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Rumours fly as FC Dnipro survive summertime crisis
Ukrainian side FC Dnipro Dnepropetrovsk have lived to fight another day following a close season filled with intrigue regarding the club’s fate, as a financial crisis threatened the historically significant club’s existence.
Dnipro, who reached the final of the Europa League in 2015, have, like many other Ukrainian clubs, fallen on hard times due to the crisis afflicting the country since the armed conflicts of 2013-15. Despite not being as badly affected as teams located in Russian-annexed Crimea and the disputed zones of Luhansk and Donetsk, the club from the steel-producing city of Dnepropetrovsk has suffered from the economic downturn that worsened on the back of the conflict.
On 30 March this year, UEFA banned Dnipro from participating in European competition for one season. This ban will apply from the start of the next season in which they qualify for European competition, provided this situation arises within the next three seasons. The punishment was imposed due to debts owed by the club to former players and assistants to the former manager, the Spaniard and former Tottenham coach Juande Ramos.
The club’s debts also led to warnings from the Ukrainian Football Federation (FFU) that the club’s license to play in the 2016-17 Ukrainian Premier League (UPL) season would be revoked. At the same time, a lawyer representing the former coaches demanded that the team start the league season on minus 18 points – six for each of his clients – and have a transfer ban imposed for a period of two years. However, the club received the green light to play in the new league season on 25 April, after FFU executive committee member Artem Frankov announced that the European ban represented “sufficient” punishment for the club. Any apparent leniency on the part of the FFU in this case could also be explained by the fact that four other clubs – Volyn, Metallist Kharkiv, Metallurg Zaporizhyya and Hoverla – were simultaneously denied a license to participate, given that their futures are even more insecure than Dnipro.
In spite of the FFU decision, by the end of June, news regarding Dnipro’s future appeared to be anything but positive, with an unofficial club website proclaiming on 28 June that the club had no future in its current form: “Our Dnipro are finished. Nobody will be paid and the club has ceased to exist.” The article also claimed that a possible relocation to Dnepropetrovsk of another of the clubs belonging to the same group of companies as Dnipro had been explored, but rejected as unfeasible, while club staff were working fiercely to find new investors to rescue Dnipro and ensure that it would be resurrected in the second division the following season.
Nevertheless, the club’s General Director, Andrey Stetsenko, was quoted the following day denying the development and stating that “yes, wages haven’t been paid. Yes, [coach] Miron Markovich has left for Lviv. Yes, players are leaving. But the club remains – it still has 500 registered employees on its books.” At the same time, with four key players leaving the club, the outlook appeared bleak.
Speaking to the press, Dnipro owner Ihor Kolomoyskyy expressed surprise at claims of the club’s demise, claiming that “nobody has called me to ask whether this is true or not.” While acknowledging that the club had fallen on hard times, he said they were nevertheless preparing for the upcoming UPL season, although he did admit that the club’s priorities would be different in the future, saying that “the club won’t be run as it was previously. It’s not natural to spend mad sums of money for the sake of coefficients.” Kolomoyskyy also claimed that FFU was really behind the stories regarding Dnipro’s demise, in a bid to use the club as a distraction to mask the failure of the Ukrainian national team at the European Championships, when “our team of millionaires lost to a team of postmen,” referring to Ukraine’s 2:0 defeat to Northern Ireland.
Another rumour to emerge around the fate of the club was the suggestion that former Ukrainian President, Leonid Kuchma, could invest in the club along with businessman and former parliamentary deputy Viktor Pinchuk, as a way for both men to re-enter the political landscape of the country, since they would “acquire serious political capital by riding in as the saviours of one of [Ukraine’s] oldest, most traditional clubs.” The scheme was also suggested as a way the pair could simultaneously get one over on Kolomoyskyy, who they had previously defeated in a court case.
Despite Kolomoyskyy’s reassurances about the future of the club, the reaction in Dnepropetrovsk to the closure announcement amounted to widespread shock and outrage. One fan, Vadim, said “we don’t know what we’ll do if we lose our Dnipro. The fans will go mad.” Indeed, the emotional response was not confined to the most hardcore supporters of the club, with the general population in the city recognising the significance of this situation having been allowed to damage an institution that had represented the city beyond its borders with distinction many times throughout almost 100 years of history.
Not wishing for their club to go down quietly, by 1 July fans online were calling for a flash mob and for other fans to post as many pictures of themselves as possible on social networking sites with the hashtag “#днепрдолженжить” (DniproMustLive). These mass demonstrations of support led to the involvement of Dnepropetrovsk’s mayor Boris Filatov, who used an interview on local television to reassure fans that the club would play in the following season’s UPL without any problems, although he did precede this by stressing that the club is a private company that does not have a direct relationship to the city administration. He described the rumours regarding the club’s imminent closure as “baseless,” saying that Kolomoyskyy had personally assured him that Dnipro’s future was secure.
Fans subsequently arranged a petition calling for the club’s stadium, training ground and club shops to be transferred onto the city’s balance sheet, as they constitute social resources. The petition also sought financing from the city budget for future activities, while fans went on to state that they were prepared to act as club sponsors themselves.
Despite all of the dire predictions about the future of the club, by 20 July the situation appeared to have been at least partially resolved, with all of the players remaining at the club agreeing to renegotiated contract offers and a plan in place to resolve old debts. Dnipro began their league season by thumping Volyn 5:0 on 24 July.
Dnipro Dnepropetrovsk were founded in 1918 and were twice champions of the USSR (1983, 1988), winning the national cup competition once. They were managed in the 1960s by a young Valeryy Lobanovskyy, the legendary Ukrainian coach who later masterminded the successes of Dynamo Kyiv in the 1990s. Since Ukrainian independence, the team’s best achievements have been a couple of second place finishes in the league, along with a runners-up spot in the Europa League.
Sources: (in Russian)