But since then, the Eastern Ukrainian side have defied their oppressors and won the last five league titles. While Donetsk have always been a close second in Ukraine, they have finally flipped the script and been the stronger of the two Ukrainian giants.
The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has made this year a bumpy one for Donetsk, as unrest has affected their football. In the summer, after a friendly in France, some of the players decided to stay in Switzerland with their safety back home uncertain (the players returned shortly after). But the problems didn’t end there, as further unrest forced Donetsk to play all of their home games this season in Lviv, over 600 miles away, near the western border.
Despite these issues, Shakhtar has been able to push through and are engaged in a heated battle with Dynamo, who hold a five-point lead just after the halfway mark. They are led by a solid strike force which has kept them afloat during this tough time. Center forward Olexandr Gladkiy has driven the side forward with seven tallies this year. Bolstering their attack are a pair of Brazilians, Alex Teixeira – who was part of the Switzerland holdout — and Luiz Adriano, who have nine goals between them. This is not surprising, as Donetsk have been snatching up young Brazilian talent for years now.
And it’s been working.
Since a managerial change in 2004, Shakhtar switched it’s player-pursuit strategy to scour Brazil for young talent. Leaching from the depth of talent in Brazil, their core of imports allowed them to stay relevant and finally overcome Kyiv in recent years. The current squad is comprised of almost half Brazilians. One of the biggest players in club history is Willian, who Shakhtar groomed for seven years, in which they won four titles, before he moved to Chelsea. As long as Donetsk keep the Brazilian
However, massive domestic league success has not resulted in success in Europe. Donetsk have only made it out of the Champions League round of 16 once in the past decade, and they were ousted in the following round by Barcelona 6-1 over two legs.
In the group stage this year, Donetsk maneuvered their way out of a group with Porto, Athletic Bilbao and BATE Borisov. While it wasn’t the most difficult group, Shakhtar did what was needed, managing two wins, three draws and just a single loss to finish second behind Porto. Their reward is a home and away with German giants Bayern Munich.
For Shakhtar, this is another chance to be a giant slayer. Bayern have just one win in their past three games — in the case of Bayern this is extremely poor form — meaning it could be a good time to catch the Germans. This tie certainly could end in a blowout, but if Shakhtar can keep the first leg close, all the pressure will be on Bayern at the Allianz.
Regardless of the result this year, Shakhtar has built a club to last. They will continue to compete domestically and in Europe for the foreseeable future, especially if that Brazilian pipeline keeps producing quality pieces. They have experience in the knockout rounds of the Champions League, and with each year that passes, they become more of a threat regardless of where or who they are forced to play.