Monday, July 21, 2014

Apparently This Is Just A Soccer Blog Now

Not really the intent, but dang it, it keeps coming up. The intent today was to start talking about the general mess going on in Ukraine. The civil war that's been basically instigated by Vladimir Putin and how the pro-Russian separatists have lately faltered. The shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, with all hands lost, and how the rebels- who appear to have fired the shot- look to also have taken all the bodies from the crash.

And then a soccer angle showed up, and I remembered how I like to stay away from the angles that have already gotten heavy coverage. So, I guess, here we go again. (Well, aside from the statement from UEFA on July 16 that they think it would be a slightly bad idea to make Russian and Ukrainian clubs play each other right now, nor would it be a good idea to hold any games in Israel due to their latest skirmish with  Palestine.)

The top club in Ukraine, having won the last five league titles, is Shakhtar Donetsk. They'll be seen in the group stage of this year's Champions League, again, for the fifth straight year. Their performance this year, though, may be lacking in both. On Saturday, Shakhtar traveled to France to play a preseason friendly against Lyon. Lyon won the game 4-1. That's not the worst part of Shakhtar's day. The worst part of Shakhtar's day came when six of their players decided that they had zero interest in returning to Ukraine and, seemingly, defected.

Five of the six have been identified, none of them Ukrainian, so that seems like it'd be more or less straightforward. Four of the players are Brazilian- midfielders Douglas Costa, Alex Teixiera and Fred (not the same Fred you saw at the World Cup) and forward Dentinho, and the fifth is Argentinian forward Facundo Ferreyra. None of the five have yet played for their country at senior level (Costa, Dentinho and Teixiera have played for Brazil at youth level), but all have appeal to clubs hungry to add a piece to their own arsenals. Manchester United and AS Monaco, in fact, are already making a move for Costa.

Given the profiles of the other five, it's possible, in fact likely, that the sixth is South American as well. Brazilians make up about a third of Shakhtar's roster; Ferreyra was the only Argentinian. This means they have more of a capability to get out of Dodge than the players actually from Ukraine. Which ought to prove troubling for any Ukrainian club with players who do have somewhere else to go if they decide they want no further part of the conflict either, especially players out on loan.

In fact, it's rather troubling for Ukraine in general. The players are far from the first non-Ukranian nationals to run, with the east in particular abandoned in large swaths by Ukrainians and foreigners alike. Vietnam has taken steps to evacuate any citizens that they have in the country. Donetsk is seeing people not involved in the fighting leave as fast as they're able to pack up, assuming they are in fact able to flee. The players are simply high-profile examples of this. The one circumstance to watch here is that they are under contract to Shakhtar, who in the end has the power to release them to a suitor club or not. If the suitor club offers up enough money, that should be a fairly easy decision, as it usually is in soccer. But the loss of all five of these players would gut Shakhtar's roster... a fact that appears to be at least partially out of their hands.

The two major questions, therefore, become, first, where do the players ultimately end up, and second, is that it or do more players follow them out.

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