The conflict in the Donbass, and the resulting financial uncertainty in Ukraine continue to have an affect on the nation’s Ukrainian Premier League. On September 8 the Russian language sports page championat.ru reported that Metalurh Zaporizhya might be compelled to cease operations, because of financial problems.
Zaporizhya currently stand in last place in the Ukrainian Premier League, and it now appears that the club has until October to fulfil its financial obligations. A statement on the club’s homepage this week read: “The [economic] situation has become much more complicated in the face of the deteriorating economic and political crisis in Ukraine, which has created additional challenges in financing, maintaining, and developing the club, and has now become a real threat to the club’s existence.” The statement further reads that “In the light of those circumstance, we [the club] consider it necessary to inform about the impending failure to meet financial obligations after October 1st 2015. We therefore appeal to fans of the football club to step forward, and to assist with financial patronage of PFC Metalurh Zaporizhya.”
Vyacheslav Boguslayev—a people’s deputy in the Ukrainian Parliament, the Rada, and the owner of JSC Motor Sich—is the owner of the club. But, as the Ukrainian sports page Tribuna.com reported, the Boguslayev family has recently announced that they can no longer carry the burden of financing the club on their own. With the present financial uncertainty in the country, however, it seems unlikely that an oligarch will step forward to buy Metalurh, especially when one considers the club’s recent decline on the playing field.
Metalurh are not the only club that faces bankruptcy; Metalist Kharkiv may also be on the brink of ceasing operations. Currently, Metalist owes outstanding wages to several players including former Ukrainian international Edmar Halovskyi de Lacerda. Edmar has since sued the club, and a UEFA ruling is expected in October. The club does not have the money to pay the outstanding wages, and may be forced into bankruptcy if Edmar wins the case.
Metalist’s financial problems date back to December 2012 when the club was bought by the than relatively unknown businessman Serhiy Kurchenko. Kurchenko was listed at the time as the owner of gas company Gaz Ukrainia and was regarded by some as a somewhat enigmatic figure (and a billionaire at the tender age of 27, no less). Speculation was rife that the club were merely to serve as a front for questionable business activities that involved the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich.
Shortly after the takeover of Metalist Kharkiv, Gas Ukraine became rebranded as VETEK and its new ownership group made flamboyant promises of Champions League football and titles to fans and the municipal authorities who owned part of the stadium. But three years later, the club had neither reached the group stages of the Champions League nor had they won any silverware. Kurchenko’s close relationship with the former Yanukovich regime also meant that he was forced to flee the country after the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, which had led to the disposal of Viktor Yanukovich and his cronies.
There are persistent rumours that former owner Oleksandr Yaroslavsky could step in, and save the club from financial bankruptcy. As one fan explained “realistically, the club is dead unless Yaroslavsky returns. The fans aren’t even angry anymore, just depressed, and the anti-Kurchenko chants are more of a formality (although still very entertaining). Basically for a city of 2 million people with only 1 club, and a top stadium, to get 5000 turning out is a scandal.”
Metalist are currently eighth, six spots ahead of last placed Metalurh, in the Ukrainian Premier League but in terms of finances they may very well share the same destiny as Zaporizhya—financial termination. This would be a worst-case scenario for the Ukrainian Premier League as organizers are now looking at a storyline in which the league may only be contested by twelve teams come October. Even worse, the continued conflict in the country means that several other clubs are also facing financial problems; Metalurh, and Metalist may just be the first dominoes to fall in a long line of bankruptcies in Ukrainian football.
About the author – Manuel Veth