FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk coach Oleh Protasov is remaining cautious about the prospect of Ukrainian Premier League glory, saying being leaders is “harder to hold onto than to reach".
Protasov’s charges are top of the table at the winter break, two points clear of FC Shakhtar Donetsk and a further two ahead of champions FC Dynamo Kyiv and FC Metalist Kharkiv. Without a title since independence, Dnipro last celebrated success in the 1980s with two Soviet league titles, while they finished runners-up in the 1992/93 Ukrainian championship.
In order to end the long wait for silverware, and break the Shakhtar-Dynamo duopoly, Dnipro have spent €10m on five players. Ruslan Rotan has returned to the club from rivals Dynamo, UEFA Cup winner Rolan Gusev arrives from PFC CSKA Moskva, while Argentinian defender Osmar Ferreyra has signed from CA San Lorenzo in his homeland. Completing the quintet are 21-year-old Czech midfielder Mario Holek and Romanian striker Ionuţ Mazilu.
"We are not ready to trumpet about the UEFA Champions League yet," said Protasov, who allowed Ukrainian Under-21 midfielder Konstyantyn Kravchenko to join Shakhtar last week. “Everyone knows it is harder to hold onto this position than to reach it." Also sounding caution is the club’s general director Andriy Stetsenko, who like Protasov prefers not to think about what might be, especially since Shaktar could go top if they win their game in hand. "We will work calmly without thinking about possible scenarios," said Stetsenko. "We are satisfied enough with the fact that we are bringing extra-spice to title race together with Metalist.”
Dnipro, who were knocked out of the UEFA Cup in the first round by Aberdeen FC, have travelled to Turkey where they intend to play a number of friendlies. "This training camp is planned to shape our squad," said Protasov. "The players understand the high cost of leadership and value it accordingly.”
The Premier League resumes in early March when Dnipro face a potentially crucial fixture against Dynamo, and breaking the Shaktar-Dynamo stranglehold would represent a considerable achievement for Dnipro, a feat no club has managed to achieve since SC Tavriya Simferopol’s success of 1992. "Many people wrote that the destiny of Ukrainian title would be once again decided by Dynamo and Shakhtar," added Stetsenko. Everyone connected with Dnipro will be hoping to prove the doubters wrong come the season’s end.
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