Mircea Lucescu's departure will leave a huge gap to fill at Shakhtar Donetsk. UEFA.com's Mykyta Shmelyov explains how the Romanian struck gold with the Pitmen.
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Hard to believe, but true; Mircea Lucescu is saying goodbye to Shakhtar Donetsk, the club he lead to 22 trophies during a 12-year spell.
The third foreign coach in Shakhtar's history, following Nevio Scala – who led the Pitmen to their maiden title in 2002 – and Bernd Schuster, Lucescu might have been the first.
"Shakhtar started following me when I was at Galatasaray and won the UEFA Super Cup [in 2000]," the Romanian recalled. "At one point, Shakhtar president Rinat Ahmetov sent a private jet to collect me for talks, but to no avail."
Lucescu won the Turkish league with Galatasaray in 2002, and then moved on to Beşiktaş the following season, winning another title and eliminating Shakhtar's arch-rivals Dynamo Kyiv from the UEFA Cup.
Ahmetov sent Lucescu another invitation and was rebuffed again, prompting the Shakhtar president to come to Istanbul to visit him in person. "No other president would do that," said Lucescu. "He said: 'You have won two leagues in a row, but you won't win a third'. He made me another offer and soon after presented me as the new Shakhtar coach."
When Lucescu arrived at Shakhtar, they had only one Brazilian: Brandão. A year later, he had been joined by Matuzalém, Elano and Jádson. A pattern had been set.
Lucescu had fallen in love with Brazilian football during his playing career; he swapped shirts with Pelé while playing for Romania at the 1970 FIFA World Cup finals in Mexico. His vision at Shakhtar was to be a first port of call for Brazilian talent in Europe. It was not initially a popular move, but – with the club doing everything they could to make new arrivals welcome – it soon proved to be a wise plan.
In terms of results, Shakhtar reached their Lucescu-era peak in 2009 when they won their first European club competition, taking the UEFA Cup in Istanbul. However, the autumn 2012 squad may have been even better; having made it through a UEFA Champions League group featuring Juventus and Chelsea, they reached the midway point in the league season without dropping a single point.
Lucescu's great skill was his ability to regenerate teams; in recent years he has managed to find replacements for world-class players like Fernandinho, Willian, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Luiz Adriano and Douglas Costa, with the flow of trophies – and his teams' trademark aggression, speed and creativity – remaining consistent.
Where the 70-year-old will go next remains the subject of intense speculation, as is what Shakhtar will do without him. Will Lucescu be taking his Brazilian contact book elsewhere? And where will Akhmetov's private jet be heading next?