Artem Chobanian


Ukrainian clubs unlike their Russian counterparts cannot afford to spend too much, especially at the moment, so they face the problem of spending what cash they do have wisely. In the transfer window this winter, the two largest clubs, Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv, both needed to improve their attacks. According to their coaches they have managed this, but only one actually spent money to do so.

Dynamo brought in young Brazilian Guilherme, from Cruzeiro, and it is hoped he will be a huge talent in the future. Shakhtar meanwhile addressed their attacking problems by bringing back a familiar name, Nery Castillo, who had failed to settle so spectacularly at the first time of asking.

Going into the winter break Dynamo were in real need of a good striker and the result is a highly rated talent from one of Brazil’s most famous clubs – Cruzeiro. Dynamo will throw Guilherme into the action straight away, counting on him in the Premier League especially, as well as the UEFA Cup should they progress any further. The Ukrainian super-club have a vast and powerful midfield where the coach Yuri Semin can choose between almost 12 players of equal ability.

In attack the situation is the complete opposite. Although the club have won many of their domestic matches quite easily, scoring many goals along the way, those games did not really show the whole picture, especially in terms of the attack.

Among the seven strikers at Semin’s disposal, only three are under serious consideration and for good reason. They are Ismael Bangura, Artem Milevsky and Artem Kravets. The rest of the forwards are either too old or too young for the important games. However, even the best three do not solve the problems in the attack. Bangura is quick and able to score, even in desperate situations, but has poor control and loses the ball very often. Artem Milevsky is in the best form currently, but he lacks pace and the ability to jump high, though he is very imaginative and creative with the ability to hit an incisive pass. Artem Kravets is young but is willing to do all “dirty jobs” in the attack, such as tireless work chasing down the ball, so he is very often a substitute. So the new arrival is very much needed.

Guilherme played 58 matches for Cruzeiro and scored 28 goals, which is good enough for the Brazilian championship. Whether he is able to continue scoring as much in Ukraine is open to debate. Coach Semin though seems convinced, stating: “Of course, before we decided to choose Guilherme, we had had several options. However, our scouts insisted on purchasing this Brazilian footballer as they thought he would fit into the Dynamo style best. I checked on him for two weeks before announcing his signing and now I can say that the scouts have been right so far… We tried him as the attacking midfielder and he was very good with Milevsky. Then I placed him as the only forward and he was constantly finding his ways to get the ball and make scoring opportunities. At some point I thought: ‘Well, where does this guy have a STOP button?’ ”
Semin went on: “Luckily, he found Bangura to be his best partner – they struck up a great partnership even though they could not understand what the other said – and I hope that will help both Bangura to improve his shooting and passes and Guilherme improve as a player. The two will be most dangerous for our rivals. This kind of striker [Guilherme] is new for our team, though we have had Brazilian forwards at Dynamo before, but they were not of Guilherme’s class and what we need now is a forward that will score as much as possible both in the Ukrainian Premier League and UEFA Cup. For now, I am sure we finally got the one…”

The Guilherme saga was not as discussed as Arshavin’s protracted move, both because Guilherme is not Arshavin and Dynamo are not Arsenal. However, in reality it took Dynamo almost a year to settle on the Brazilian striker and two long months to conclude a deal with Cruzeiro. For Guilherme, Dynamo swapped another Brazilian, Kleber, plus $7M. After that it took about three weeks to get all necessary papers prepared and signed. Only two days ago Guilherme was officially announced as a Dynamo player and was given the number 77 shirt.

Dynamo’s president Ihor Surkis stated that they all had spent so much effort to make the deal happen that when Guilherme finally arrived there was a sense of achievement. The Brazilian himself mentioned that he would try his best to help Dynamo and would not be lost amongst the Ukrainians because there were so many foreign players at the club.

Things were different at Shakhtar as Nery Castillo returned to base. Castillo first showed his brilliance while playing for the Mexican youth national team. The forward is Mexican but has lived in Greece for such a long time he considers that country his second motherland, so nobody knows what nationality he really is. But joking aside, Castillo has played for the Mexican national team for years and that fact answers all questions.

Castillo’s story is simple, there’s nothing saga-like in his adventures in Ukraine. Somehow what happened here a year ago no-one could and can explain. Along with Cristiano Lucarelli, the Mexican striker arrived in Donetsk with a bang one and a half years ago. He was signed from Olympiacos and, that summer, with other “minor” purchases, Shakhtar spent €100M on new players, which ranked second only to Bayern Munich who spent €101M.

However, the two wonderful players, Lucarelli and Castillo, couldn’t get used to the team’s tactics or playing style, and their spell ended with loans to the Italian and English clubs respectively. Cristiano Lucarelli moved to Parma and Castillo was given to Manchester City. Ironically, the two players were dismissed from Shakhtar after several incidents during training and official matches, the most famous of these being when Castillo didn’t let Lucarelli take a penalty, although the Italian was the regular penalty-taker. Castillo also stopped Lucarelli and his other teammates from taking free-kicks.

Castillo was not welcome in the team and Lucarelli just refused to play with the Mexican. After a series of discussions the head coach Mirca Luchescu and Shakhtar’s owner Rinat Ahmetov decided to let them go.

After that Castillo played with Manchester City for half a year, but appeared only nine times and gained no glory there. Unfortunately for him, despite being very good with his national team, no club wanted him.

However, what is interesting is his return to Shakhtar Donetsk. Ukrainian football pundits are split in their views about whether the Mexican brings something special to the club or if his re-appearance will be another disaster. Mirca Luchescu stated that the club do not want the Castillo deal to be discussed so that the footballer will feel comfortable in Ukraine.

The Romanian coach has huge authority in Ukraine so no paper or internet portal criticised Luchescu’s decision. After the comeback the coach held a press conference where he told journalists that he took the responsibility upon himself and he would try all possible measures to teach Castillo how to play in the team and what Shakhtar really need from the striker. Castillo himself didn’t come to the conference and has never given any since his return to Donetsk.

Castillo took part in Shakhtar’s winter training base in Spain and is now ready to play, though he picked up an injury playing for his national team and may miss the first few games back.

Not only Luchescu is responsible for Castillo. Other prominent Shakhtar players have said they will contribute to the Mexican’s assimilation at the club.

Dario Srna, Shakhtar’s captain

What I liked about Castillo almost two years ago was his constant desire to run after the ball and play in every position on the pitch. He used to be like a child whose aim was not to score but to get the ball and simply be with it… he has changed since then and my only hope is that he will find a way to make friends with the team. Only after that he’ll become a valued player…

Tomas Hubshman, defender

He used to be a loner but now he seems to be very shy, just trying to find a friend here, but we act like Luchescu told us – start talking first, invite to dinners, visit his room at our training base and do what we can to help him. I feel very sorry for him if he cannot become part of the team.

Rinat Ahmetov, owner of Shakhtar

I am not a specialist in purely football matters, but I do understand how much people relations are important. Luchescu said the club need Castillo. Ok, we have him. When we first purchased him he was aloof. Now he is different. I would say he grew up and has transformed from a youngster into a man. We all hope he will contribute to the club’s success, but only the games in the UEFA Cup and in the Premier League will prove if he deserves to be at Shakhtar.

Whatever pundits and Shakhtar supporters say, Castillo is a very talented player and as an impartial football fan one can only wish the Mexican becomes a real professional, preferably in Ukraine with Shakhtar Donetsk.