By: Maura Gladys
Shakhtar Donetsk capped off it’s most successful season in history with a 2-0 win over rivals Dynamo Kiev in the Ukrainian Cup final on May 25th. The win sealed the domestic double for the Pitmen, following a league title that the squad wrapped up with a win over Metalurh Donetsk on May 7th.
This season has thrust Shakhtar into the European spotlight, and the attention has been both intoxicating and exciting for fans. However, Shakhtar’s remarkable achievements could harm its future European success. But more on that later.
For right now, there is still plenty to celebrate about Shakhtar’s 2010/2011 campaign. It earned the domestic double for the third time since the Ukraine Premiere League was formed and the first time since 2007-08. It was dominant in the league, losing only four times and finishing seven points clear of second place Dynamo Kiev. It also rolled through the Ukrainian Cup, finishing it with a 2-0 win over Dynamo Kiev.
The Pitmen made history by advancing to the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League for the first time. In a breakout campaign, they captured the attention of all of Europe with their unique Brazilian attacking flair and staunch Eastern European defense.
Because of Shakhtar’s European success, many of it’s players have been garnering well-earned individual recognition. Darijo Srna was named in UEFA’s Player Rater team of the season, alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, Edwin van der Sar, Andres Iniesta and Ryan Giggs. Furthermore, many of the squad’s young Brazilian players, including Douglas Costa, Willian, Jadson and Luiz Adriano have been lauded as rising talent.
But because the spotlight has been thrust on it’s stars, many of Europe’s big clubs are interested in signing them away from Donbass Arena. The most interest has been shown in Willian and Douglas Costa who have seen interest from Arsenal
and Chelsea, and Manchester City and Napoli, respectively. While this interest is encouraging for the club, it also presents a key moment for Shakhtar’s future.
If Shakhtar truly wants to cement itself as a European power, as owner Rinat Akhmetov claims, he must not let bigger European clubs poach his young talent. Eastern Europe is widely seen as a stepping stone to elite European teams, but Shakhtar has the potential to rid itself of that stigma and launch itself as one of Europe’s elite.
Shakhtar has already established a strong, unique approach, and this season allowed it to showcase that talent and style. But no progress will be made if it’s offense becomes a revolving door of young Brazilian talent. Instead, a strong core set of players needs to be assembled that buy into the idea that Shakhtar can become European Champions, a group that will not jump ship once Chelsea and Manchester United come calling. There is already a shining example of this type of player currently Shakhtar’s ranks in captain Darijo Srna, a veteran who has been courted by big clubs his entire career.
This might seem like an idealistic notion, that young talented players will eschew money for potential glory. But if Akhmetov really wants to accomplish his goal, he can’t let his best young talent slip away every season.
So, celebrate what Shakhtar accomplished this season, because it is truly special. But don’t forget that the Pitmen have the potential to achieve even greater heights and that it’s first step towards that comes this off-season.