If ever there was a statement of intent, FC Shakhtar Donetsk delivered it last week. The arrivals of Mexican striker Nery Alberto Castillo and Brazilian defender Ilsinho pushed their summer spending beyond €40m and signalled the latest stage in the Ukrainian club's quest to gain a place at Europe's top table.
Castillo and Ilsinho follow Cristiano Lucarelli, who signed for €8m from AS Livorno Calcio last month, a transfer Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu believes is a point of departure for Ukrainian football. "Shakhtar are becoming a team at a high European level - with the structure, the stadium, and the players," the veteran Romanian told uefa.com. "We have managed for the first time in the history of Ukrainian football to sign an Italian player of the highest level. Shakhtar are trying to improve the value of Ukrainian football and at the same time helping prepare the ground for the finals of the 2012 [UEFA] European Championship. We have to draw interest towards Ukraine and its football."
Shakhtar are certainly building on the impetus given to football in the country since Ukraine and Poland were chosen to host UEFA EURO 2012™. Their new €200m, 50,000-seat stadium was part of the bid and by the time it is completed next summer it will be home to a team to match judging by the club's ambition. The priority now, though, is a return to the group stage of the UEFA Champions League and Shakhtar will be confident of progressing after winning the first leg of their second qualifying round tie against FC Pyunik 2-0 in Armenia last week.
It has been a busy summer for Lucescu who has been rebuilding his side following the departures of Julius Aghahowa, Anatoliy Tymoschuk, Ciprian Marica, Matuzalem and most recently Brazilian international Elano Blumer. Shakhtar are backed by billionaire oligarch Rinat Akhmetov whose financial clout compares with that of Roman Abramovich. But it was the money generated from the sales that paved the way for Shakhtar's spending spree, and Lucescu stresses "we balance the budget well". Tymoschuk, Marica, and Elano alone brought in €40m. The Matuzalem transfer is yet to be settled, but will certainly push Shakhtar's net gain beyond the €50m mark. "We buy at a high price but we sell at a high price as well," Lucescu said. "Everyone wanted Castillo. He is young and has a big future ahead of him, so his price is high. It's not a negative thing. We have bought a very good player."
The key to Shakhtar's success, though, could lie closer to home. Lucescu cites the importance of Ukrainian youngsters Andriy Pyatov, Dmytro Chygrynskiy, Volodymyr Priyomov, Oleksandr Gladkiy and Ruslan Fomin to his plans. With such a turnaround over the summer, the challenge now is to mould a winning team. "It will not be easy because the [players we sold] were already integrated into our game and our way of playing in the Ukrainian championship," said Lucescu. "The newcomers will have to adapt and that will take a bit of time, but we will get there and soon won't notice the departures of the others." As Shakhtar look to wrest the title back from Dynamo and return to the UEFA Champions League, the stakes in Donetsk could hardly be higher.
This is an abridged version of a story that appears in this week's edition of the uefa.com Magazine. To read it in full, please click here.
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