Samba in Ukraine: How a trip to Brazil paved the way for Shakhtar’s success

Mircea Lucescu found his seat, pulled out a blanket, and settled in. Temperatures in Kharkhiv were tilting toward 30F on Wednesday night, and the new Turkey manager could have been anywhere else in the world. But he wanted to be right here, to see Shakhtar Donetsk face Manchester City.

This was no scouting trip. Neither team had a single Turkish player in their lineup. Lucescu was here to check in on Shakhtar, whom he led to eight Ukrainian titles and a UEFA Cup during a brilliant 12-year tenure. He was hoping to see them get the point that they needed to qualify for the knockout phase of the Champions League.

More than that, though, Lucescu was here for the same reasons he agreed to become the club’s manager in the first place, all the way back in 2004. Namely, the promise of sparkling Samba soccer even in the unlikeliest of settings.

Almost half a century has passed since Lucescu, as captain of the Romanian national team, travelled to Brazil for a series of exhibition games. It is bizarre to consider how that trip would lay the foundations for Shakhtar to beat City all this time later.

Lucescu was dazzled …read more