Manuel Veth –
The Ukrainian Premier League returned this weekend and once again it was the two big clubs Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv who were in the primary focus. Both clubs faced each other on Friday in the Ukrainian Super Cup, and Shakhtar reasserted their dominance over their rivals by beating Dynamo 2-0. What stands out the most though on the opening weekend of the season is the relative inactivity of Ukrainian clubs in this summer’s transfer window.
Both teams were given very little time between the Super Cup and matchday 1. Tight scheduling, as a result of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, means that the majority of all Ukrainian Premier League games will have to be played before the three-month long winter break.
Hence, Dynamo and Shakhtar were in action again on Tuesday, and it came to no surprise that both teams did their home work by beating their opposition—Shakhtar beat Chornomorets Odesa 2-1, and Shakhtar dispatched Vorskla Poltava 3-0. While both got their victories what stood out is that neither team started the season with any significant signings.
Dynamo Kyiv’s only signing Tomasz Kedziora did not even make the matchday squad, and the only real new face on the team was new head coach Alyaksandr Khatskevich. Khatskevich made some small changes to his predecessor Serhiy Rebrov most significantly he started Dieumerci Mbokani up front.
Transfer Window is Dominated by Loan Returnees
Mbokani spent last season out on loan at Hull City without making a significant impact in England. With no club willing to step in to buy the striker Mbokani is back in Ukraine hoping that he can get more playing time in the capital under a new head coach.
Shakhtar’s only real new signing this season in the meantime is Davit Khocholava. The 24-year-old Georgian was signed from Chornomorets Odesa on a free transfer this summer. Khocholava, however, did not feature in Shakhtar’s squad on Tuesday and it is likely that the club will send the defender out on loan to gain much needed playing time.
Instead, Shakhtar head coach Paulo Fonseca seems to trust the very same players he used last season. With one exception the Brazilian Alan Patrick got a rare start on Tuesday, and it will be interesting to see whether the 26-year-old attacking midfielder will feature more prominently under Fonseca this season.
Other than Alan Patrick it was the same old faces at Shakhtar Donetsk. Granted it is still early in the season, and the transfer window is still open until August 31. But given the club’s inactivity in recent years it is unlikely that Shakhtar will make a significant splash in the transfer window this summer.
The inactivity of the two leading clubs is somewhat reflective of what is going on in the Ukrainian Premier League in general. Overall the 12 Ukrainian Premier League clubs have spent just €1.3 million on 119 new signings, which is just €125,000 on new players on average per club.
Shakhtar and Dynamo are Hit Hard by the Countries Economic Situation
It is a significant step back to the times when Shakhtar Donetsk alone was able to purchase players like Bernard, who cost €26 million in 2013. The reasons for the slow down in spending are simply. The country is still suffering from the economic consequences of the 2013 Euromaidan revolution and the conflict in the Donbass that is still on going four years later.
As a result of the conflict, Shakhtar Donetsk will be forced to play their home games this season at the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv. Dynamo in the meantime has taken a significant financial hit when one of Ukraine’s largest banks, the Privat Bank, was nationalist earlier this year. The Surkis brothers, Ihor and Hryhoriy, both have most of their investments in the bank and therefore had to cut down their investments at Dynamo.
In fact, it will be interesting to see what kind of impact the political and economic situation will have on the two big clubs this summer. There has been once again talk about Andriy Yarmolenko and the possibility that he could leave Dynamo. The winger has been notoriously linked with a move abroad the last three summers but has stayed in Ukraine thanks to his high salary.
Now with his club facing financial uncertainty, Dynamo may be forced to sell him. Whether there is a market for him remains to be seen, however. The same goes for Shakhtar Donetsk’s Bernard. The quick Brazilian was linked with a move to Everton in England on several occasions. Up until now he has stayed put, but he might be Shakhtar’s biggest asset and selling him would give them room to manoeuvre on the transfer market come August.
Either way, the Ukrainian Premier League transfer window will likely see very few activities. Whether that will make a huge difference on the national table remains to be seen. Shakhtar will continue to be the favourites tightly followed by a Dynamo side that is currently in a bit of a transition.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and social media junior editor at Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.