Shakhtar Donetsk and their incredible link to Brazilian players

Although Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk were put to the sword by Bayern Munich last week and subsequently eliminated from the Champions League, the eastern European club’s story of success over recent years has been extraordinary.

Since the Ukrainian Premier League was formed in 1991, the Donbass Arena outfit have been ever-presents in the top flight and challenging for the title every single campaign apart from four seasons.

A five-year period of finishing second every season was ended in 2001-02 as Shakhtar were crowned national champions for the first time, with the Miners winning nine of the last 13 top flight titles since.

Although homegrown stars have played their part in the club’s domestic dominance over the years, the continued reliance on Brazilian players has caught the eye.

Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu has been at the helm at Shakhtar since 2004 and pulls no punches over his preferred nationality when it comes to new signings.

Since Brandão signed for the eastern European club in 2002, a significant number of his countrymen have plied their trade in Ukraine and claimed domestic glory.

Notably, in the 7-0 defeat to Bayern, the visitors to the Allianz Arena had five Brazilians in their starting line-up with three more on the bench.

In their official squad this season, Shakhtar possess an incredible 13 players from the South American nation.

To put this into context, there are only 11 players from Ukraine in the contingent.

Leading English teams have taken full advantage of Shakhtar’s role in evolving little-known Brazilian players and moulding them into international-quality stars.

Willian, who was on the Ukrainian outfit’s books for seven years, now starts more often than not for Chelsea and commanded a transfer fee in the region of €35 million when he was sold to Anzhi Makhachkala for a brief pre-Stamford Bridge stint.

Fernandinho cost Manchester City a staggering £34 million after developing a reputation as one of Europe’s best box-to-box midfielders in his eight years in Donetsk.

Both are regulars in the Brazil national squad now and were included in Dunga’s latest Seleção contingent for upcoming fixtures against France and Chile.

Other notable Brazilians to have stepped out for Shakhtar over the years include Elano; another to move to Manchester after impressing in Ukraine.

Luiz AdrianoBrandão was one of the early successes. He arrived in eastern Europe in 2002 as an untried youngster and made a name for himself over seven seasons before leaving for Marseille.

Others such as Matuzalem and Jadson have shone for the Ukrainian outfit, while also representing their illustrious nation.

Of the current crop, a number of the Brazilians stand out.

Luiz Adriano has been on the club’s books since 2007 and has recently overtaken Andriy Vorobey as the top goalscorer in Shakhtar’s 78-year history.

The 27-year-old struck nine times in the Champions League this term prior to Shakhtar’s elimination, but looks likely to leave the club this summer as his contract expires.

Douglas Costa is arguably the most technically gifted of the current squad and is repeatedly mentioned as a player the top Premier League clubs are keeping an eye on.

He has proven himself in the Champions League as a top player and is the only one of Shakhtar’s current crop to be named in Dunga’s most recent Brazil squad.

Bernard was in Brazil’s World Cup squad last summer, while the likes of Fred and Wellington Nem have also received senior call-ups in the past.

Lucescu’s Brazilian revolution shows no sign of stopping and although some of the South American imports have failed to live up to their billing, Shakhtar have reaped significant rewards on those that have proved their worth.

Since 2010, of the estimated €153 million Shakhtar have spent on new players, roughly €102 million has been on Brazilian players alone.

It appears that the Donbass Arena will continue to be an unlikely home away from home for Brazilian players, who have played a significant role in shaping the most successful team in Ukraine’s recent history.

By
I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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