"When you are 20, you are young and you have to take risks," is how FC Shakhtar Donetsk's Brazilian international midfielder Fernandinho recalls his move, seven years ago, from Clube Atlético Paranaense to Ukraine. "I arrived here in a totally different country, with a different culture, different climate, but everything went as I expected and I'm sure a 20-year-old today would take the same risk that I did."
It is easy to forget what a gamble it was. At the time, the Pitmen had won just two Ukrainian titles and had only once graced the UEFA Champions League group stage. Since then, Shakhtar have lifted the UEFA Cup in 2009 and reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League in 2011.
Coach Mircea Lucescu had already started his policy of importing Brazilian flair. That strategy has paid off spectacularly and, this season, there are nine Brazilians in the squad – ten if you include Rio-born Croatia striker Eduardo. Pundits suggest these could be golden years for Shakhtar. Fernandinho hopes so, but his optimism is tempered with caution.
"Our dream is to win the Champions League. I have always said that it is the strongest competition in the world, so we have to take it step by step if we are to achieve our objective. But the games in this competition – especially against Chelsea, who are champions of Europe – can be very dangerous.
"We went through a similar situation in 2007. We played Milan, who were champions at the time, and we lost in Italy and here. From there on the team lost their balance, the confidence went. Today we're more mature as a team. We know that if you cannot win a Champions League match, you should be sure not to lose it."
Fernandinho says the easiest way to understand Shakhtar is to study their game against Juventus in Turin on matchday two, when they enjoyed 58% possession and were unlucky only to draw 1-1. "In that match we played the way we want to play, which is to pass the ball, be patient and attack." They are also, as Chelsea FC found, astute and skilful enough to exploit any space left by opponents, though they do look more fearsome in attack than in defence.
Fernandinho's success has inspired many Brazilian players to make the same switch he did in 2005 and join one of the finest finishing schools in European football. The midfielder admits that one of the main attractions for his compatriots "is the financial difference between the two countries. The other reason is that most Brazilian footballers dream of playing for big clubs in Europe. Today Shakhtar are a big club in Europe." Nobody would dispute that. With Fernandinho at their heart, the Pitmen stand on the edge of glory.
This is an abridged version of an article that appears in the latest edition of Champions Matchday which is available in digital versions on Apple Newsstand or Zinio, as well as in print. You can follow the magazine on Twitter @ChampionsMag.
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