Insight

'Football is hope'

Mircea Lucescu, now in his seventies, thought he’d seen it all – until, as manager of Dynamo Kyiv, he was faced with extracting his players and their families from a war zone. With his team, remarkably, having already been involved in qualifying for this season’s group stage, he tells us his story

INTERVIEW Emanuel Rosu | PORTRAIT Ozan Kose

Where were you when the war started?

I was in Kyiv, in my bed. When the first bombs exploded I thought there was a big thunderstorm outside. It was in the middle of the night so I went back to sleep. When I woke up in the morning I found out the horrible news. 

What was your first reaction after it was confirmed that Russia had invaded?

I immediately spoke to my players – I asked them not to panic. The league was suspended some hours later. We wanted the players together so we asked them to come to the club’s training camp. I wanted to stay with the team but roads were getting blocked, and hundreds of thousands were leaving their homes. The foreign embassies insisted that I left. So, finally, I returned to Romania thinking I could help more from there than if I stayed in the training camp.

How was the journey to your homeland?

Very long and heartbreaking, as you could see families with young children leaving their homes. The queues at the border were kilometres long. Some people didn’t want to wait anymore and they just abandoned their cars, took their children and walked for five kilometres or more to reach the border.

And then you started trying to help your players and their families.

Yes, I immediately started making efforts to get the Ukrainian players’ families out; I got involved with the foreign players as well. We organised two buses. There were mainly women and children, their family pets, a parrot – we tried not to leave anyone behind. We brought everyone to Romania and made sure they had everything they needed in those long hours full of uncertainty. UEFA’s boss, [Aleksander] Čeferin, supported the whole thing. His help and commitment were fantastic during those days.

So at least your players had the comfort that their families were being taken care of.

That’s what we wanted. The players were camped near Kyiv, then they went to the west, where they did some training to keep their fitness. Then we managed to get them out of the country as well so that they could play in the Global Tour for Peace, and stay in shape for the national team games in June.

Did any of the players sign up for the army?

No, but there were club employees who did.

Yes, football must come back to Ukraine’s stadiums. There’s no other option for us. Sure, all security measures should be taken. But people need their teams in their country.
By

Ahead of the new season, the team started summer preparations in Ukraine. Did you support that?

Of course! We want people to feel that football and their favourite clubs are close to them. We went to Ukraine without fear, we trained there for five or six days, then we left to play games abroad.

The games in the Global Tour for Peace were quite emotional. Among others, you played Borussia Dortmund and Lyon.

Our mission was to show what was happening in Ukraine, and we wanted to be with the Ukrainians. In all our games around Europe, we brought refugees together. Maybe some didn’t care about football but they came to meet each other, stay strong and support others. Many of them left home without knowing when or if they will return and what they’ll recover from their former lives. I congratulated my boys for how they treated this tournament. They came out with Ukrainian flags and sent a positive message. Charities could also work around the stadiums and get much-needed help to refugees and people in Ukraine. 

Your coaching career started more than 40 years ago, so you probably thought you’d seen it all in football – and yet the situation you’re facing now is unique. How are you coping?

If I was 30 or 40 I could say it’s a challenge. But I’m 77 now! I am where I’m needed. I want to help others and I’m doing my best to support them. I can’t believe the disasters that are happening. I don’t understand why they are happening. Football has been vital during the pandemic too, it’s kept people going. It can now lift the spirits of those in Ukraine who are suffering a lot right now. Football is hope and we need to use it to show that we care, to help – to bring some normality back into the lives of those affected.

You have actually been in a similar situation before, of course: when the conflict in Donbas started in 2014, you were Shakhtar’s manager. You had to leave everything behind.

Exactly. When I left, I never thought I wouldn’t return. I left so many memories there. All my match files are still there, in the apartment I left behind. What I missed most were nights at the Donbas stadium, one of the most beautiful in Europe. Football helped the the entire area; Donetsk was flourishing.

The Ukrainian football season will resume on home soil this summer. Is that the right move?

Yes, football must come back to Ukraine’s stadiums. There’s no other option for us. Sure, all security measures should be taken. But people need their teams in their country. They can feel something’s back to normal, in a way. If that was taken away, it would make life even harder for so many.

Where will the games be played?

We will play league matches in Kyiv, as will some other teams. Also, on the western side of the country, some venues will be used by clubs from those regions. We want people to feel us close to them; we identify with them and their suffering. And at the same time, we can bring a bit of normality back into their lives.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by what you’ve been going through since the start of the war?

No, not really. And you know why? Because someone needs to take the initiative and help others. If we only cared about ourselves, what would come of everything? I want to bring joy as much as I’m able to with my team. I wish to see the Ukrainian people smile again, to hear children giggling. That would comfort my heart. 

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Insight

'Football is hope'

Mircea Lucescu, now in his seventies, thought he’d seen it all – until, as manager of Dynamo Kyiv, he was faced with extracting his players and their families from a war zone. With his team, remarkably, having already been involved in qualifying for this season’s group stage, he tells us his story

INTERVIEW Emanuel Rosu | PORTRAIT Ozan Kose

Where were you when the war started?

I was in Kyiv, in my bed. When the first bombs exploded I thought there was a big thunderstorm outside. It was in the middle of the night so I went back to sleep. When I woke up in the morning I found out the horrible news. 

What was your first reaction after it was confirmed that Russia had invaded?

I immediately spoke to my players – I asked them not to panic. The league was suspended some hours later. We wanted the players together so we asked them to come to the club’s training camp. I wanted to stay with the team but roads were getting blocked, and hundreds of thousands were leaving their homes. The foreign embassies insisted that I left. So, finally, I returned to Romania thinking I could help more from there than if I stayed in the training camp.

How was the journey to your homeland?

Very long and heartbreaking, as you could see families with young children leaving their homes. The queues at the border were kilometres long. Some people didn’t want to wait anymore and they just abandoned their cars, took their children and walked for five kilometres or more to reach the border.

And then you started trying to help your players and their families.

Yes, I immediately started making efforts to get the Ukrainian players’ families out; I got involved with the foreign players as well. We organised two buses. There were mainly women and children, their family pets, a parrot – we tried not to leave anyone behind. We brought everyone to Romania and made sure they had everything they needed in those long hours full of uncertainty. UEFA’s boss, [Aleksander] Čeferin, supported the whole thing. His help and commitment were fantastic during those days.

So at least your players had the comfort that their families were being taken care of.

That’s what we wanted. The players were camped near Kyiv, then they went to the west, where they did some training to keep their fitness. Then we managed to get them out of the country as well so that they could play in the Global Tour for Peace, and stay in shape for the national team games in June.

Did any of the players sign up for the army?

No, but there were club employees who did.

Read the full story
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Yes, football must come back to Ukraine’s stadiums. There’s no other option for us. Sure, all security measures should be taken. But people need their teams in their country.
By

Ahead of the new season, the team started summer preparations in Ukraine. Did you support that?

Of course! We want people to feel that football and their favourite clubs are close to them. We went to Ukraine without fear, we trained there for five or six days, then we left to play games abroad.

The games in the Global Tour for Peace were quite emotional. Among others, you played Borussia Dortmund and Lyon.

Our mission was to show what was happening in Ukraine, and we wanted to be with the Ukrainians. In all our games around Europe, we brought refugees together. Maybe some didn’t care about football but they came to meet each other, stay strong and support others. Many of them left home without knowing when or if they will return and what they’ll recover from their former lives. I congratulated my boys for how they treated this tournament. They came out with Ukrainian flags and sent a positive message. Charities could also work around the stadiums and get much-needed help to refugees and people in Ukraine. 

Your coaching career started more than 40 years ago, so you probably thought you’d seen it all in football – and yet the situation you’re facing now is unique. How are you coping?

If I was 30 or 40 I could say it’s a challenge. But I’m 77 now! I am where I’m needed. I want to help others and I’m doing my best to support them. I can’t believe the disasters that are happening. I don’t understand why they are happening. Football has been vital during the pandemic too, it’s kept people going. It can now lift the spirits of those in Ukraine who are suffering a lot right now. Football is hope and we need to use it to show that we care, to help – to bring some normality back into the lives of those affected.

You have actually been in a similar situation before, of course: when the conflict in Donbas started in 2014, you were Shakhtar’s manager. You had to leave everything behind.

Exactly. When I left, I never thought I wouldn’t return. I left so many memories there. All my match files are still there, in the apartment I left behind. What I missed most were nights at the Donbas stadium, one of the most beautiful in Europe. Football helped the the entire area; Donetsk was flourishing.

The Ukrainian football season will resume on home soil this summer. Is that the right move?

Yes, football must come back to Ukraine’s stadiums. There’s no other option for us. Sure, all security measures should be taken. But people need their teams in their country. They can feel something’s back to normal, in a way. If that was taken away, it would make life even harder for so many.

Where will the games be played?

We will play league matches in Kyiv, as will some other teams. Also, on the western side of the country, some venues will be used by clubs from those regions. We want people to feel us close to them; we identify with them and their suffering. And at the same time, we can bring a bit of normality back into their lives.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by what you’ve been going through since the start of the war?

No, not really. And you know why? Because someone needs to take the initiative and help others. If we only cared about ourselves, what would come of everything? I want to bring joy as much as I’m able to with my team. I wish to see the Ukrainian people smile again, to hear children giggling. That would comfort my heart. 

Insight

'Football is hope'

Mircea Lucescu, now in his seventies, thought he’d seen it all – until, as manager of Dynamo Kyiv, he was faced with extracting his players and their families from a war zone. With his team, remarkably, having already been involved in qualifying for this season’s group stage, he tells us his story

INTERVIEW Emanuel Rosu | PORTRAIT Ozan Kose

Where were you when the war started?

I was in Kyiv, in my bed. When the first bombs exploded I thought there was a big thunderstorm outside. It was in the middle of the night so I went back to sleep. When I woke up in the morning I found out the horrible news. 

What was your first reaction after it was confirmed that Russia had invaded?

I immediately spoke to my players – I asked them not to panic. The league was suspended some hours later. We wanted the players together so we asked them to come to the club’s training camp. I wanted to stay with the team but roads were getting blocked, and hundreds of thousands were leaving their homes. The foreign embassies insisted that I left. So, finally, I returned to Romania thinking I could help more from there than if I stayed in the training camp.

How was the journey to your homeland?

Very long and heartbreaking, as you could see families with young children leaving their homes. The queues at the border were kilometres long. Some people didn’t want to wait anymore and they just abandoned their cars, took their children and walked for five kilometres or more to reach the border.

And then you started trying to help your players and their families.

Yes, I immediately started making efforts to get the Ukrainian players’ families out; I got involved with the foreign players as well. We organised two buses. There were mainly women and children, their family pets, a parrot – we tried not to leave anyone behind. We brought everyone to Romania and made sure they had everything they needed in those long hours full of uncertainty. UEFA’s boss, [Aleksander] Čeferin, supported the whole thing. His help and commitment were fantastic during those days.

So at least your players had the comfort that their families were being taken care of.

That’s what we wanted. The players were camped near Kyiv, then they went to the west, where they did some training to keep their fitness. Then we managed to get them out of the country as well so that they could play in the Global Tour for Peace, and stay in shape for the national team games in June.

Did any of the players sign up for the army?

No, but there were club employees who did.

Yes, football must come back to Ukraine’s stadiums. There’s no other option for us. Sure, all security measures should be taken. But people need their teams in their country.
By

Ahead of the new season, the team started summer preparations in Ukraine. Did you support that?

Of course! We want people to feel that football and their favourite clubs are close to them. We went to Ukraine without fear, we trained there for five or six days, then we left to play games abroad.

The games in the Global Tour for Peace were quite emotional. Among others, you played Borussia Dortmund and Lyon.

Our mission was to show what was happening in Ukraine, and we wanted to be with the Ukrainians. In all our games around Europe, we brought refugees together. Maybe some didn’t care about football but they came to meet each other, stay strong and support others. Many of them left home without knowing when or if they will return and what they’ll recover from their former lives. I congratulated my boys for how they treated this tournament. They came out with Ukrainian flags and sent a positive message. Charities could also work around the stadiums and get much-needed help to refugees and people in Ukraine. 

Your coaching career started more than 40 years ago, so you probably thought you’d seen it all in football – and yet the situation you’re facing now is unique. How are you coping?

If I was 30 or 40 I could say it’s a challenge. But I’m 77 now! I am where I’m needed. I want to help others and I’m doing my best to support them. I can’t believe the disasters that are happening. I don’t understand why they are happening. Football has been vital during the pandemic too, it’s kept people going. It can now lift the spirits of those in Ukraine who are suffering a lot right now. Football is hope and we need to use it to show that we care, to help – to bring some normality back into the lives of those affected.

You have actually been in a similar situation before, of course: when the conflict in Donbas started in 2014, you were Shakhtar’s manager. You had to leave everything behind.

Exactly. When I left, I never thought I wouldn’t return. I left so many memories there. All my match files are still there, in the apartment I left behind. What I missed most were nights at the Donbas stadium, one of the most beautiful in Europe. Football helped the the entire area; Donetsk was flourishing.

The Ukrainian football season will resume on home soil this summer. Is that the right move?

Yes, football must come back to Ukraine’s stadiums. There’s no other option for us. Sure, all security measures should be taken. But people need their teams in their country. They can feel something’s back to normal, in a way. If that was taken away, it would make life even harder for so many.

Where will the games be played?

We will play league matches in Kyiv, as will some other teams. Also, on the western side of the country, some venues will be used by clubs from those regions. We want people to feel us close to them; we identify with them and their suffering. And at the same time, we can bring a bit of normality back into their lives.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by what you’ve been going through since the start of the war?

No, not really. And you know why? Because someone needs to take the initiative and help others. If we only cared about ourselves, what would come of everything? I want to bring joy as much as I’m able to with my team. I wish to see the Ukrainian people smile again, to hear children giggling. That would comfort my heart. 

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