Ismaily and the Naturalisation Controversy

Ismaily and the Naturalisation Controversy

Manuel Veth –

Shakhtar Donetsk’s Ismaily could become the third Brazilian after Edmar and Marlos to take on Ukrainian citizenship to play for the zbirna. Edmar had lived in Ukraine since 2002 and took Ukrainian citizenship in 2011 after having been married to his Ukrainian wife for three years. Fully integrated into Ukrainian society Edmar’s naturalisation was never up to debate as the midfielder lived in the country and even came out of retirement to play for Metalist 1925 Kharkiv—a phoenix club set up to replace the bankrupt Metalist.

Edmar ended up playing 15 games for Ukraine and never became a big part of the zbirna. The story was a bit different with Marlos. Marlos was naturalised just in time for Ukraine’s World Cup qualification games against Kosovo and Croatia. Marlos has been living in Ukraine since 2012 when he joined Edmar’s club Metalist from São Paulo FC.

Marlos (l.) made his debut for Ukraine in October. (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

Marlos (l.) made his debut for Ukraine in October. (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

A quick and dynamic winger Marlos was Metalist’s best player for two seasons and was quickly identified by Shakhtar Donetsk as a potential new signing. Brought in for €8 million Marlos has scored 33 goals and 30 assists for Shakhtar in 146 games and together with winger Taison has formed one of the deadliest winger combinations in Ukrainian football.

Marlos Received $1 Million to Take on Ukrainian Citizenship

It is, therefore, no surprise that Ukraine’s national team head coach Andriy Shevchenko targeted Marlos for naturalisation when he became eligible for Ukrainian citizenship this year. Playing the two final games in Ukraine’s failed qualification campaign Marlos, however, was not able to make a difference for his new country as Ukraine was unable to qualify for Russia 2018.

As a result, the naturalisation of the Brazilian winger was not without controversy. Some Ukrainian fans felt that although Marlos is a good player he did not necessarily help the team. The debate was then made even worse when it emerged that Shakhtar Donetsk owner Rinat Akhmetov had paid Marlos $1 million to take on Ukrainian citizenship. That story has been later refuted by both Shakhtar Donetsk and in an article in the Ukrainian Pravda.

Nonetheless, the original news that Marlos received money to play for Ukraine caused significant controversy. Akhmetov has always been a controversial figure in Ukraine since the start of the conflict in the Donbass. Accused by both sides of being sympathetic to the other sides cause Akhmetov rarely can do right for his country at the moment to begin with, which brings us to the second point. The oligarch and to some extend Marlos were accused of treating Ukrainian citizenship like something that could be purchased—despite the fact that both the player and Shakhtar refuted that this story was true. Lastly, some journalists in Ukraine believe that Shakhtar are using naturalisation to free up spaces for more foreigners in the squad.*

Ismaily – Can Patriotism be Bought?

Ismaily is likely to receive a similar deal from Akhmetov should he take on Ukrainian citizenship. There is no doubt that the 27-year-old would be a fantastic addition to the Ukrainian side. The left-back has been excellent for Shakhtar Donetsk this season in the Ukrainian Premier League and even more importantly in the Champions League.

Ismaily could become the latest Brazilian to play for Ukraine. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Ismaily could become the latest Brazilian to play for Ukraine. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Shakhtar are currently just one point away from qualifying ahead of Napoli for the round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League and Ismaily has been one of the key players in Shakhtar’s fantastic group stage performance. His talent would undoubtedly benefit the zbirna, but whether his paid for naturalisation will fit well with the established players in the dressing room remains to be seen—especially as Ukraine’s dressing room is already quite volatile.

With all this in mind, it is no surprise that Ismaily’s possible naturalisation has caused some controversy. At the same time, there seems to be a consent that if Ismaily and Marlos had undergone the Edmar’s route to citizenship rather than having a passport bought by an oligarch, there would be very little debate on the topic.

*In an earlier version of this article, we did not include the statement from the club and the article from Ukrainian Pravda, which refutes the story that Akhmetov had paid Marlos $1 million.

Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and social media editor at 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 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 @ManuelVeth.