Ukranian football – from innovative style of play to political football
The President of UEFA, Michel Platini, during a visit at the Under-construction new football stadium of Wroclaw, Poland in 2009. Photo (c) flickr user Klearchos Kapoutsis. Used under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence.
Platini has threatened to deprive Ukraine of the right to host matches in 2012 if they do not shape up. Few countries in Europe have such tight links between football and politics as Ukraine.
Michel Platini and UEFA have long been concerned about developments in Ukraine. In April this year, Platini himself went to Poland and Ukraine to check on the progress of the two host nations. There have been a lot of talk about Poland’s Euro Cup economy, but this is nothing compared to the situation in Ukraine.
The situation is so serious that Michel Platini called for a meeting with the newly elected Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in order to get the preparations on track. The meeting between them is a clear indication that much political prestige is at stake for both parties.
The oligarchs rule
Ukrainian football is ruled by a few oligarchs. Soccer President Grigori Surkis has been on his post for three periods and a few years ago he was denied a visa to the United States because of suspected corruption. He is, in other words, a controversial political figure in Ukraine. His brother Igor is the president of Dymano Kiev - the most successful club in Ukrainian football.
The other major club in Ukraine, Shaktar Donetsk, who won the UEFA Cup in 2009, is controlled by Ukraine's wealthiest man Rinat Akhmetov, one of the architects behind the comeback of President Viktor Yanukovych. That kind of support comes with obligations…
It is a myth that the Netherlands was the main architect of what we in the 1970s called ‘Total Football’. ‘Total Football’ was known for high pressure (high offside line), pressure on the player who controls the ball, and rapid movements.
Dynamo Kiev and the Soviet Union with the Ukrainian legend Valery Lobanovsky behind the tactics were right up there with Ajax and the Netherlands at the time, and were just as important to the development of this style of play. At that time, style of play was politics in the Ukrainian republic and throughout the Soviet Union. Now it is more than the style of play that is at stake.
Pressure from UEFA, the demands of the Ukrainian oligarchs and the desire to protect the nation’s honour has made the Ukrainian government put up money in order to get construction and infrastructure projects up to speed. Ukraine has appointed a minister whose sole responsibility is the 2012 Euro Cup.
The government has appropriated $3.3 billion in 2010 to improve roads, airports and the completion of the football arenas. This hurts the wallet of a government that had a decline in GDP of almost 7% in the last quarter of 2009 and has imposed on itself to cut the budget deficit to less than 6% of GDP.
Scotland to the rescue?
The 2012 Euro Cup is the first real political test for the newly elected Ukrainian president. If the promises and the extra money given to EURO 2012 are not enough for Michel Platini and his colleagues in Nyon, Ukraine may lose their share of the championship.
If this happens, someone else must take over Ukraine's matches. Scotland has announced its interest – as if England isn’t having enough problems with their bid for the football World Cup in 2018 after the accusation of corrupt football authorities in Spain and Russia by Lord Triesman, the now former president of the English Football Federation.
Probabilities Should Ukraine lose the tournament because of poor organization, the Ukrainian team will have to prepare for the qualifying games in the fall, just like Norway. And if both countries qualify for the Euro Cup, both will play a possible final away from home. The final was supposed to be played in Kiev, Ukraine. What is most likely: that Norway qualifies for the Euro Cup final or that the final will be played in Kiev?
This article first appeared on Andreas Selliaas' blog 'Sportens Uutholdelige Letthet' on June 1 2010. Follow Andreas' blog (in Norwegian) on sportensuutholdeligeletthet.blogspot.com