The State of Ukranian Club Football
May 27, 2019
Ukranian Premier League
Most Championships: Dynamo Kiev, 15
Last 5 Winners: Shakhtar (18/19, 17/18, 16/17), Porto (15/16, 14/15)
UEFA Ranking: 9th
Highest Ranked Club: Shakhtar, 16th
Why are Ukrainian sides so effective in European competition? Is there a lot of money in Ukrainian football?
Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv have been effective for years in European competitions, but that’s not really the case for other clubs especially since the fall of Dnipro and Metalist Kharkiv.
The two top clubs are rich (as the two other sides used to be) thanks to funds provided by their owners: Surkis for Dynamo Kyiv and Akhmetov for Shakhtar Donetsk. It’s more complicated for smaller clubs which depend on public money to survive.
Since the fall of the USSR, Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar have won all but the first Ukrainian title. Is that healthy for the league?
Not really. The Ukranian league had a higher level some years ago when Dnipro and Metalist Kharkiv among others were powerful enough to challenge Shakhtar and Dynamo: Metalist finished second in 2013 and Dnipro did the same the following year. Since the war and mainly for political reasons these teams progressively declined and disappeared from Ukrainian elite football. Now Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar Donetsk aren’t threatened by anyone else.
Dnipro and Metalist have had some successful runs in the Europa League. Is there more depth to the Ukrainian league than meets the eye?
Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv are the only teams which can compete into European competitions since the decline of Dnipro and Metalist. Other teams are way too irregular. Behind the top two the league is very homogeneous and from a year to another, a team which played to avoid relegation on a year can compete for a European spot the year after, for example Oleksandriya this season.
What is seen as a successful year in Europe for Ukrainian football fans?
Dynamo Kyiv reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 1999 but more recently the season 2008/2009 was the golden year of Ukrainian football in Europe not only because of the win of Shakhtar Donetsk into the least edition of UEFA Cup but also because other Ukrainian team had good results. Dynamo Kyiv reached the semi-finals of this competition and were beaten by Shakhtar and earlier Metalist Kharkiv finished at the top of a difficult group (above Galatasaray, Olympiakos, Hertha Berlin and Benfica), eliminated Sampdoria before being eliminated at the round of 16…by Dynamo Kyiv! In the Champions League, even if both of them finished 3rd of their group, Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kiev had some great performances and beat Barcelona and Porto respectively.
2012/2013 was also seen as a good season not really because of the European performance of the teams but because of the level of the league which was really high.
Do most of the country get behind the Ukrainian sides playing in Europe or is there a lot of tribalism still apparent?
It depends on the friendship between the team and their fans. Shakhtar Donetsk will not cheer for Dynamo Kyiv and inversely but Dnipro, which had to play in Kyiv during his 2014/2015 EL campaign for security reason, had a lot of support from Dynamo Kyiv fans.
How do you think the Europa League 2 will affect Ukrainian EL performances and what has been the reaction to the formation of the competition in Ukraine?
As long as the level of the league behind Shakhtar and Dynamo will be this weak, it would probably not change a lot the performances of Ukrainian teams/
What would you like to see UEFA do to level the playing field more for small European sides?
I would like a more open Champions League, the recent changes and the incoming ones aren’t good news for smaller leagues. For me, creating a new EL sounds like a consolation to make the sides from the smaller league know that they are not welcome into elite football anymore.
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Author: Tom Mortimer
Tom is the editor at Betting Circle and has been creating online content for over 10 years. Tom mainly writes about sport and gambling, but every now and then also delves into fleshier subjects like politics and psychology. When he was 18 he created HungarianFootball.com and over the last few years he's written on a freelance basis for ESPN, WorldSoccer, Goal.com, among many others.