Manuel Veth –
Junior Moraes was one of the most hated figures in Kyiv last season. The Brazilian striker refused to renew his contract, and by the spring rumours suggested that the 31-year-old was going to leave the club from the capital to join rivals Shakhtar Donetsk.
As a result, Junior Moraes was even briefly expelled from training but in the end, finished the season with Dynamo in good faith scoring five goals in 18 Ukrainian Premier Liha games for Dynamo. On the surface, those were not the most impressive numbers, but Junior Moraes also managed to score seven goals and one assist in 10 UEFA Europa League games for Dynamo.
Then at the end of the season, Junior Moares did indeed the unthinkable. The free agent signed a contract with Shakhtar Donetsk.
A sin not just for Dynamo fans but also for Shakhtar fans. After all Junior Moraes was in many ways a marked man following his antics during the all-Ukrainian derby on matchday 18 of the 2016/17 Ukrainian Premier Liha season.
It was one of those classics that defined the rivalry between Ukraine’s two biggest clubs. The match ended 3-4 in Shakhtar’s favour, but the next day everyone talked about Junior Moraes, who in the 61′ minute had gone berserk punching out several Shakhtar players getting himself sent off.
Junior Moraes – Escape to China
The Brazilian was sent off and given a five-game match ban. Not that it seemed to matter. Dynamo had quickly shipped off the Brazilian to the Chinese Super League where he signed for Tianjin Quanjian.
At that point, Junior Moraes had scored ten goals in 16 matches for Dynamo Kyiv in the UPL. But money talks and Junior Moraes blackout against Shakhtar Donetsk meant that there was plenty of pressure on the Brazilian forward in the country.
China, however, turned out to be an even bigger nightmare. Junior Moraes played just three games for Tianjin Quanjin and by June he was back in Ukraine to sit out his suspension.
Going into the season with just one year left on his contract the question was whether Dynamo were genuinely interested in keeping the Brazilian. But his goals in Europe made him a hot commodity and then the rumour about a potential move to Shakhtar started.
That rumour grew louder and louder, and by mid-spring, it seemed all but a certainty. When the move was finally announced in June Junior Moraes had to live with the full hate of the Dynamo supporters.
Scrolling through the messages left on the Instagram post in which he announced his transfer was just one indication of how Dynamo Kyiv fans felt about the transfer. Comments like Judas, or traitor were among the nicest comments left under the post.
His former teammates at Dynamo were also upset. All sort of experts weighed in on the transfer. Many stated that they understood the motivation behind the deal and Ukrainian football expert and writer Artem Frankov pointed out that Junior Moraes was not a Dynamo product but came from Metalurh Donetsk.
“Shakhtar had the right to negotiate with Moraes six months before his contract was over. There is nothing wrong legally. It is more of a question of football morality,” Frankov told tribuna.com.
“I knew he had signed for Shakhtar in February. The whole country was talking about it and he, Moraes, swore it was not true. He told everyone including the president of Dynamo that he had an invitation from China and the UAE, where they offer a lot of money. And if he doesn’t go there, he will stay with Dynamo. Meanwhile, he had everything arranged with Dynamo,” talk show host Igor Tsyangyk said on the show Profutbol. “We have a saying in Ukraine: ‘be noble tell the truth.’ Especially when your club is fighting for the championship. And he was not,” Tsyganyk added.
Be noble tell the truth
The Brazilian was under fire. It also did not get any easier as his first competitive game for Shakhtar was against Dynamo Kyiv in the Ukrainian Super Cup at the Chornomorets in Odessa.
Shakhtar ultimately lost the match, and Dynamo Kyiv players refused to shake hands with their former teammate. Criticism that only got worse on on matchday 3 of the Ukrainian Premier Liha.
The 31-year-old striker had started well for his club scoring goals in Shakhtar’s first two games against Desna and Arsenal Kyiv. Then on matchday 3, Shakhtar faced Dynamo Kyiv at the Olympiyskyi in Kyiv.
Once again the players of Dynamo Kyiv refused to shake hands with their former teammate. “It was team decision not to shake hands with Moraes,” Oleksandr Andriievskyi later told the media. The response from the stands was also not kind with Dynamo fans throwing toilet paper and unrolling banners in which Junior Moraes was criticised for his move in the kindest of terms.
On the field, the Brazilian striker seemingly struggled. “It was a difficult game,” was all the Brazilian said after the match. But perhaps it was the sort of game the striker needed because the 31-year-old has been flying ever since.
In 12 Ukrainian Premier Liha games, this season Moraes has scored ten goals and four assists. The Brazilian also added two goals and one assist in three Champions League games. On average he has scored every 105 minutes in the UPL and every 132 minutes in the Champions League.
Impressive numbers for a 31-year-old, who was considered by some just a bench player for Shakhtar. In reality, however, he may have been the sort of player that was still lacking in the system that Shakhtar head coach Paulo Fonseca likes to play. In the last few years, Shakhtar usually operated with three quick attacking players and a target man up front.
The wingers would then quickly interchange positions using the striker as a battering ram up front. It was a system that worked well under Fonseca in the first two seasons. But it was also a system born out of necessity as the club has lacked a true striker ever since the departure of forward Alex Teixeira to China.
Comparisons between Junior Moraes and Alex Teixeira have already been made in Ukraine. Both Brazilians managed seven goals in the opening eight games and Alex Teixeira was well on his way to breaking Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s goalscoring record before the club sold him to China in February 2016.
With 66 goals in 126 UPL games, Moraes is already considered one of the most prolific strikers in Ukrainian football. It was, therefore, no surprise that rumour emerged linking Junior Moraes with a switch of national allegiances from Brazil to Ukraine. “I would be happy to play for the Ukrainian national team,” the striker told the media in September.
A poll run on tribuna.com, however, showed that the majority of Dynamo fans had not forgotten about Junior Moraes’ transfer from Shakhtar to Dynamo. “If and when Moraes becomes eligible I will comment on the matter,” Ukraine national team head coach Andriy Shevchenko told the media in September. Since then Moraes has kept scoring and the discussion on whether the striker should be naturalised has continued. One roadblock could be his loan to China, which interrupted his stay in Ukraine – he had to be in the country for five years continuously to meet FIFA naturalisation.
Ukrainian passport or not Junior Moraes is currently the best striker in the country. At the same time, he might also be the most controversial player in the country. His move epitomises the hate between the two biggest clubs in the nation and is the Ukrainian equivalent of when Luis Figo joined Real Madrid from Barcelona in 2000 or when Andreas Möller moved from Dortmund to Schalke and will be a welcome subplot in any future all-Ukrainian derby.
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.