Bayern Munich travel to Ukraine for the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie with Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday. Bavarian Football Works is lucky to be joined by Manuel Neth from Futbolgrad to tell us a little bit more about Shakhtar. Futbolgrad does a fantastic job covering the game in the former Soviet states. If you have any interest in those areas, please be sure to give the website a read.
BFW: Shakhtar has made a statement over the last decade with the number of talented Brazilians that the club has brought in to help them domestically and in Europe. We clearly remember Shakhtar crushing Roma in the Champion League before bowing out in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Barcelona back in the 2010-11 season. How did this Brazilian "pipeline" come about and, for the players, do you think it's more about money, the opportunity to move to bigger clubs in Europe, or a combination of both?
Veth: I have actually written an article about this entitled Double Agents. Shakhtar has worked together with players agents to procure their talent from South America. Many of the Brazilians were (or still are) part of third-party ownership agreements, one of the agents involved in this is the Kia Joorabchian. The Shakhtar Code is to buy the best Brazilian talents, and to develop them into top class players that can be sold for even more money. The most prominent examples include Willian to Anzhi, and Mkhitaryan to Dortmund. In both cases Shakhtar made a windfall in profit, even though both players had TPO agreements. So to answer your question Shakhtar is a shopping window for the big clubs in Western Europe, but it is not a high street corner store, but rather the Harrods of football clubs. If you want to buy here you will have to spend a lot of money but you are guaranteed talent.
BFW: The club has adjusted well to life at Arena Lviv with only one loss in the first half of the season. However, this is not their home. The Donbass Arena has received a lot of damage as a result of the war in eastern Ukraine. Do we know if/when they'll be able to return to Donetsk or if that's even being discussed at this time?
Veth: Relatively well, Shakhtar is actually trailing five points behind Dinamo Kiev, and is only three points ahead of Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, in the Ukrainian Premier League. The club will therefore have to battle hard to reach Champions League football for next season. I think it will be a long time until Shakhtar can return to Donetsk. Even if the ceasefire holds, and the city is deemed safe enough for football, it will take time to fix the stadium, which has been shelled during the conflict.
BFW: What kind of fan support has Shakhtar been getting in Lviv? Is football even on the minds of supporters or is it a welcome distraction from "real life"?
Veth: From what I can tell the support has been outstanding, at least for Champions League football. Lvivians have also taken well to Donetskites that have travelled to see their team play there. That said for league play the club has averaged far less then they would have in Donetsk. Also I think while people in Lviv enjoy the prospect of Champions League football, it is a bit of a tough ask for people from the Donbass to worry about the sport at all.
BFW: What is it going to take for Shakhtar to win this tie? Is it possible?
Veth: Everything is possible in football. Lucescu is an amazing coach and I am sure he will think of something special for Guardiola's men. That said this will be a very hard ask for Shakhtar. Not just because of all the background stuff, but also because of the long winter break. This will actually be Shakhtar's first official match this year. If Shakhtar wants to get something out of this they have to win at home, otherwise it is over.
BFW: When you take into consideration the war and the opponent (FC Bayern), where would this rank all time if Shakhtar pulled the upset?
Veth: I think Shakhtar is a fantastic team, with the background history is the real danger for Bayern. With everything that is going on in Ukraine Shakhtar beating Bayern, would be the Ukrainian version of Das Wunder von Bern.
For more from Manuel Veth, be sure to check out his blog Futbolgrad.com. His recent piece on if the matches against Bayern are Shakhtar owner Rinat Akhmetov's "last stand" can be found here. He can also be found on Twitter at @homosovieticus.