Redefining the meaning of improvement
Before being elected as the president of the FFU (Football Federation of Ukraine), Anatoliy Konkov (below) was touring Ukraine like U2 with their 360° world tour, popping up here and there and enjoying probably even more media coverage than the great Irishmen did. During his election campaign, Mr Konkov emphasised the importance of grassroots football, showing determination to develop this section of Ukrainian football, which is yet to reach at least the level it had been at before the break-up of the Soviet Union. Indeed, this issue is very important and hopefully, Konkov will succeed in his undertaking.
It will be fascinating to witness what will be done in terms of youth football in a city of Kryvyi Rih, for instance, and where the resources will come from. This year, the city’s team, Kryvbas, have ceased to exist due to financial impotency. In the 2012/13 season, Kryvbas took eighth place in the Ukrainian Premier League, despite the players going unpaid since January. Moreover, after the winter break they notched up as many points as Oleg Blokhin’s Dynamo Kyiv, who finished third. According to Kryvbas president, the club was unable to sort out a $4m debt. Local fans tried to raise awareness by organising all sorts of campaigns but a helping hand from local businessmen or authorities was never seen. Officially, Kryvbas fell off a cliff on 12 June, and after a couple of days Anatoliy Konkov gave quite an extensive interview in which even the word Kryvbas was not mentioned, as if the team, who have never been relegated from the Ukrainian top flight, have never existed at all.
The same could be said about Volyn Lutsk, whose players did not see their salaries for at least 4 months, with the clubs’ top management being one big untidy flat, or the First League (second tier of Ukrainian football) clubs such as Stal Alchevsk and Oleksandriya, who refused to be promoted to the Premier League, or other First League outfits such as Krymteplitsa and FC Odessa – the former followed a Kryvbas route and the latter lost professional status after about two weeks since Konkov’s interview. The FFU’s president also kept silent regarding the fact that it was still unknown which and how many teams would compete in the 2013/14 Premier League even when the Premier League fixture list was released, which was the precedent in the Ukrainian football, or that a 20-year period has seen more than 100 Ukrainian professional teams disappear for good and this year has been one the darkest in this regard, but instead Konkov has stated that ‘the overall level of football in Ukraine has considerably improved’. He also went on to say that one of the most important issues is that ’the Ukrainian league is not yet attractive for top football stars’. Based on the above, it would be also desirable to hear what the FFU boss and his organisation mean by Ukrainian football. Maybe they mean only those Ukrainian clubs that take part in the European competitions, or, say, amateur competitions like Ukrainian Christian Football League and Donetsk Winter Championship, for instance, or maybe something else… Some clarification is surely needed.
This year, Hoverla Uzhgorod and Metalurh Zaporizhya were relegated from the Premier League after finishing 15th and 16th respectively, but according to the UPL regulations, Hoverla remained in the top flight thanks to Kryvbas’ death. Metalurh also stayed up but in this case everything was far from being nice and cool in terms of the rules, as based on the aforementioned regulations only the First League team can take the place of a team that have finished 16th (last place) in the UPL. In other words, it had to be Stal Alchevsk, who finished second in the First League and earned their right to play in the UPL anyway. However, their president said no because their stadium didn’t meet the UPL requirements, with also ruling out a possibility of playing their home games in Donetsk (about an hour-drive from Alchevsk), stating that ‘it would be a betrayal towards the fans’. In the 2012/13 season, newly-promoted Hoverla also had some problems with their venue and played some of their home games in Lviv, but there weren’t any reports about Hoverla fans’ calling it a betrayal. ‘We have not seen our president during the season’, said Stal goalkeeper Andriy Komarnitskiy, ‘and now he says that he cares about the team, about the fans’. ‘He did not even congratulate the team on promotion to the Premier League. The man just does not understand that he has stolen our dream’, Komarnitskiy concluded, making Stal president’s talks about morality sound not so moral after all. It would be safe to say that not only Stal players but also the vast majority of Stal fans would subscribe to Komarnitskiy’s point of view. The curious thing is that it wasn’t the FFU bosses who sentenced Stal to another year in the First League without giving the club any rights to appeal the decision. By and large, whatever the real reasons behind Stal missing out on the top flight football were, it all looked like losing (or not wanting to win) a game long before a starting whistle. Basically, only God and Stal president know what the team were playing for in the last season.
Given that Stal were out of this rather tricky equation, Oleksandriya, who took third place in the First League, were supposed to be promoted to the top flight, but it was not meant to happen either. According to the club’s official statement, they wanted to earn promotion in a fair fight and that there had already been carried out preparations regarding the team’s next season campaign in the First League. OK.
Therefore, everything came down to Bukovina Chernovtsy, who finished fourth in the First League. Unlike Oleksandriya, Bukovina expressed their desire to compete in the UPL next season but were denied such an opportunity because ‘…they cannot meet the requirements listed in the regulations of the competition’, Konkov said. Response from Bukovina’s head coach followed, ‘It is difficult to determine on what basis our [FFU’s] officials have decided that Bukovina are not ready to play in the Premier League. Yes, there are issues regarding the infrastructure, and we are ready to put everything in order. That said, there was not a single representative from the federation [FFU] to examine it in place.’ Maybe, the FFU wanted to save on travel costs to finish the organisation’s fiscal year in style… Just guessing.
The precise purpose of rules and regulations is to be a pendulum when dark days like this come. If it doesn’t happen, please be prepared to take punches questioning your transparency regarding not one but all the issues you are responsible for, especially when your reputation is not skyrocketing. However, the FFU thought otherwise and took a controversial decision that allowed Metalurh Zaporizhya to remain in the top flight, despite the fact that it went against the UPL regulations. Here is what the FFU boss had to say about Metalurh, ‘We decided to leave Metalurh Zaporizhya [in the top flight] because Metalurh develop players, they have the infrastructure’, unbeatable reasoning, isn’t it? Let’s just form the UPL of teams who ‘develop players’ and who ‘have the infrastructure’, and leave this boring business of relegation and promotion aside.
Anyway, who has said that the days are dark? ‘The overall level of football in Ukraine has considerably improved’. Mr Konkov knows best. And let’s hope that a burning issue of ‘the Ukrainian league being not yet attractive for top football stars’ will be resolved soon. Football fans in Kryvyi Rih have already prepared a pyro show to mark the day when it happens.
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