The Roy Hodgson effect reaches Ukraine as Shakhtar seal title
Mircea Lucescu is a lucky chap. The Romanian not only guided Shakhtar Donetsk to their fifth Premier-Liga title in Ukraine last week with a 1-0 win over Dynamo Kyiv at the Donbass Arena, but heÃ¢ÂÂs also pen pals with current darling of the British media and LMA Manager of the Year, Roy Hodgson.
And you know with Roy that he wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt just bash out an email to his pal in eastern Ukraine Ã¢ÂÂ they'd be too impersonal for an affable chap like him Ã¢ÂÂ the correspondence from west London would be a lovely handwritten piece, sent in an envelope with a wax seal.
RoyÃ¢ÂÂs stock in Eastern Europe skyrocketed after Fulham dumped Shakhtar out of the Europa League this season, and his name was even mentioned in one Russian newspaper editorial as a worthy candidate to replace the outgoing Guus Hiddink as national team boss.
Going into last WednesdayÃ¢ÂÂs game against archrivals Dynamo knowing a win would see them take an unassailable six-point lead into the weekendÃ¢ÂÂs final round of matches, what better fillip for the Pitmen than to receive a letter from Roy, courteously replying to LucescuÃ¢ÂÂs good luck missive sent ahead of the Europa League final?
He spoke deferentially of his pal, and proclaimed that Shakhtar were ÃÂ¬by far the best we have come across in the Europa League and you outplayed us in both gamesÃÂ®, before signing off with a similar good luck message for their Dynamo fixture.
NMTB hopes the relationship flourishes. They are already on first name terms and the blog is looking forward to seeing birthday cards exchanged; maybe a quick text of ÃÂ¬o zi bunaÃÂ® before Roy sets off for a Sunday drive in the country; a postcard to the Lucescus from HodgsonÃ¢ÂÂs caravan holiday in Cromer, or wherever heÃ¢ÂÂs going on his well deserved summer holiday this year, perhaps.
Back to Ukraine, and yes, youÃ¢ÂÂd perhaps have guessed it would be Shakhtar or Dynamo at the summit of the Premier-Liga table come the end of the season. (And also that there would be a good chance Metalist Kharkiv would be third.)
Predictable it may be, but boring the year was not and we were treated to a humdinger of a title race. After Dynamo blazed an early lead (seven points at one stage) and inflicted a 3-0 defeat on Shakhtar in Kyiv on match day 14, youÃ¢ÂÂd have thought it was game over.
But no. Shakhtar went on one of those incredible runs which makes people scoff when you tell them that there's more to Ukrainian football than the ÃÂ¬big twoÃÂ® by winning 13 and drawing one of the 14 league games that followed that 3-0 reverse.
Saying that, the championship did effectively boil down to WednesdayÃ¢ÂÂs Shakhtar-Dynamo game.
52,518 Ã¢ÂÂ a record crowd at Fortress Donbass - gathered to witness a match officiated by an Italian hairdresser, who also happened to be a qualified referee.
ShakhtarÃ¢ÂÂs owner Rinat Akhmetov said it would be ÃÂ¬hardÃÂ® for a Ukrainian to take charge of a game of such magnitude, so the appearance of foreign officials could become a regular occurrence in the Premier-Liga if he gets his way.
They're welcome to Howard Webb.
Lucescu has assembled a good, solid side at Shakhtar; it works in Ukraine.
Probably going on the belief that Brazilians arenÃ¢ÂÂt as adept at defending as they are attacking, a hardworking, determined base of Eastern European players comprises the back five, while the samba stars in front of them are allowed to do their thing.
There were five Brazilians in the starting line up against Dynamo, while Douglas Costa was on the bench (there's not room for all of them) and Alex Teixeira is ÃÂ¬one for the futureÃÂ® the club are slowly introducing into first team affairs since his arrival in January.
Conveniently for Shakhtar, unearthing the next KakÃÂ· has been made that little bit easier, because from this year the Brazilian championship is being broadcast on Ukrainian television which will save on all them long haul flights, although their scouts probably enjoyed the jaunts to South America during the harsh winters the city experiences.
Poor old Julius Aghahowa; he doesnÃ¢ÂÂt get a look since his return from Wigan.
The Brazilians have scored 38 times between them in the league this season, so it wasnÃ¢ÂÂt a surprise when Ilsinho was at the other end of Darijo SrnaÃ¢ÂÂs right-wing cross that evaded Olexander Shovkovsky, and he duly swept the ball into an open net in the 15th minute for the gameÃ¢ÂÂs only goal.
Ilsinho also hit the crossbar in the second half, while Jadson missed a penalty but ShakhtarÃ¢ÂÂs rarely-troubled defence yet again kept a clean sheet and the club claimed their fifth title since independence, which is in no small matter down to their home form.
15 league games in Donetsk yielded 14 wins and a draw, while they only conceded six goals. It puts into context the enormity of FulhamÃ¢ÂÂs success in the Europa League earlier in the year.
The last round of fixtures were meaningless at the weekend, so Lucescu rested most of his first XI for the match against Tavriya Simferopol Ã¢ÂÂ even Aghahowa was given a better seat to watch the game from; the Nigerian moved from the stands to the bench, where he spent 90 minutes watching Shakhtar win slighter closer to the pitch than he usually does.
He mustÃ¢ÂÂve been gutted when the fourth official put his board up for ShakhtarÃ¢ÂÂs third substitution and the number 24 of Ruslan Fomin was displayed to replace Teixeira during their 3-2 win.
Roy is no doubt penning a congratulatory letter as you read this, so in the meantime Lucescu has been forced to settle for a message on the Ukrainian president Viktor YanukovychÃ¢ÂÂs personal website.