Manuel Veth –
The Ukrainian striker Roman Zozulya has spoken out about his time at Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. Dnipro, which was for the longest time the closest challenger to Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar Donetsk’s hegemony over Ukrainian football, experienced severe financial difficulties this summer.
The crisis came about as owner Ihor Kolomoyskyi refused to pay the debt that he owned to former players and managers (read more about this here). As a result Dnipro was close to being dissolved, and was only saved at the last minute after agreeing to severe cuts in the budget for players.
As a result Dnipro will now play with one of the youngest teams (average age 23.9) in the league, and with the budget severely reduced the club, which reached the final of the UEFA Europa League in the 2014-15 season, now has a transfer value of just €10.65 million after several key players, including Zozulya, left the club—in comparison the squad that reached the Europa League final in 2015 was worth €98.5 million.
Roman Zozulya, who moved to Spain to play for Real Betis Sevilla in the summer, has now told the sport page Velikii Futbol that he is still waiting for outstanding wages. Yet at the same time he found it difficult to leave Dnipro after five long years to play in the Spanish La Liga.
“I had to consult with Kolomoyskyi, because I could not leave the club like that. I wanted to discuss with him all the questions, and if he had said the team needs you, I would have stayed at Dnipro. We talked with him, and he told me to go away, and to think about my future.” Zozulya told the Ukrainian football program Velikii Futbol.
Zozulya “I would not have been paid if I had stayed”
Zozulya, however, insisted that the players that are now playing for Dnipro are being paid on time. But he further added that: “I am sure that I would still have been paid nothing if I had stayed.”
Indeed Zozulya explains that the club has now come up with different schemes to repay the debt to former players. “All the former players have different schemes of debt restructuring, depending on the amount of debt they are owned. Dnipro is supposed to repay me my debt over the next five years.”
Zozulya also revealed that he has a close connection to the eccentric owner of the Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (read all about him here). “Many people have filed lawsuits in courts, but I don’t want to take that step. I do not want to because my complaints to the court will ruin my relationship with the club. I will therefore look for other options, and discuss them with Kolomoyskyi.”
Finally Zozulya also draws a grim picture about the future of Ukrainian football in general. “I think that Dynamo Kyiv will soon have the same problems than Dnipro has now. Even Shakhtar will struggle at some point, as they will have to cut their budget and sell all their players.”
Indeed Zozulya may have a point. The Ukrainian Premier League has struggled in general due to the conflict in the Donbass and the resulting economic crisis in the country. As a result several clubs went bankrupt, and the Ukrainian Premier League had to be reduced from 16 to 14 clubs in 2014, and then once again to 12 teams for the current season.
Large gulf between Dynamo, Shakhtar, and rest is bad for the league
In fact the large gulf between Dynamo and Shakhtar and the rest of the league has also led to further reform, which will see the league split into a championship round and relegation round after a double-round robin tournament system.
The new system will see Dynamo and Shakhtar play each other more often, and the hope is that less clubs will see competitiveness increase in the league. The truth, however, is that even Dynamo and Shakhtar struggled to attract new high calibre talent to their respective clubs.
Shakhtar’s most prominent signing during the offseason was free agent striker Yevhen Seleznyov, whereas Dynamo managed to land striker Oleksandr Gladky from Shakhtar Donetsk.
Both clubs have struggled to keep key players
Instead both clubs have lost key players over the last few transfer windows. Dynamo Kyiv lost defender Aleksandar Dragović to Bayer 04 Leverkusen this summer, and there is still a chance that star winger Andriy Yarmolenko could leave the club.
Shakhtar meanwhile saw the departure of star winger Douglas Costa to Bayern Munich last summer, and then in the winter lost Alex Teixeira to the Chinese club Jiangsu Suning. There are now persistent rumours that the Brazilian superstars Marlos and Taison could be next, as they have both been linked to moves to Western Europe, as well as Zenit Saint Petersburg.
Shakhtar in particular has a very strong youth academy and should be able to compensate losing key players by bringing up young players. At the same time the club is showing signs that they are struggling with the constant blood letting, as Shakhtar failed to reach the group stage of the UEFA Champions League for the first time in ten years.
Furthermore, the club has been affected by the conflict in the Donbass, as the club has struggled to motivate players to buy into the nomadic lifestyle of the club—the players live in Kyiv, but play at the Arena Lviv, often in front of just a few thousand people.
Socio-economic situation in Ukraine is hurting Ukrainian clubs
Unlike Shakhtar, Dynamo is not playing in exile, but the economic situation of the conflict has none-the-less had an affect on the team from the capital as well. Inflation as well as capital flight has meant that Dynamo may no longer be able to pay astronomical wages, furthermore with the problems in the league Dynamo also has problems to attract star players to play in Kyiv. Finally, unlike Shakhtar, Dynamo has neglected their once proud youth academy, and Ukraine’s most historic club is now completely dependent on bringing in finished players.
Hence, Zozulya’s statements about the future of Ukrainian football may not be too far of the mark, and the Ukrainian national team striker’s bleak picture of football in the country will not improve until clubs in the country can play in political and economic stability.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and a writer for Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of 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 will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.