16 September 2014 19:09
Coaching Ukrainian Premier League champions Shakhtar Donetsk has presented Mircea Lucescu with some unique challenges.
It is not often that a team have to abandon their stadium as a result of bomb damage, but that is the fate that has befallen Shakhtar.
Political unrest in the region has led to the side playing their home games in Lviv, over 1,000 kilometres from the Donbass Arena, which was rocked by two explosions last month.
Some of Lucescu’s South American contingent – concerned over rising tensions between Ukraine and Russia – opted against reporting for duty, a stance he lamented as “not professional”.
Those who have remained have shown remarkable composure in the face of such turmoil, winning all six of their league games under a coach who first joined the club in 2004.
And now the challenge of the UEFA Champions League awaits, with Lucescu longing for the opportunity to compete with Europe’s elite at Shakhtar’s own ground.
“It’s not easy because we are not playing with our supporters, so it’s very difficult,” the 69-year-old told Perform.
“You know very well that the big games come with the big crowds and the support of our fans. Because of this it is not easy, to be prepared for every match and be ready to win. It is important for us and for them to remain at this level.
“We are waiting to come back to our stadium, every time we had 47-50,000 people there, a fantastic atmosphere and good conditions for training. We want what is happening there to go back to normal, and for people to start leading normal lives.”
On the topic of those who failed to return for the domestic campaign, Lucescu is torn between understanding and anger.
He explained: “I was disappointed but I understood them because it’s not the players who were guilty in this situation. They didn’t behave like professional players – respecting the contract, respecting the people, respecting the support.
“Normally they should come to see what has happened here then after they can take a decision not decline two days before playing an important match, the Super Cup.
“I’ve been extremely lucky that not all the players decided to do such a thing. Six remained but six came back and helped us to win this important cup, this Super Cup.
“I understood them but I was very angry with the people who tried to convince them not to come back, trying to make bigger business, taking them without money and putting them in other clubs.
“This was not the correct decision and for this I tried to do absolutely everything to defend my club, my work and the future of this club.”
Lucescu is hopeful that off-field woes can be forgotten as Shakhtar aim to translate their league form into success on the continental stage, with a trip to Athletic Bilbao up first on Wednesday in Group H, which also includes Porto and BATE.
“Until now we have succeeded in Ukraine, we will see what happens in Europe,” he added. “It’s one thing to play against Athletic Bilbao with 70,000 people there and another to play here [Lviv] with 5,000, I don’t know how many.
“I hope because it’s Champions League we will fill the stadium in Lviv. They are not our supporters maybe but maybe they come for the spectacle, for this important competition they will come. Anyway it’s not easy.”