than just throwing his billions around to secure top-quality players who don't want to live in Ukraine, he's carefully planned and produced a Shakhtar Donetsk lifestyle.
There is a Brazilian community in Donetsk that has been manufactured by Akhmetov to make his foreign stars feel at home, as he relentlessly plunders the Brasileiro Serie A for emerging samba talent.
He imports the starlets, introduces them to the community and promises them they can leave when they're ready to make the next step.
He didn't stand in the way of Elano or Nery Castillo when the western European clubs came calling, and he's about to relinquish Fernandinho despite his vital importance to the current team (via ClubCall.com).
There's a mutual bond of trust. The Brazilian imports grow to love the club as they are ingrained into the Donetsk culture, so they perform to their potential every single week.
When D-Day comes and Manchester pick up the phone, Akhmetov answers, accepts and bids farewell. Roll on the next one to replace him.
It's a plan and setup that is, quite frankly, genius. He's created a happy environment for young stars to prosper, whilst respecting their career ambitions and wishes at the same time.
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Mircea Lucescu hasn't had his head buried in the sand for the last eight years like plenty of other European head coaches. He's been tactically flexible, inventive and exciting.
He's always favoured attacking formations, using dynamic full-backs Darijo Srna and Razvan Rat in hugely expansive roles since 2007.
He's tried diamonds, one up front, two up front and is currently settled on a tweaked 4-2-3-1.
Even though he's subscribed to the de facto best formation in contemporary world football, he puts his own twist on the player positions and uses combinations better than others.
Douglas Costa is a quality player, but he's locked out of the starting XI due to the workman-like tendencies of Alex Teixeira and the presence of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Willian plays an odd "tweener" role on the left.
Srna and Rat are still allowed to bomb forward at will and create overloads in the wide areas, and if that doesn't work, Lucescu brings forward the defensive midfield battering ram called Fernandinho.
There's never a dull moment in a Hirnyky match because you just don't know what they're going to try next.
It would be remiss to ignore the elephant in the room.
He latched onto a ball given back to Nordsjaelland after it had been put out for a throw and slotted it past the motionless, shocked goalkeeper.
While this act cannot be defended, it would be a shame for a winning campaign to be tarnished by this one mindless act by one mindless individual.
It is not big enough to cast a shadow over everything else Shakhtar have strived to achieve and the organisation handled it well.
The Feel-Good Factor
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A lot of people are pretty high on Shakhtar Donetsk's impressive showings in this year's UEFA Champions League.
You can never beat an underdog victory, and that's exactly what it would be should the Hirnyky lift the trophy in May 2013.
It would be a win for Eastern Europe—whom Shakhtar are a fantastic ambassador for—and bring much-needed publicity to domestic leagues in that area of the world.
However, it's also a win for careful planning.
The lengths Rinat Akhmetov has gone to in order to create an organic formula for success in the "City of a Million Roses" should be commended, not trumped by Paris Saint-Germain's penchant for throwing euros at everything that moves.