How David Moyes must wish to emulate the career of the man who will stand in the opposite dugout tonight. Shakthar Donetsk’s manager Mircea Lucescu got his managerial career in Donetsk off to a flyer, winning the domestic cup a couple of months after taking charge of Shakthar and followed up with two league titles in his first two full seasons in charge.
Moyes, on the other hand, has come under intense pressure during his first months at Old Trafford and while his reign at Manchester United is still in its infancy, the former Everton manager could do with a break.
A trip to Donetsk’s Donbass Arena, however, is far from a leisure visit to one of Europe’s most remote corner, one that hosts one of the continent’s most peculiar and unexplored reality, as far as football is concerned.
And to think Shakthar’s incredible success in recent seasons – Lucescu’s men have won the Ukrainian league an astonishing seven times in the last nine years – was kickstarted by a tragic incident.
Akhat Bragin, Shakthar’s former president, was killed in a bomb attack in 1995 and was succeeded by one of his closest men, Rinat Akhmetov, less than a year later.
Akhmetov, whose fortune in 2013 was estimated to be around the £9.5 billion mark, wasted no time in transforming the Miners from provincial minnows to domestic superpower, a place traditionally occupied by Dynamo Kiev, Ukraine’s most famous club.
Having reached the round of 16 last season and the quarterfinals in 2011, the 2009 UEFA Cup winners can no longer being considered a surprise at this level, but they’re still to translate their domestic success onto the Champions League stage, something that Akhmetov, like every modern day oligarch worth his name, considers essential for his club.
Despite their impressive financial resources, Shakthar have developed an impressive scouting network through which they’ve uncovered many hidden gems, who have been subsequently sold to some of Europe’s top clubs for a very profitable return.
Through this very process, Shakthtar lost Fernandinho, Willian and Henrik Mkhitaryan in the summer but replaced them with Fred, Wellington Nem and Bernard, who bolstered the already sizable Brazilian contingent in the Eastern Ukrainian city.
Of the three new arrivals, Bernard represents arguably the highest profile signing, given that the former Atletico Mineiro is likely to be one of the first names on Felipe Scolari’s list when the former Chelsea manager names his squad for the World Cup.
Despite losing some of his star players, Mircea Lucescu hasn’t steered away from the 4-2-3-1 that has become synonym with the team from Donetsk since the Romanian manager was appointed in charge in 2004.
Douglas Costa and Alex Teixeira, two members of the trio of attacking midfielders so crucial to Lucescu’s strategy, are widely tipped to become the next Brazilians to swap Donetsk’s rigorous winters from a warmer climate somewhere in Western Europe.
The former, who was once tracked by Manchester United, is a jet-heeled winger capable to torment even Europe’s finest left-backs, while the latter is arguably the star man of Lucescu’s team.
A former Vasco da Gama player, despite being only 23 Teixeira is one of Shakthar’s most experienced men, having joined the club in 2010. Originally deployed out on the right, the Brazilian has drifted into a more central position following the departure of Henrik Mkhitaryan and his two goals against Real Sociedad a fortnight ago confirmed he’s as good at finishing as he’s at creating.
The Romanian manager, one of football last globetrotters, and his football philosophy have ensured that while the personnel might have changed over the years, Shakthar’s approach on the pitch has remained unaltered and the Miners could go a long way this season.
Lucescu, who became Donetsk’s longest-serving manager last season, is by many considered to be Shakthar’s very own Fergie, and what better way to send a strong message to Europe’s top clubs than beating Manchester United and Sir Alex’s successor?