Why Shakhtar will beat Fulham

The “face police” stood sentinel at the entrances to the haunts of the rich and famous are a staple fixture across the FSU, keeping out miscreants and poor people like you.

Not so long ago NMTB was in Chişinău wanting to explore Malldova, a sparkling new shopping centre in the Moldovan capital, but was denied entrance on account of there being a pair of Havaianas on its feet.

In Mariah Carey-esque diva fashion, NMTB retorted “Don’t you know who I am? I’m Never Mind the Bolsheviks of Never Mind the Bolsheviks fame; a popular FSU-themed football blog on FourFourTwo.com.”

It didn’t work, unsurprisingly, and it was forced to shop elsewhere. Just like Shakhtar Donetsk’s players on Tuesday.

The Hirnyky [Miners] are in London for their Europa League match with Fulham. Decked out in club tracksuits, they were mistaken for a group of chavs by snooty staff at Harrods – some of whom are doubtless the recipients of courtesy tickets from the boss – and were unceremoniously told to hop it.

Is that Mohammed Al-Fayed up to his old tricks ahead of their tie with his team?

"Yer name's not down, yer not coming in"

The blog gleaned that little nugget from their official website which, for autograph hunters and members of furtive militia groups, makes for very interesting reading.

These days, Shakhtar are quite happy to divulge the minutiae of their every move. Quite something, coming from a region where Winston Smithalikes once trawled  the media and censored information that could be deemed of use to that capitalist mob on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

(That work was done by the Soviet-licious sounding Main Administration For The Protection Of State Secrets In The Press Under The Union Of Soviet Socialist Republics Council of Ministers. Try fitting that on a letterhead – no wonder they abbreviated it to GLAVIT.)

Shakhtar.com, available in Ukrainian, Russian and Paul Merson English, offers the casual stalker all the ammunition they require to make their pursuit of the team a successful one.

Last season's UEFA Cup winners

The 2009 UEFA Cup winners arrived in London – well, Luton Airport – fresh from a weekend winter break in Marbella. NMTB doesn’t know the name of the airline, but one can assume it wasn’t Easyjet, what with the club’s owner being one of Europe’s richest men and everything.

Rinat Akhmetov is one of those nouveau-riche chaps from the FSU – an oligarch, if you will, although Akhmetov won't: he’s not too keen on the term.

You’d think Akhmetov would possess a more GLAVIT approach to matters after his predecessor Oleksandr Bragin was killed in a bomb attack at the club’s former stadium in 1996. But no, we're given an itinerary:

Feb 1 Leave Donetsk for Marbella at 9.30am (we’re also supplied a list of who has and hasn’t gone). That’s five hours in the air and an hour’s drive to the Kempinski Hotel Bahia in Estapona.

Feb 3 Participate in the Copa del Sol.

Feb 7 Ukrainian contingent driven to country’s consulate in Malaga to vote for Viktor Yanukovych in the presidential election. Or the other bloke.

Feb 10 Day off to visit the monkeys in Gibraltar. That’s the primates, not Davy Jones et al.

Feb 13-16 Fly to Luton Airport and stay at Sopwell House, St Albans. We’re told they trained locally and went to see Fulham play Notts County in the FA Cup (but left after the third goal).

Feb 17 Transfer to Wyndham London Chelsea Harbour Hotel.

Feb 19 Fly back to Donetsk in the morning.

Habitually the FSU winter break is a time of arsing about on a golf course somewhere in the Med, which puts the region’s teams at something of a disadvantage in terms of match fitness against their Western European counterparts in the knockout stages of continental competitions.

But since their 1-0 defeat to FK Partizan on December 16 Shakhtar have competed in the Copa del Sol, an eight-team tournament featuring half-decent sides like CSKA Moskva and FC København. (This is prior to them arsing about on a golf course in Belek, NMTB should add.)

Mircea Lucescu’s team reached the final along with CSKA, only for bad weather to force its cancellation. (That's the Copa del Sol, called off for bad weather.) The tournament then descended into something of a farce, because there was no feasible alternative to reschedule it for. So they just didn’t play it.

Not even the CIS Cup has sunk that low. Still, give it time...

NMTB: A not-so-happy 18th birthday for the CIS Cup

A sojourn in sunny Spain will have also afforded Lucescu’s new acquisitions time to bond. Most notably in the recent transfer window was his purchase of perennial Football Manager wonderkid Douglas Costa who, it transpires, is as good as the computer game suggests.

He’s settled into the team rather too quickly for Roy Hodgson’s liking and Costa’s transfer brings the total number of Brazilians to eight in an industrious squad built on Eastern European grit and determination augmented by Samba flair.

Costa living: beware Brazilians, Fulham

Fernandinho is an NMTB favourite in midfield, and up front Luiz Adriano has scored 19 goals this season. Watch out for Ilsinho on the right, too.

At the back, Răzvan Raţ, their left-sided defender, was the subject of an enquiry from Real Madrid recently and Hodgson will be praying he fails a late fitness test on a leg injury that saw him confined to sipping cocktails on a sun lounger for much of Shakhtar’s time in Spain.

Dario Srna was also linked with a move away from the Donbass Arena to Chelsea, and rumours surfaced this week of interest from Tottenham and Bayern Munich.

One caveat to his potential suitors, mind. Players whom Shakhtar have flogged to Premier League clubs haven’t endured the best of times in England, Andrei Kanchelskis being the obvious exception.

Elano was almost as frustrating as Robinho at Manchester City, while Nery Castillo was just plain awful; Isaac Okoronkwo failed to break into a poor Wolves team a few years back; Jan Laštůvka was average at Shakhtar’s opponents Fulham and didn’t make a single appearance at West Ham; Andrejs Štolcers played for four different teams in England without distinction – he’s currently and Hayes & Yeading United.

And Wigan fans will be hoping their recent loan signing of Marcelo Moreno Martins, who had a stint in Germany prematurely terminated, will prove more successful than their last Shakhtar signing Julius Aghahowa.

Dave Whelan probably couldn’t believe it when Akhmetov offered to take him off his hands in 2008. What’s that about a fool and his money?

Like Owen Hargreaves, the Nigerian has been axed from Shakhtar’s Europa League squad and won’t be in the team at Craven Cottage. Except he’s not injured; manager Lucescu has replaced him with Douglas Costa, which sounds about right.

Shakhtar haven’t lost at their new Donbass Arena stadium yet. OK, they only moved in last August and Dynamo Kyiv haven’t visited yet, but it’s still quite an achievement. Shakhtar also defeated Arsenal and Spurs on their trips to eastern Ukraine, so Fulham could well have their work cut out to extend an impressive run in the competition.

NMTB’s verdict: Shakhtar to progress

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