By Vadim Furmanov –
Less than three weeks into the Ukrainian Premier League (UPL) season, one of the early revelations has been Chornomorets Odessa midfielder Vladyslav Kalytvyntsev. The 22-year old, who is the son of the former Ukraine national team footballer Yuriy Kalytvyntsev, scored the best goal of the first round of matches in the UPL, a brilliant long range strike into the top corner against Olimpik Donetsk. One week later he proved it wasn’t a fluke, when he scored a similar goal against Dnipro.
But in Sunday’s match against Dynamo Kyiv, Kalytvyntsev did not feature—in fact, he wasn’t even on the bench. He was neither injured nor suspended for the encounter. He didn’t play for the sole reason that he is on loan from the defending champions, who did not allow him to compete against his parent club.
The controversy over loaned-out players is not a new one in Ukrainian football. Last season Zorya Luhansk general director Serhiy Rafailov revealed that Shakhtar manager Mircea Lucescu refused to allow Zorya to field five players on-loan from his club, and that the side from Luhansk faced serious economic sanctions if they refused to follow the order. Earlier in the season Zorya, playing with a full squad, defeated Shakhtar, which was a serious blow to the club’s title aspirations; Lucescu undoubtedly had that result in mind when he made his decision.
Shakhtar manager Serhiy Palkin defended Lucescu’s decision by pointing out that rivals Dynamo Kyiv had done the same when they faced Hoverla. Palkin said “We, Shakhtar, with our principles of fairness, are in second place, while Dynamo are in first.”
Gentleman’s Agreements and Article 18b
This season, it is more of the same, as the Kalytvyntsev case demonstrates. Before the match, Chornomorets general director Serhiy Kernitsky revealed that the loan agreement between his club and Dynamo did allow Kalytvyntsev to play against his parent club, but only under one crucial condition: Chornomorets would have to provide Dynamo with significant financial compensation if Kalytvyntsev were to feature. According to Kernitsky, Chornomorets simply do not have the necessary financial resources to afford the sum.
This practice is technically barred by the UPL, whose regulations state that a footballer on loan “enters into a contract for the duration of the loan agreements” (emphasis added).
The Ukrainian football program Profutbol pointed out that Article 18b of FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfers of Players also appears to ban the practice, as it states “no club shall enter into a contract which enables any other party… to acquire the ability to influence in employment and transfer-related matters its independence, its policies, or the performance of its teams.”
But these regulations are ambiguous and easy to get around, and these so-called gentleman’s agreements between clubs are very difficult to enforce. In the English Premier League, for example, players who are on loan are explicitly banned from playing against their parent clubs.
But in Ukrainian football, the situation is far more serious than in England because of the degree to which some teams are dependent on loans to fill their squad. Hoverla Uzhhorod, for example, have fielded only Dynamo players in their starting lineups in all three league matches thus far this season. If Dynamo refuse to let Hoverla use their on-loan players when the two sides meet later this season, Hoverla will struggle to field a full side, let alone have enough players on the bench.
The controversy over loaned-out players in the UPL is indicative of the huge disparity between the top teams and everyone else. Because teams such as Hoverla and Zorya are reliant on clubs such as Dynamo and Shakhtar to fill their squads, the practice of preventing players on loan from competing against their parent clubs effectively amounts to result manipulation. For Dynamo, playing Hoverla, whose own players refer to their club as Dynamo-2, is a guaranteed three points.
This problem is yet another indication that the UPL is not a healthy, competitive league, but one in which the top clubs have an inordinate amount of influence over the other teams. As with many other problems, the manipulation of the level playing field due to loaning practices are directly linked to the financial difficulties faced by so many clubs. As long as clubs do not have the financial means to field full squads without outside help, they will continue to be reliant on loans from the bigger clubs—and the duplicity and controversy will continue.
Vadim Furmanov is an undergraduate student at the University of Chicago. He is a supporter of Dynamo Kyiv and the Chicago Fire. Follow him @vfurmanov.