Shakhtar Donetsk's boys from Brazil ready to conquer Continent, beginning with Chelsea
Fernandinho, one of eight from the land of the beautiful game in Shakhtar's squad, tells Andy Brassell of their ambition to increase the club's profile
England's travelling fans have had their trials on the road of late, but they caught Donetsk on its best side during their visit to Ukraine for this summer's European Championship. At least they avoided the electrical storm that blighted France's match against the co-hosts four days before.
Visitors to the south-eastern city in the heart of coal-mining country tend to think of the city's club, Shakhtar, as one of European football's more unlikely South American enclaves. The stalwart of the club's Brazilian community, the midfielder Fernandinho, this week reflected on his initial impressions on arrival from Atletico Paranaense in 2005.
"In terms of the city it was pretty difficult," he told The Independent. "The climate, the people, the way of life was so different… but it's been seven years and now I've adapted totally [he now speaks fluent Russian]. And everything at the club was much easier." Having created their own home from home, Fernandinho and his rolling cast of compatriots have softened the city of Donetsk's harsh, industrial image. "Of course, all the Brazilians that were here in 2005 were something that weighed heavily on my choice to come," he said, recalling the presence of Jadson, Brandao and Elano, who joined Manchester City in 2007. "It's a different culture and it's important for everyone to feel that human connection."
Today, as a senior member of coach Mircea Lucescu's squad, it's up to the 27-year-old to lead the welcoming committee. "After seven years – yes, I feel like a leader," he said. "So I, and all of us, have to help the new ones to understand the philosophy of work at the club and what the coach wants from us." There are currently eight Brazilians in Shakhtar's squad, including the playmaker Douglas Costa and Willian, the subject of a failed bid from Tottenham this summer. Having won 11 major trophies with Shakhtar – including five league titles and a Uefa Cup – Fernandinho stressed that the club's ambition rather than the appeal of an expat social circle was behind his decision to join the club. "The main motivation for choosing Shakhtar was because I wanted to have a successful career in Europe," he insisted, "and at that moment it was Shakhtar that opened their doors to me. South Americans in general always looked to find success in Europe, but with the passing of years the number has augmented more and more."
Still, it's hard not to think that Fernandinho's five caps for Brazil could have been more had he been in a more internationally visible league. "Maybe it could have been more, but I still hope that I can wear mycountry's shirt again at some point," he added. Increasing Shakhtar's profile is the next aim for this squad of serial winners. "All the titles I've won here have been important, but the Uefa Cup in 2009 has a special place in my heart," Fernandinho admitted. Now there is an eagerness to dazzle on Europe's biggest stage after a poor Champions League campaign last year, when Shakhtar finished bottom of their group.
"Everybody knows that Chelsea are a great team and they tell us so," said Fernandinho. "Now, at last, we have the chance to play against them this week. I hope we'll be able to win and make our fans, and our families, happy." Even if Ukraine are struggling in England's World Cup qualification group there is a feeling locally, in Donetsk, that their team can create some lasting legacy and this under-the-radar pocket of Brazilians and their team-mates have a plan to put the city on the map tonight.
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