“At a football club, there's a holy trinity - the players, the manager and the supporters. Directors don't come into it. They are only there to sign the cheques, not to make them out. We'll do that - they just sign them.” Nowadays the above words said by Bill Shankly sound like a utopian perception of football, let alone the Ukrainian top flight.
The biggest tumour of the Soviet football was fixed matches. Everyone knew or was taking part in them, be it the Communist Party bosses of the former Soviet republics, coaches/friends or players. The fiercest football confrontation of the Soviet era was the rivalry between Moscow and Kyiv. In 1982, with two games remaining, Dynamo Kyiv and Dynamo Minsk were the main contenders for the league title. The Belorussian team had to play against Moscow’s sides Spartak and Dynamo. In order for Dynamo Kyiv not to become champions, the capital sides decided to lose against Dynamo Minsk. When Dynamo Moscow’s first-team players refused to participate in this circus they were replaced by players representing the reserve team which went on to lose 7-0. Malofeev’s (Dynamo Minsk coach) ‘sincere football’ reaped not very ‘sincere’ fruits in the end.
Dynamo Kyiv knew the rules of the game too and had to respond adequately. Volodymyr Maski (football writer): “Did Lobanovskyy ‘play’ such games? Yes, he did. What was he supposed to do in the situation when the majority of Moscow’s teams and other sides were collectively fighting against his team? Even in this stinky business Lobanovskyy was smarter and more honest than everyone. He did not take the money. He included fixed matches in the competition strategy plan: today I'll give you points, and tomorrow you will return them”. What now seems as shocking revelations back then was regarded as a matter of course.
It would be wrong to say that things radically changed after the break-up of the Soviet Union. Behind-the-scene clashes were as strong as ever. Since mid 90-s some people have been accusing Grigoriy Surkis ( former politician, one of the richest people in Ukraine and the brother of Dynamo Kyiv’s current president Igor Surkis) of excessive power in the Ukrainian football. The biggest bullets of criticism have been flying from Shakhtar whose muscles have been getting bigger and bigger since that time. From 1996 – 2000, Grigoriy Surkis was president of the Professional Football League of Ukraine and vice-president of the Football Federation of Ukraine (FFU), before taking over as FFU president in 2002. Having looked at Grigoriy Surkis’ brief football biography and aforementioned connections, it is not hard to identify the reasons for criticism. And let’s not forget the fact that from 1993-2002 Grigoriy Surkis was de facto and de jure the owner of Dynamo Kyiv, before handing over the reins to his brother Igor.
Indeed, such a brotherhood would surely not go down too well in the top European leagues but on the other hand, as Semen Sluchevskyy (one of the most respected Ukrainian journalists) points out: “Who would become the scapegoats, if Igor Surkis offered his seat to Andriy Shevchenko, Oleg Luzhnyy or Sergiy Rebrov, for instance?” There is also an example of Silvio Berlusconi (Milan’s owner) who was Italian prime minister and whose power was far greater than Grigoriy Surkis could ever dream of.
The other two fiercest opponents of the Surkis regime are Oleksandr Yaroslavskyy (Metalist's president) and Igor Kolomoyskyy (Dnipro's president).
Yaroslavskyy’s biggest disappointment came when his team was deducted 9 points for the alleged match-fixing scandal involving Metalist and Karpaty. Oleksandr Yaroslavskyy’s explanation was the following: “Grigoriy Surkis got rid of the competitor for the Champions League spot”. When asked about lodging an appeal to the FFU Appeal Committee, Metalist’s president replied that there was not much point in doing so, as this organization entirely consisted of people representing a company owned by the Surkis brothers.
As for Igor Kolomoyskyy, in the aftermath of Dnipro’s defeat at the hands of Dynamo, during the football show on Ukrainian TV, his frustration with the standards of refereeing was so unbearable that it made him give away Igor Surkis’ phone number, proposing the hosts to call Dynamo’s president to ask what he thought about the controversial refereeing decisions. Igor Surkis replied that if Kolomoyskyy had been a decent and well-educated person he would never have done that.
If Sun Tzu had lived in our time he would have surely written a book about the art of media wars in Ukraine. This year has probably seen the biggest scandal in Ukrainian football of late. Denis Garmash’s sending-off in Dynamo’s away defeat against Shakhtar and the events that followed this episode detonated a bomb in the Ukrainian media as well as mutual accusations involving both clubs’ top officials and players. FFU’s Control and Disciplinary Committee has rescinded Garmash’s second yellow card based on the fact that Yuriy Vaks sent the player off for actions that did not actually take place. Pierluigi Collina (head of referees for the Football Federation of Ukraine) confirmed that Vaks made a mistake, but it was not his biased decision as it was portrayed by some. The funny thing is that prior to the game Shakhtar’s coach Mircea Lucescu was unhappy with the fact that Vaks would officiate this match and was trying to convince anyone that Vaks was ‘pro-Dynamo’ referee. The most radical explanation of the reasons behind Vaks’ decisions came from the former press officer of the Ukraine national team, who is currently representing the biggest right-wing nationalist party in Ukraine. He said that Shakhtar had bribed Vaks before the match.
The biggest problem of the recent conflict in Ukrainian football is that the ‘Vaksgate scandal’ may affect Ukraine’s dressing-room come Euro 2012, as Oleg Blokhin’s team mainly consists of Shakhtar’s and Dynamo’s players. I have no idea how Oleg Blokhin will make Shakhtar’s Rakytskyy and Dynamo’s Shovkovskyy shake hands in light of their verbal brawl after the game but I hope he will be much wiser than those who care only about their own corporate interests.