Europe’s Underdogs – Shakhtar Donetsk 2010/2011

There were once simpler times in Ukraine. War did not ripple through the nation. No pro-Russian separatists declaring republics, no revolutions ousting current presidents, no military stalemates driving football clubs out of their homes. In 2011 the foundations were of course being laid, an increasing divide in a nation torn between two neighbours. Russia to its east and the European Union to its west, a country deciding which path it wanted to take.

But in Eastern Ukraine, in a city which would just three years later be at the centre of the storm, the home of the soon to be born People’s Republic of Donetsk, its footballers were enjoying perhaps the most golden moment in the famous club’s history. A new 52,000 seater stadium barely two years years old, its seats decked in orange and black and its pitch playing home to a collection of players from around the globe, dominating Ukraine and challenging on the continent. Shakhtar Donetsk in 2010/2011 were among the best of the best.

Champions League quarter finalists, only Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona could knock them out, two rounds before lifting the trophy themselves. Occasionally in football you get teams trapped in time, a squad of talents whose trajectories seem scarcely possible to believe. Shakhtar Donetsk in 2010/2011 were such a team. They may go down as the finest eleven a Ukrainian club has ever assembled. Few worldwide could rival it.

Andriy Pyatov – Goalkeeper

You may not believe me but if you’ve watched enough football you’ll recognise the Ukrainian international. A towering dependable goalkeeper, his consistency is encapsulated in his list of clubs. Now in his 14th season with Shakhtar his journey seems to be coming to an end but it has been an exciting one. Despite playing the vast majority of his career at one club, Shakhtar have played their home games in 4 different cities. Donetsk (2007-2014), Lviv (2014-2016), Kharkiv (2017-2020), Kyiv (2020-) and the veteran has witnessed all the ups and downs that have gone along with it. In the Shakthar 2010-2011 season he played 42 times.

Shakhtar 2010 2011 - Andriy Pyatov
(c) Getty Images

Darijo Srna – Right Back

No man has played more times for Shakhtar Donetsk. 536 appearances across fifteen trophy-laden years. Ten Ukrainian league titles, seven Ukranian Cups and the crowning glory in Shakhtar’s history, the 2008/2009 UEFA Cup. A man-of the match performance in the final to boot. In a team full of veritable superstars his contribution was huge.

Such was his standing that Chelsea and Bayern Munich came calling. Both times he turned them down, only leaving the club for one season with Cagliari. Shakhtar, however, wanted him back making him assistant manager and now director of football. His impact with Croatia was just as immense, 134 caps and memorable free kicks aplenty, most famously versus Australia in the 2006 World Cup. Again no man has played for Croatia more than he. In the 2010/2011 season he made 39 appearances for Shakhtar scoring four times.

Yaroslav Rakitskyi – Centre-Back

With the attacking talent to come the next two players will always go under the radar. His second season with the first team the Ukrainian who would go on to amass 54 caps for his country was, at the age of just twenty-one, already Shakhtar’s first choice centre-back. Upon leaving Shakhtar in 2019 he would go on to win the Russian Premier League twice with Zenit St Petersburg.

Răzvan Raț – Left-Back

The Romanian left-back with a superb name was reaching the twilight of his career, and well on the way to seven Ukrainian Premier League titles. West Ham fans will remember him for his brief stint in the 2013/14 season and he would finish his career with Rayo Vallecano in Spain, PAOK in Greece, before returning to Romania for a final sojourn with Poli Timişoara. In 14 years he won 113 caps for Romania, fourth on the all-time list.

Dmytro Chygrynskiy – Centre-Back

Centre-back Chygrynskiy may be the most interesting player you never knew existed. Beginning his career with Shakhtar, the Ukrainian started to develop a reputation as one of Europe’s most promising defenders. Shakhtar’s UEFA cup campaign in 2008/09 drew wider attention before he signed for Barcelona that summer aged twenty-three.  Around €25 million was the fee. He would last one season in Catalonia,  playing fourteen times and winning La Liga with the club before Shakhtar bought him back for just €15 million a season later. A thunderous volley versus Arsenal marked the peak of his return before he disappeared from view. Four subsequent seasons with Shakhtar he managed barely thirty-one appearances and now finds himself settled in Greece with AEK Athens, having not received an international cap after the age of 25.  

Fernandinho – Defensive Midfielder

By the time Fernandinho joined Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City in 2013 he was twenty-eight, a six-time winner of Ukraine’s top division and the best player in Ukraine in 2008/2009. One of seven Brazilians in the squad it is testament to the standing of Shakhtar that he spent eight seasons with the club, joining as a twenty-year-old from Atletico Paranaense for £7m in 2005.

£34 million may seem a snip by today’s standards but in 2013 his move to Manchester was the seventh most expensive signing in world football that year, with the Brazilian the oldest player to make the top 10 list. Few could have predicted quite the impact. Over three-hundred and thirty appearances later, a place in the 2018/19 team of the year he has won three league titles (soon to be four), five league cups and one FA Cup. If he could top it off with a Champions League win in June then this already illustrious chapter may need rewriting.

The 2010/2011 season saw him score three times in twenty appearances for Shakhtar.

Tomáš Hübschman – Defensive Midfielder

Before we pile into one of the most attacking line ups the Champions League has ever seen, in the Czech Republic’s Hübschman, Shakhtar had one last piece of defensive stability. Deployed as either a centre back or defensive midfielder Hübschman joined in 2004 from Sparta Prague. Embedding himself as a constant in various positions throughout the team. A major part in five clean sheets for Shakhtar throughout the 2010-2011 Champions League campaign he would leave the club in 2014 after 268 appearances, returning to his homeland with Jablonec, and would amass 58 international caps.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan – Centre Midfielder (at this point in time)

Slowly developing a reputation as an exciting young prospect, Shakhtar making the 2010/2011 Champions League quarter finals was the first Europe really saw of the twenty-one year old Armenian. Then playing often as a third centre-midfielder he would be slowly be given more freedom throughout his three seasons at Donetsk, plundering 25 goals in only 29 league matches in his final campaign in Ukraine.

Borussia Dortmund had seen enough to make Mkhitaryan their record signing (€27.5 million) and again over three seasons he would become a mainstay in Jurgen Klopp’s side, before kicking on under Thomas Tuchel. Twenty-three goals from attacking midfield in his final season, Manchester United took the plunge but his four year stay in England will likely be looked on as failing to meet expectations. 122 appearances and 22 goals for Manchester United and Arsenal, he did form a crucial role in Manchester United’s Europa League triumph in his first season, scoring six goals, but fell out of favour under Mourinho at United and latterly Unai Emery at Arsenal.

Armenia’s record goalscorer, Mkhitaryan is enjoying a renaissance aged thirty-two as Roma seek a return to the Champions League.

Jadson – Attacking Midfielder

The Brazilian attacking midfielder is one of those players who makes you question why he never played for a bigger European club but this would be failing to give Shakhtar their credit. Signed in early 2005 from Atlético Paranaense, paving the way for Fernandinho joining from the same club a few months later, he quickly embedded himself as a goal-scoring midfielder. In 2008/09 he enjoyed his greatest moment, scoring the winner in extra time to earn Shakhtar the UEFA Cup.

64 goals in 274 appearances he enjoyed seven and a half successful seasons in eastern Ukraine winning six league titles. Despite rumours in the summer of 2011 linking him to Arsenal, he decided to return home to Brazil in 2012 with Sao Paulo at the age of just twenty-eight.

A Copa Sudamericana was his immediate reward (South America’s Europa League equivalent) as he added the last of his eight Brazil caps. He would move to Corinithians, win two league titles with the club, sandwiched between a year long stay in China and their second tier title with Tianjin Quanjian. Retiring in 2019, Jadson may just be the best player you’ve never heard of. He scored eight times in thirty-eight games for Shakhtar in 2010/2011.

Willian – Winger

Willian Borges da Silva may have come to Chelsea via Anzhi Makhachkala but it was at Shakhtar where he spent all but his last six months on the continent. He was signed from Corinthians for €14 million in 2007 on the back of his first season as a professional. The Brazilian immediately hit the ground running in Ukraine playing twenty times on the way to Shakhtar winning the league title. From there he only grew and in 2010/2011 no player played more games in orange and black. With the typical quick feet you’d expect from a Brazilian he was already displaying a nous which regarded possession as a special commodity.

Attracting attention across Europe, his move to Russia was a sign of just how much money was heading into Russian football at the time. €35 million, he remains today the third most expensive signing in Russian history but would move to Chelsea for just £30m six months later as the Russian club’s owner slashed their playing budget by two-thirds. 238 appearances in Ukraine and Russia, all but seventeen of these came for Shakhtar.

Anzhi’s loss was very much Chelsea’s gain. 339 appearances later, a second UEFA Cup (Europa League) to add to his 2008/09 triumph with Donetsk and two Premier League titles, his recent struggles at Arsenal will likely be forgotten before long. 70 caps for Brazil and now aged thirty-two he is another in the long list of an incredible talent factory.

Douglas Costa – Winger

Despite a resumé most famously featuring Bayern Munich and Juventus, nowhere has Costa played more football than for Shakhtar Donetsk. Six seasons, 202 appearances and 38 goals, the Brazilian signed aged just nineteen and for €6 million from Gremio. His first game on European soil? A 2-1 loss at Craven Cottage in Fulham’s run to the final.

One quarter of a Brazilian front four he would win five league titles in Ukraine, three in Italy and two in Germany and is still only thirty. 31 caps for his country he is now back on loan at Bayern Munich and will be targeting his first Champions League triumph.

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Luiz Adriano – Striker

The sole out and out striker in Shakhtar’s side, Luiz Adriano stayed longer than any other Brazilian. Signed from Internacional in 2007, Shakhtar took the plunge after a number of eye-catching performances in the Club World Cup, a tournament the Brazilian side won. Signed for a reported €3 million he would spend nine seasons in Ukraine, netting more than fifteen times in six different campaigns. A pacey striker with a finisher’s instinct he scored nine times in the 2014/2015 Champions League group stage, a then record shared with Cristiano Ronaldo. It was performances like this that eventually earned a move to AC Milan for just €8 million in the summer of 2015, as well as four caps for Brazil. In Milan he couldn’t replicate his form and headed eastwards eighteen months later for four successful seasons with Spartak Moscow, earning a Russian Premier League title on the way.

Now thirty-three he is still playing some of his best football, helping fire Palmeiras to their second Copa Libertadores title. This final triumph means he has won South America’s premier competition, the Club World Cup and the UEFA Cup all with different teams.    

Eduardo – Striker

Arsenal fans will be well familiar with the Croatian striker, who’s name I will always associate whenever I think the term ‘horror tackle’. In north London he never quite recovered from the fracture that had Sky Sports avoiding all replays but in Donetsk he was enjoying a successful renaissance. Four goals in Europe, he would score twelve in thirty-three appearances in 2010/11 without ever being the first choice striker. Three more seasons followed before he would make a one year move away from Shakhtar, moving to Brazilian club Flamengo. A return to Shakhtar came calling in July 2015 where she scored eighteen goals in the subsequent season. Brief stints in Brazil once more (Atletico Paranaense) and in Poland with Legia Warsaw would conclude his career.

The 47 goals in 47 games in the 2006/07 season with Dinamo Zagreb remains a club record and he scored twenty nine goals in sixty-four caps during a ten year international career.

This is the latest in our Europe’s underdogs series, if you have others you would like us to explore, feel free to let us know in the comments section.

Featured image “File:Gol fernandinho 1.jpg” by copa2014.gov.br is licensed under CC BY 3.0

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What became of Europe’s underdogs? – Monaco 2017?

Plucky underdog status is not usually reserved for a club hailing from one of the world’s richest principalities but hear me out. The season on AS Monaco in 2016-2017 is some story.

At the end of the 2010/2011 season AS Monaco were reaching their lowest ebb, finishing 18th in Ligue Un and dropping down to the second tier for the first time in almost half a century.

The club that had given the world Thierry Henry, taken a chance on an unknown Arsene Wenger and won seven league titles were fast becoming a case study in a model of poor management. Things were to get worse with Monaco falling to the bottom of Ligue 2 in December 2011.

Now this is not your traditional fairy-tale. It features a Russian billionaire (Dymytro Rybolovlev) and a transfer spending spree rarely seen in France. But only five years later Monaco were back at the top of French football, winning their eighth league title and in May 2017 were lining up within two games of their second Champions League final.

Juventus would beat them comfortably enough in the end (4-1 on aggregate) but it wouldn’t be the last you would be hearing of a squad packed full of youthful talent, now plying their trade at some of Europe’s top clubs.

Danijel Subašić – Goalkeeper (Free agent)

English fans may remember the Croatian as the man standing between Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and a World Cup final. That would be to do a disservice to a goalkeeper who enjoyed a fine career in his own right. Joining Monaco from Hajduk Split in 2012, Subašić was one of the first signings made when Rybolovlev took over the club.

Subasic joined a month into the Russian’s tenure and came as a 27-year-old keeper with a burgeoning reputation. It was one that only grew at Monaco and eight and a half years later he had amassed 292 appearances for the club. Enough to be the fifth highest appearance maker in the club’s history. Released in the summer of 2020 Subasic is currently without a club and at 36 looks likely to retire from the sport.

Nabil Dirar – Left Back/Winger (Club Brugge)

Moroccan international Nabil Dirar ring any bells? Me neither I’m afraid but through the absence of Benjamin Mendy he lined up in the first leg of their semi-final. A threat from defence, he often plays higher up the pitch and joined AS Monaco in the summer of 2012. Signing from Club Brugge for a €7.5 million transfer fee, it was the highest sum the Belgian club had ever received.

In the summer of 2017 he would seek a move away from Monaco and join Fenerbahce. Captaining the Turkish side he would score seven times in seventy-three appearances but would be frozen out of the side towards the end of his contract. He has just signed on loan for Club Brugge, coming full circle in a career that has included 41 international caps and an appearance at the 2018 World Cup.

Andrea Raggi – Right Back/Centre Back (Retired)

Italian defender Raggi would enjoy the high point of his career in a continental run which saw him play more times in Europe than he would do in the league. A career in Italy with Bari, Bologna, Empoli and Sampdoria he would be employed through Monaco’s Champions League campaign as a third centre back in a three five two formation. His effectiveness earned him a contract extension that would see him retire with the club as a thirty-five-year old Champions League semi-finalist and Ligue Un winner.

Jemerson – Centre Back (Corinthians)

Brazilian centre-back Jemerson would play 54 times in Monaco’s successful 2016/2017 season. New to the side he had joined the previous year from Brazilian side Atlético Mineiro. Often forgotten in a team with such explosive fullbacks, the centre-back would fall out of favour at Monaco and eventually return to Brazil with Corinthians. He has since established himself as a first choice centre-back in a side currently bobbing around in midtable.

Kamil Glik – Centre Back (Benevento)

Wherever he goes Polish international Glik seems to find his way into the manager’s plans. A mainstay at Torino, when he was sold to Monaco he went with a epitaph fonder than most:

“It has been five wonderful years, intense, full of emotions and mutual satisfaction”  said Torino in their official statement. Tough-tackling his propensity for important goals endeared him to fans. None more so than his last minute half volley snatching a crucial point against Leverkusen in the group stage.

In the summer of 2020 Glik signed a three-year contract with Benevento. He has provided a steadying hand, steering the Southern Italian club comfortably clear of the Serie A dropzone. Now 33, only ten players have made more appearances for the Polish national side and Glik will hope to add a few more caps to his tally of 79.

Djibril Sidibé – Right Back (Monaco)

Few players drew more acclaim in Monaco’s run than full back Sidibé. His performance against Spurs in the group stage was a major factor in the north London side’s failure to escape make the last 16. From there things started to snowball. Electric pace, dangerous crosses by the end of the season it was a matter of when, not if Sidibé would leave the south of France. A World Cup win with France only cemented his reputation. When Everton signed him on loan it was a genuine coup.

Twenty-five Premier League appearances later, Sidibé failed to set the Premier league alight, in a side adjusting to life under Carlo Ancellotti. Ultimately the Italian decided not to make the loan permanent and Sidibé now finds himself back at Monaco and without an international appearance in three years. Aged 28 it remains to be seen whether one of Europe’s hottest talents can recapture the form that had tongues wagging for a couple of golden seasons.

Benjamin Mendy – Left Back (Manchester City)

Mendy’s impact at Monaco was so explosive it is difficult to believe it lasted just the one season. He arrived at the club after three successful campaigns at Marseille.  Alongside Sidibé the pair’s devastating forward runs got the better of both Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund in their march to the semifinal.

Despite only playing 25 league games, critics deemed his performances to be good enough to be named one of six Monaco players in the Ligue Un team of the year and it is perhaps fitting that Manchester City were the side to pay £52m to bring him to Lancashire. Injuries haven’t helped him but Mendy now finds himself down the pecking order at City. Even Zinchenko has been preferred of late. Whether he can add some defensive maturity to his natural talent is the biggest question with the now 27 year old World Cup winner at a pivotal juncture in his career.

Bernardo Silva – Right Winger (Manchester City)

When Bernardo Silva arrived at the Stade Louis II stadium he did so with just a solitary league appearance for Benfica under his belt. Monaco had seen enough and the twenty-year-old winger quickly impressed enough to make a loan move permanent in January 2015. The rest, as they say, is history. Seven goals in forty-four appearances helped guide Monaco back to the Champions League before Monaco’s European adventure. Eleven goals in fifty-eight appearances for Monaco in 2017. Only Valère Germain played more for Monaco and Silva was one of Europe’s most wanted.

Pep Guardiola pulled the trigger and the Portuguese international continues to form an integral part of a City side winning the league at a canter. Their 2021 win was his third league title in Manchester.

Fabinho – Centre Midfielder (Liverpool)

With Liverpool’s current injury crisis perhaps we should be adding centre-back to his position but it was most definitely as a ball-winning, positionally aware and incisive defensive midfielder that Fabinho earned his stripes.

Joining Monaco on loan in the summer of 2013 he did so technically as a Rio Ave player, despite never having played for the Portuguese club. Looked over by Real Madrid, José Mourinho didn’t take up the option and Monaco took their chance. Fabinho made 233 appearances and was signed permanently in the summer of 2015. The Brazilian had well and truly broken through without earning the same acclaim as his headline grabbing teammates.

Under-utilised by Brazilian selectors (he has only 12 caps) Fabinho’s 2018 move to Liverpool came about for a reported initial fee of £39 million. With both Champions League and Premier League winning contributions, Liverpool fans will see a worthwhile return on their investment. Aged just 27 they’ll be hoping for many more years of the same.

Tiémoué Bakayoko – Centre Midfielder (Napoli)

Few players had more of an impact that Tiémoué Bakayoko. His breakthrough season all the more impressive given it was his first as a regular starter. It was good enough to earn him a place in the Champions League squad of the season. He was one of only two Monaco players. When Chelsea came calling to the tune of £40m it seemed Antonio Conte had signed a player destined to become one of the world’s best but it never really crystalised. Loan moves to AC Milan and back to Monaco followed and he now finds himself in Naples. A very good career and still only 26 the one cap wonder for France will be hoping to get back to his Monaco 2017 heights.

Joao Moutinho – Centre Midfielder (Wolverhampton Wanderers)

By the time Portugal’s second highest appearance maker moved to France, he came as a combative and skillful midfielder. And one that had already proved himself across nine trophy laden years with Sporting Lisbon and Porto. It is perhaps with little surprise that he left five years later having amassed over two hundred appearances for Monaco.

Whilst playing in the Champions league semi-finals few would have bet his next club would be in the Midlands. Even fewer that it would be Wolves, a side who would finish 15th in the Championship that season. In 2018 he made the move. Buying into Nuno Espirito Santo’s vision, with consecutive seventh place finishes he perhaps had more foresight than most. Now thirty-four Moutinho enjoys cult status in the Black Country.  

Thomas Lemar – Left Winger (Atlético Madrid)

As it did for many Monaco players, 2017 proved the most productive in the career of Lemar. Fourteen goals across the 2016/2017 season added an output to tricky feet and blinding pace. Despite a less productive 2017/18 Atlético Madrid had seen enough. They paid a reported €70 million for his signature. Three seasons down the line the goals have dried up and Lemar is currently recovering from COVID-19. Rumours persist of a move to the Premier League with Arsenal. Like many others the next eighteen months may define whether the twenty-five-year-old will force his way back into the France side and the highest echelons of world football.  

Radamel Falcao – Striker (Galatasaray)

AS Monaco and Falcao is a combination we all know well but in 2016/17 it was a different man we saw in a red and white shirt. He returned to Monaco after two unsuccessful loan spells with Manchester United and Chelsea. Once famous for his explosive power, acrobatic goals and ability to take hold of a game by 2017 he was a senior pro used to applying to the finishing touches for an attack around him drawing the plaudits.

Thirty goals in forty-three appearances it remains his best tally since leaving Atlético Madrid in 2013. Such an achievement perhaps went unnoticed in a team where others were having breakout seasons. The goals have continued for Falcao and whilst not perhaps the player only Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi could rival in Madrid he is now 35 and has scored 241 across twelve seasons in Europe. Not bad considering that included five goals across two seasons in England.

Kylian Mbappé – Striker (Paris Saint Germain)

Twenty-two years old, 140 first team goals, World Cup Winner Mbappé needs no introduction, though 2016/17 was the first in which we saw his talents. Six Champions League goals that season no player in the competition’s history has scored more goals as a teenager (13) and in the process the Frenchman earned the second Monaco place in the Champions League 2017 squad of the Season. His performance in the quarter final versus Dortmund was just one of many demonstrations of a quality we have come to expect from the maestro.

Mbappé would move in the summer to Paris for a rumoured €145 million plus €35 million in add-ons, the most expensive teenager in history. You know what happened next.

Valère Germain – Striker (Marseille)

Every team has a workhorse, a player that doesn’t take the plaudits but forms and integral role in the teams success. For Monaco in 2017 that was Valère Germain. Sixty appearances, seventeen goals, few ran more yards and in doing so he earned the rare distinction of having won both Ligue Un and Ligue Deux with Monaco. Named in the Ligue Un team of the year it was a starting return to the fold for a player who had spent the previous season loaned out to Nice.

Moving that summer to Marseille he has scored twenty-nine goals across four seasons including seven goals in their run to the 2018 Europa League final. Now thirty he will hope to force his way back into the starting line up and hope to return to the form which saw him score forty-nine goals across three seasons from 2015 to 2018.

Like our Monaco 2017 review, check out our other football long reads below.

Featured image “File:Kylian Mbappe celebrating – March 2018.jpg” by Кирилл Венедиктов is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0