Manuel Veth –
Due to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, and the economic situation resulting from the Maidan Square protests, football has been in crisis in Ukraine. As a result, many clubs have had financial problems and faced bankruptcy, the league, in turn, has seen a slow decrease in clubs from 16 to 14 and then 12 clubs. But now expansion could be in the cards once again.
Despite many of the big clubs gone, however, the Ukrainian Premier League remains one of the more exciting leagues when it comes to title races in European football. With matchday 29 kicking off this weekend there are just four games left until the end of the season.
Shakhtar kicked off matchday 29 on Friday, easily winning their match against Mariupol 0-1 on the road. The result means that Shakhtar have temporarily opened the gap to six points. But it can be expected that Dynamo Kyiv will close the gap to just three points on Sunday when they travel to Poltava where they will face Vorskla.
With the league remaining tight at the very top the Ukrainian Premier League is one of the most exciting competitions to bet on this season, and you can use kod promocyjny totolotek to find discounts to bet on the UPL.
UPL president Thomas Grimm favours expansion
But with the league coming to a close, questions are being raised over the future of the competition. New league president Thomas Grimm, a Swiss lawyer, who has previously worked with the Ukrainian national team, has now told Ukrainian media that he wants the league to return to a 16-team format.
“How do I see the UPL in two years? One of the tasks is geographical. We have to expand to 16 clubs and return to the big cities”, deputy president Markiyan Klyuchkovsky told sport.ua. “Dnipro, Kryvyi Rih, Lutsk and Uzhgorod. They are not just cities without football but also markets the UPL is not monetising,” Klyuchkovsky added.
The question, however, is, are those markets ready to return to big football? Dnipro, or Dnipropetrovsk as the city was known before Ukraine’s controversial decommunization laws, reached the final of the UEFA Europa League in 2015. Since then financial problems has led to Dnipro FC being dissolved and two Dnipro sides competing against each other in the Ukrainian Druha Liha (third division).
SC Dnipro-1 were founded in 2017 by Yuriy Bereza the commander of the Dnipro Battalion, which in turn has been funded by former Dnipro owner Ihor Kolomoyskyi. Kolomoyskyi’s refusal to pay wages to former coaches and players led to Dnipro’s relegation in the first place and that side, which plays in the same division as SC Dnipro-1, is now a struggling mid-table side.
Also in the third division are Metalist Kharkiv, who lead their division ahead of Dnipro-1. A phoenix club Metalist 1925 Kharkiv may have a new logo, but they share the colours of the former Metalist club, but in truth the club was only formed in 1916 as a response to Metalist’s bankruptcy and the refusal by then owner Sergey Kurchenko to give up ownership of the club– the original Metalist have since become state property.
Phoenix clubs fuel expansion hope – but will it be enough?
With phoenix clubs looking for promotion in both Dnipro and Kharkiv Grimm’s vision could at least somewhat become a reality in those regions. The situation is grimmer in other parts of the country, however. Hoverla Uzhgorod were refused a licence in 2016 and were then dissolved.
Uzhgorod is not alone in their predicament. Both of Kryviyi Rih’s clubs, Kryvbas and Hyrnik, have disappeared from professional football.
The situation, however, is slightly better in Lutsk. Volyn Lutsk have somewhat survived financial difficulties caused by being part of the Kolomoyskyi conglomerate of football clubs. Currently, in the Persha Liha (second division) Volyn, however, are battling against relegation to the third division.
Altogether Grimm’s wish list to expand to more larger cities and return the league to 16 clubs seems somewhat removed from the reality for now. Perhaps a silver lining are the third division performances by Metalist and Dnipro-1.
Meanwhile, Arsenal Kyiv, who went bankrupt and disappeared from professional football in 2013, are now on the verge of reaching promotion to the top flight. Playing on the outskirts of Kyiv the club could return to the city centre once promotion is wrapped up.
Whether Arsenal can compensate for the lack of second cities in the Ukrainian Premier League remains to be seen. After all, Chornomorets Odesa seems to be destined to go down to the second division and they might be joined by Karpaty Lviv, who are currently above the relegation zone, but could be dragged down depending on a law case that is currently investigated by the CAS.
Tough times for President Grimm and his expansion plans to expand the league back to 16 clubs. But at least the league will have an exciting title race until the end of the season and finally a vision on how to grow the game once again in the country.
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. Or contact him via email: [email protected]