Ukraine – Metalurh Zaporizhya on Life Support

Ukraine – Metalurh Zaporizhya on Life Support

The never-ending saga at Metalurh Zaporizhya continues. In early October Futbolgrad reported that following the decision of the club’s ownership to stop financing the club, the Ukrainian Premier League was reduced to thirteen teams.

These reports proved premature, as despite the lack of financial resources, Metalurh is still taking part in the competition. But players and coaching staff haven’t been paid in months, and for several weeks there was not even any hot water at the training base and the use of electricity was severely restricted, as the club’s president Andriy Shevchuk revealed. Nevertheless, the players continue to train and prepare for matches, even though they’re not even sure if the club currently has any leadership to speak of.

Metalurh’s form since their financing was cut off has been abysmal. They have lost four matches in a row, having conceded thirteen goals and scored just three. Their poor performances have raised suspicions of match fixing, a widespread problem in Ukrainian football. Bookmakers refused to accept bets for Metalurh’s match against Karpaty Lviv, and the head of the international anti-match fixing organization Federbet said that there were suspicious betting patterns observed during their 5-2 defeat to Chornomorets.

These allegations have led to an internal conflict among the players. Ihor Hataullin, a member of the executive committee of the Football Federation of Ukraine, said that some Metalurh players accused defender Vitality Lysytskyi of involvement in match fixing.

Lysytskyi himself later confirmed these reports, telling the television program Profutbol: “At a team meeting the young players led by [midfielder Valerian] Gvilia said that I threw the match against Chornomorets. They explained this by saying that their friends called and told them. I replied that I’m ready to take a lie detector test, but they should pay for it if I’m proved correct. I also want 5-6 young players to take the test, as well as certain coaches.”

Metalurh’s veteran goalkeeper Maksym Startsev has come out in support of Lysytskyi. He told Profutbol: “I’ve known Lysytskyi for a long time. I know his human qualities and I do not believe that he could participate in fixed matches. I’ve made my decision. I support Lysytskyi one hundred percent. If he’s not on the pitch, I also refuse to play for Metalurh.”

The club is being kept alive largely due to the efforts of the local football federation, who have set up a committee dedicated to helping with day-to-day operations, organizing away trips, and handling communications. Clearly the city of Zaporizhya is not indifferent toward the fate of their only club.

The current situation, however, is not sustainable. The vice president of the Zaporizhya football federation has announced that they have enough resources to keep the club operational until December 5, when the Ukrainian Premier League begins its extended break until late February. “The current activities of [the local federation] are an emergency plan that provides hope, but it cannot continue forever,” he told Sport Arena

It appears that Metalurh have been given a lifeline in the form of steel maker Zaporizhstal, who have expressed a willingness to invest in the club. It could be the only way to save Metalurh, but it is important to point out that the company is a subsidiary of Metinvest—one of the holding companies of oligarch and Shakhtar Donetsk owner Rinat Akhmetov.

This is clearly a conflict of interest, but the phenomenon of oligarchs with stakes in multiple clubs in hardly unprecedented in Ukrainian football, and in the post-Soviet sphere as a whole. Illichivets Mariupol, who were relegated last season in controversial circumstances, are also a Metinvest company, and as a result Illichivets had a reputation as a Shakhtar farm team, not unlike the relationship between Hoverla Uzhhorod and Dynamo Kyiv.

Now it seems that Shakhtar are interested in replacing Illichivets with Metalurh, and the fact that the only way to save a struggling, historic club is to turn them into a farm team for a powerful, wealthy one is a sad indictment of the state of Ukrainian football.

By Vadim Furmanov –