Proud Shakhtar standing strong as war in Ukraine rages on


Darijo Srna, sports director of Shakhtar Donetsk, says the team offer hope (Picture: Getty)

Throughout the war on Ukraine, which started one year ago this week, Ukrainians abroad have expressed defiance in many different ways.

This month at New York Fashion Week model Alina Baikova wore an oversize jumper bearing the legend ‘F*** YOU PUTIN’ in the colours of her country’s flag, and on Tuesday London hosted a Ukrainian designer showcase featuring folk songs, love hearts and the use of deadstock ties – no longer needed by men in Ukraine, confined to military dress.

Football has been one of the most prominent places for Ukraine to represent itself. Who can forget the World Cup play-offs where their national team, after being given permission to leave as men of fighting age, travelled by bus for 20 hours to a training base in Slovenia, belted out their national anthem and beat Scotland.

Or Ukraine captain Oleksandr Zinchenko and national team-mate Vitaliy Mykolenko being moved to tears at Goodison Park when their Premier League teams took to the pitch in Ukraine flags to the Hollies’ He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.

And what about the Champions League group tie between Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Madrid? The 2009 Uefa Cup winners drew with the 2022 champions – in Poland, because Shakhtar are four-times displaced by war.

They led until Antonio Rudiger’s 95th-minute equaliser. Their European performances would be impressive enough hailing from any country outside the big five European leagues. But it’s even more extraordinary when you consider what Shakhtar has gone through in the last decade.

Their sporting director Darijo Srna says he cannot protect his players from what their homeland is coping with, but he and his team believe they can provide hope, and must believe they will go home one day.

‘It’s not time to cry, it’s time to fight and be positive,’ Srna (below) told me when we spoke in London this week.

He spent 15 years at Shakhtar as a player, despite being linked – as Croatia’s second-most capped player – with big moves to the Premier League. And his love for the club and their players is evident.

‘When I see my players playing Champions League like this,’ he said, ‘I don’t know, for me, I am the most happy man in the world.’

It’s this that has made the process of trying to keep a football club competitive through war bearable for him.

Srna believes Ukrainian clubs’ plight has been only worsened by Fifa who, he says, have yet to pick up the phone.

When Russia invaded, the governing body decided foreign players in Russia and Ukraine should be released from their contracts.

This meant players such as Tete, multi-million pound assets, went on to leave, without Shakhtar or their fellow Ukrainian clubs seeing any money for the footballer they had nurtured.

It was yet another challenge Ukrainian football did not need. But Srna believes the most important thing is that Shakhtar keep playing and we all keep talking about what’s happening.

‘We want to show everyone that we are alive, and that we are doing something that we love, which is playing football.’

You can listen to Kate’s full conversation with Darijo Srna on the Football Ramble wherever you get your podcasts

This is one final Lor exam I would love to see him pass

Loris Karius will make his debut in a cup final at Wembley (Picture: Newcastle United via Getty Images)

You know those nightmares where you find yourself back in the exam room having to redo your GSCEs? You may be ten years into your career and have impeccable professional credentials but, as you sleep, someone somewhere has decided your second chemistry paper never counted, and back you go.

So we all on some level understand the challenge facing Newcastle keeper Loris Karius in the Carabao Cup final.

The German found himself promoted after Nick Pope’s ban, with Martin Dubravka cup-tied. Karius was fourth choice at St James’ Park until January, when Karl Darlow went out on loan.

Sunday will mark – nearly to the day – two years since his last competitive outing. He’s barely been in the matchday squad this season.

The last image most of us have of Karius is in a Liverpool kit, patting the ball over his own shoulder for Gareth Bale’s second goal of the 2018 Champions League final.

After demotion and loan spells he finally left Liverpool, whose staff report he
never missed a training session that whole period, even when he had no
chance of playing.

It was proven after that catastrophic performance against
Real Madrid that he had concussion and had blacked out on the pitch.

On Sunday he makes his Newcastle debut… at Wembley, in their biggest game in more than two decades. I hope he has the game of his life.


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