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Insight

The long haul

Even Shakhtar’s home games in Europe involve 3,500km round trips, but nights like their Matchday 4 victory against Barcelona make it all worthwhile

WORDS John Atkin

Triumph over adversity is a well-worn footballing phrase. Grimly hold onto a narrow lead with ten men? A triumph over adversity. An injury-hit team parks the bus and pinches a win against the odds? A triumph over adversity. A deserved 1-0 victory at home against a strong Barcelona side in the Champions League group stage? Well, not normally. But, for Shakhtar, adversity is the new normal.

It is approaching a decade since the Ukrainian giants last played in their home town of Donetsk. Forced out by war in 2014, they have since set up camp in Lviv, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Warsaw and Hamburg – hence the “Beyond boundaries” motto stencilled on the side of their well-worn team bus. Shakhtar’s base these days is a hotel in Kyiv and a training centre down the road that bears heavy scars of Russian shelling. The squad cannot fly in and out of Ukraine, so Champions League games involve an arduous 725km drive to an airport in Rzeszów, Poland. And back again. 

Journeys of 12 hours plus have become the norm, and last season they struggled at times – with boredom, with fatigue, but also with the knowledge that their families were still in Kyiv. Or possibly even further afield. “My family now lives abroad and we see each other very rarely, only when we call each other,” says captain Taras Stepanenko. “It’s challenging when you don’t see your children growing up, but the main thing is that they’re healthy and safe. That warms my soul.”

Triumph over adversity is a well-worn footballing phrase. Grimly hold onto a narrow lead with ten men? A triumph over adversity. An injury-hit team parks the bus and pinches a win against the odds? A triumph over adversity. A deserved 1-0 victory at home against a strong Barcelona side in the Champions League group stage? Well, not normally. But, for Shakhtar, adversity is the new normal.

It is approaching a decade since the Ukrainian giants last played in their home town of Donetsk. Forced out by war in 2014, they have since set up camp in Lviv, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Warsaw and Hamburg – hence the “Beyond boundaries” motto stencilled on the side of their well-worn team bus. Shakhtar’s base these days is a hotel in Kyiv and a training centre down the road that bears heavy scars of Russian shelling. The squad cannot fly in and out of Ukraine, so Champions League games involve an arduous 725km drive to an airport in Rzeszów, Poland. And back again. 

Journeys of 12 hours plus have become the norm, and last season they struggled at times – with boredom, with fatigue, but also with the knowledge that their families were still in Kyiv. Or possibly even further afield. “My family now lives abroad and we see each other very rarely, only when we call each other,” says captain Taras Stepanenko. “It’s challenging when you don’t see your children growing up, but the main thing is that they’re healthy and safe. That warms my soul.”

Read the full story
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“It’s a tough, mental burden for the players, but I feel their will and character are very strong,” says Marino Pušić, the former Feyenoord assistant coach who took the reins this October. A fortnight later, he oversaw a 1-0 win against Barcelona which ended the Spanish side’s 100% start, courtesy of 22-year-old Danylo Sikan’s first-half strike. It was no fluke, either. “We controlled both the game and the opposition from the very first minute,” says Pušić. “We could have won even more convincingly.” 

A 1-0 defeat of Antwerp then ensured Europa League football at the very least in the new year, a fine achievement which suggests Shakhtar have started turning those long treks to their advantage, strengthening the bonds in the squad. Regular trips to visit wounded military personnel have also helped maintain focus. “Many of these guys are my peers,” says Stepanenko. “They went to protect our country, paying the price of their own life and health. They’re giving the most precious thing a person has. We try to repay them with what we have. In my opinion, our motivation is the highest it’s been in my career.”

Triumph over adversity? You bet.

Triumph over adversity is a well-worn footballing phrase. Grimly hold onto a narrow lead with ten men? A triumph over adversity. An injury-hit team parks the bus and pinches a win against the odds? A triumph over adversity. A deserved 1-0 victory at home against a strong Barcelona side in the Champions League group stage? Well, not normally. But, for Shakhtar, adversity is the new normal.

It is approaching a decade since the Ukrainian giants last played in their home town of Donetsk. Forced out by war in 2014, they have since set up camp in Lviv, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Warsaw and Hamburg – hence the “Beyond boundaries” motto stencilled on the side of their well-worn team bus. Shakhtar’s base these days is a hotel in Kyiv and a training centre down the road that bears heavy scars of Russian shelling. The squad cannot fly in and out of Ukraine, so Champions League games involve an arduous 725km drive to an airport in Rzeszów, Poland. And back again. 

Journeys of 12 hours plus have become the norm, and last season they struggled at times – with boredom, with fatigue, but also with the knowledge that their families were still in Kyiv. Or possibly even further afield. “My family now lives abroad and we see each other very rarely, only when we call each other,” says captain Taras Stepanenko. “It’s challenging when you don’t see your children growing up, but the main thing is that they’re healthy and safe. That warms my soul.”

The long haul
Insight

The long haul

Even Shakhtar’s home games in Europe involve 3,500km round trips, but nights like their Matchday 4 victory against Barcelona make it all worthwhile

WORDS John Atkin

Triumph over adversity is a well-worn footballing phrase. Grimly hold onto a narrow lead with ten men? A triumph over adversity. An injury-hit team parks the bus and pinches a win against the odds? A triumph over adversity. A deserved 1-0 victory at home against a strong Barcelona side in the Champions League group stage? Well, not normally. But, for Shakhtar, adversity is the new normal.

It is approaching a decade since the Ukrainian giants last played in their home town of Donetsk. Forced out by war in 2014, they have since set up camp in Lviv, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Warsaw and Hamburg – hence the “Beyond boundaries” motto stencilled on the side of their well-worn team bus. Shakhtar’s base these days is a hotel in Kyiv and a training centre down the road that bears heavy scars of Russian shelling. The squad cannot fly in and out of Ukraine, so Champions League games involve an arduous 725km drive to an airport in Rzeszów, Poland. And back again. 

Journeys of 12 hours plus have become the norm, and last season they struggled at times – with boredom, with fatigue, but also with the knowledge that their families were still in Kyiv. Or possibly even further afield. “My family now lives abroad and we see each other very rarely, only when we call each other,” says captain Taras Stepanenko. “It’s challenging when you don’t see your children growing up, but the main thing is that they’re healthy and safe. That warms my soul.”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

Triumph over adversity is a well-worn footballing phrase. Grimly hold onto a narrow lead with ten men? A triumph over adversity. An injury-hit team parks the bus and pinches a win against the odds? A triumph over adversity. A deserved 1-0 victory at home against a strong Barcelona side in the Champions League group stage? Well, not normally. But, for Shakhtar, adversity is the new normal.

It is approaching a decade since the Ukrainian giants last played in their home town of Donetsk. Forced out by war in 2014, they have since set up camp in Lviv, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Warsaw and Hamburg – hence the “Beyond boundaries” motto stencilled on the side of their well-worn team bus. Shakhtar’s base these days is a hotel in Kyiv and a training centre down the road that bears heavy scars of Russian shelling. The squad cannot fly in and out of Ukraine, so Champions League games involve an arduous 725km drive to an airport in Rzeszów, Poland. And back again. 

Journeys of 12 hours plus have become the norm, and last season they struggled at times – with boredom, with fatigue, but also with the knowledge that their families were still in Kyiv. Or possibly even further afield. “My family now lives abroad and we see each other very rarely, only when we call each other,” says captain Taras Stepanenko. “It’s challenging when you don’t see your children growing up, but the main thing is that they’re healthy and safe. That warms my soul.”

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

“It’s a tough, mental burden for the players, but I feel their will and character are very strong,” says Marino Pušić, the former Feyenoord assistant coach who took the reins this October. A fortnight later, he oversaw a 1-0 win against Barcelona which ended the Spanish side’s 100% start, courtesy of 22-year-old Danylo Sikan’s first-half strike. It was no fluke, either. “We controlled both the game and the opposition from the very first minute,” says Pušić. “We could have won even more convincingly.” 

A 1-0 defeat of Antwerp then ensured Europa League football at the very least in the new year, a fine achievement which suggests Shakhtar have started turning those long treks to their advantage, strengthening the bonds in the squad. Regular trips to visit wounded military personnel have also helped maintain focus. “Many of these guys are my peers,” says Stepanenko. “They went to protect our country, paying the price of their own life and health. They’re giving the most precious thing a person has. We try to repay them with what we have. In my opinion, our motivation is the highest it’s been in my career.”

Triumph over adversity? You bet.

Triumph over adversity is a well-worn footballing phrase. Grimly hold onto a narrow lead with ten men? A triumph over adversity. An injury-hit team parks the bus and pinches a win against the odds? A triumph over adversity. A deserved 1-0 victory at home against a strong Barcelona side in the Champions League group stage? Well, not normally. But, for Shakhtar, adversity is the new normal.

It is approaching a decade since the Ukrainian giants last played in their home town of Donetsk. Forced out by war in 2014, they have since set up camp in Lviv, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Warsaw and Hamburg – hence the “Beyond boundaries” motto stencilled on the side of their well-worn team bus. Shakhtar’s base these days is a hotel in Kyiv and a training centre down the road that bears heavy scars of Russian shelling. The squad cannot fly in and out of Ukraine, so Champions League games involve an arduous 725km drive to an airport in Rzeszów, Poland. And back again. 

Journeys of 12 hours plus have become the norm, and last season they struggled at times – with boredom, with fatigue, but also with the knowledge that their families were still in Kyiv. Or possibly even further afield. “My family now lives abroad and we see each other very rarely, only when we call each other,” says captain Taras Stepanenko. “It’s challenging when you don’t see your children growing up, but the main thing is that they’re healthy and safe. That warms my soul.”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

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