After success in winning the national title in six of the 13 target countries in his Soviet Surge journey, Russian manager Vladimir Latunov landed one of the biggest managerial roles in Eastern Europe in the summer of 2030.
The latest move saw him join Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk came calling following the resignation of their manager after 11 years. But before that, the summer of 2030 saw the World Cup held in Spain. The hosts were the biggest shock exit as they lost to USA in the second round, while Brazil went out at the same stage to Mexico. The semi-finals saw Portugal beat England 1-0 after extra-time and Belgium beat Germany 1-0.
Shakhtar Donetsk in 2030
Shakhtar have won seven of their record 20 Ukrainian titles, which have all been won since 2002, during this save as well as five Ukrainian Cup wins. Last season they finished second to Dynamo Kyiv, who won the league for the first time since the first year of this save. However, the media expect Shakhtar to win the league and the board want the manager to win it as well. To do so, Shakhtar have a surprisingly low balance of £34.7 million but transfer balance of £39.6 million and weekly wage budget of £1.2 million.
The best player at the club is Portuguese midfielder Diogo Prioste, who begins the game at Benfica but has been excellent at Shakhtar for the last few seasons. Another key player is striker Andrea Pinamonti, now 31, who’s scored 118 goals in 196 league games at Shakhtar since 2023. Looking to youth, another striker Anatoliy Kudryk looks like an exciting option along with fellow 18-year-old Khamzat Shishkhanov, who also has a really cool name, and 16-year-old centre-back Murat Maslov.
The squad did require some strengthening though and Latunov set about doing that by returning to former club Rijeka to sign midfielder Zlatko Zdravkovic. He also added defensive depth with Miguel Ramos coming in on a free. One of the biggest differences in Ukraine is that teams must name no more than seven non-Ukrainians to start any league game, so Latunov added to the Ukrainian ranks with exciting 19-year-old striker Kirill Kiselev. To that end he also added a couple of Ukrainian legends in winger Victor Tsygankov and his former Galatasaray midfielder Victor Kovalenko.
Tactically, Latunov was toying with his now favoured 4-2-4 approach, but also had a 4-3-3 formation in mind that would take advantage of the wings. And an interesting name at the club was Savo Milosevic, who was Latunov’s assistant manager.
Into Ukrainian football
Latunov’s first game in Ukraine was an away game at Kremin Kremenchuk. It got off to a great start as Pinamonti drilled home from 20 yards after just four minutes, then left-back Jorge Delgado doubled the lead 10 minutes later. Pinamonti doubled his tally just after the hour, Kremin got a goal back with their first shot but right-back Ismael Casas wrapped up a dominant 4-1 win late on.
They immediately faced a first clash with Dynamo Kyiv in the Ukrainian Super Cup. Kyiv offered nothing but won a dubious penalty in the first minute of the second half and went on to win 2-1.
Interestingly, Latunov’s first home game was against Vorskla, the side he turned down to join Shakhtar. A dreadful first half saw Vorskla focused on nothing but killing the game and that continued after the break. Pinamonti missed a penalty before winger Georgiy Tsitiashvili eventually got the breakthrough on 81 minutes then Zdravkovic curled in a 30-yard free-kick as a substitute on debut to settle it. An easy 2-0 win at Desna was followed by a 3-0 win at Olexandriya thanks to a Pinamonti brace and the Italian bagged two more in a 3-0 win over Chernomorets, who lined up a disgracefully defensive 4-5-1.
Champions League qualification
Latunov hadn’t been anywhere near the Champions League since his Galatasaray days but had a chance now as Shakhtar competed in the playoff path against AZ Alkmaar. They got a solid 1-0 win in the away leg and repeated the feat at home.
A tough task followed in the next round as they took on Zenit, who very much bossed the game in Russia but Shakhtar held on for a 0-0. Prioste finally scored his first of the season after eight minutes of the home leg and it stayed that way with Zenit only mustering one shot and 0.01 xG! That took Latunov into the Group Stage for the first time since his Galatasaray days, and his side will face Man United, Real Madrid and Ludogorets… oh dear!
Settling into Ukraine
A crazy 3-3 home draw was followed by an important 2-1 win at Zorya, in which Latunov decided to switch to his preferred 4-2-4 formation and the exciting Shishkhanov scored the vital winner. In that new formation, Latunov decided to move 6ft 4in South African winger Thembinkosi Jousse alongside Pinamonti up top and the big man swiftly delivered a brace to defeat Obolon Kyiv 3-0.
Key player Prioste had endured a slow start to Latunov’s reign but showed his true talent by scoring two screamers in the first half hour of a home game against Kolos Kovalivka. Jousse scored again then a nice moment saw Kovalenko also score a screamer for his first goal back in Shakhtar colours to seal a 4-0 win. And the good form continued with Jousse scoring three more goals in wins over Dnipro and Metalist Kharkiv.
After 11 games, Latunov’s side had only dropped two points but they trailed the relentless Dynamo Kyiv, who’d won all 11! But Kyiv finally slipped up at the 12th time of asking with a draw at Dnipro, which meant Shakhtar’s 2-0 win over Volyn took them joint top. Dynamo immediately dropped their first home points against city rivals Obolon, and another 2-0 Shakhtar win – despite Pinamonti missing two penalties! – sent them top.
That perfectly teed up a first league clash with Dynamo, now managed by the legendary Oleg Luzhnyi. Both sides came into the big game unbeaten and with identical goal differences but with Dynamo having drawn one more game. And it was as tight as expected. Shakhtar started well and made it count as Maycon teed up his midfield partner Prioste for the opener after half an hour. But Dynamo, having done nothing, equalised in the final seconds of the first half. Nothing happened after the break and Shakhtar earned a solid point, which extended their unbeaten run to 18 games stretching back to last season.
They followed that up with all three points at home to Nicki’s favourite team FC Minaj with Pinamonti ending a five-game goal drought to score the opener but again missing a host of chances. They somehow allowed the visitors to equalise but Pinamonti converted a penalty then wrapped up his hat-trick late on, while Maycon claimed a hat-trick of assists.
Another big game followed as Shakhtar travelled to third-place Vorskla. A crazy opening saw Vorskla score with their first shot but Jousse immediately equalised, then Tsiatishvili followed suit after Vorskla made it 2-1. Shakhtar again missed a huge number of chances but Pinamonti eventually nicked a winner on 81 minutes, which took them to 20 league games unbeaten. At the same time, Dynamo drew yet again – their fourth draw in the last five after winning the first 11! – to move Shakhtar four points clear.
Kremin came to town and were easily dispatched with first-half goals from Pinamonti and Shishkhanov, before Jousse and another from Shishkhanov sealed a 4-1 win. Dynamo annoyingly scored twice in injury time to win at Volyn, which they’ve done several times this season. Shishkhanov was excellent again in the final game of 2030 at home to next to bottom Desna, scoring again alongside a Jousse hat-trick and a Pinamonti strike in an easy 4-1 win. A shock result saw Dynamo lose their first game of the season at home to bottom of the league Minaj, who’d previously only got six points from their first 17 games!
That took Latunov’s side into a three-month winter break – which lasts from 15 December to 8 March! – seven points clear at the top of the Ukrainian Premier League. They’d won 16 out of 18 and remained unbeaten, scoring 52 goals and conceding only 13. They also had the top two scorers in the league in Jousse (16) and Pinamonti (15), who also had the most assists (9), highest average rating (7.69) and most player of the match awards (6).
Champions League battering
The group began with a tough game at Old Trafford, which United unsurprisingly won 3-0 but two late goals made it look more comfortable than it had been after several Pinamonti misses. The defence was equally bad at home to Ludogorets, who scored twice out of nothing in the first 13 minutes, and they somehow lost 2-1 despite having 24 shots.
That was basically the group done with after two games so Latunov decided to throw in reserve teams for the remaining games. That, unsurprisingly, didn’t go well as took a 6-1 battering home to Real, who scored five in the first half, then only 3-0 at Real. They somehow came from two goals down to draw 2-2 at home to United, despite only having three shots! But got annihilated in a club record 8-1 defeat despite taking the lead in the final game at Ludogorets.
Join us next time as Vladimir Latunov looks to build on a strong league start in a bid to win his seventh title in Eastern Europe.