An unbeaten start to the Ukrainian Premier League had Vladimir Latunov in prime position to win a seventh national title in his Soviet Surge – in which he was bidding to win all 13 leagues in Eastern Europe.
His side had only dropped points in two games – against ninth-place Mariupol and title challengers Dynamo Kyiv. As a result, they sat seven points clear with 12 games remaining upon the resumption of football in Ukraine after a mad three-month winter break.
The long break included a transfer window that saw loads of Shakhtar players attract interest. That included exciting left-winger Khamzat Shishkhanov being wanted by Man United, only for them to put in a derisory bid of just £2 million, Zenit made several bids for midfielder Diogo Prioste, and defenders Jorge Delgado, Oriol Busquets and Valeriy Bondar all wanted by Chinese sides. But the club managed to hold onto all of its first-team players.
They also added to the squad, despite being on track to fail Financial Fair Play. Latunov continued his trend for signing ageing star players by snapping up attacker Amine Gouiri for £3.8 million from Barcelona. The Frenchman, now 31, has only played 43 league games for Barca since signing for £64 million from Nice in 2026 and will offer support to Shishkhanov and the two in-form strikers. He was joined by backup right-back Thiago Ostapkiewicz who cost £5 million from Boca.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, the biggest deal was Zorya selling Bolivian striker Jorge, who’d only scored six in 17 this season after 21 in 28 last season, to Barcelona for £37 million.
Football finally returns
A long, long wait finally ended with a trip to fifth-place Chornomorets. Shakhtar started brightly, firing 20 shots at the hosts’ goal in the first half and making one count as Prioste scored from 30 yards after half an hour then set up winger Georgiy Tsitiashvili to double the lead just before the break. The hosts somehow scored with just their second shot and, despite 38 shots to five, Shakhtar held on for a 2-1 win. Dynamo drew 1-1 at Kremin to extend the gap to nine points.
They were much more clinical at home to Olexandriya, with Shishkhanov and Tsitiashvili both scoring inside give minutes and Andrea Pinamonti making it 3-0 after 14. They took the foot off the gas and allowed the visitors into it but striker Thembinkosi Jousse added a fourth after the break to seal an easy 4-1 win.
Next up was a trip to feeder club Mariupol and a rare outing for Shakhtar’s disgusting all-grey kit, but there was no Man United-esque blame game required as Victor Tsygankov scored an early penalty before midfielder Maycon curled in a delicious free-kick. Pinamonti bagged his 20th of the season after the break before they somehow allowed Mariupol to score twice from three shots on target, which forced Latunov to drop 34-year-old goalkeeper Ugurcan Cakir. Another edgy game saw Pinamonti create both goals for Tsiatishvili to beat fifth-place Zorya 2-1 and move Shakhtar to eight straight wins and, interestingly, no clean sheet in 13 games!
It was Maycon’s turn to bag a brace in the first 13 minutes at next-to-bottom Kolos, which set the foundations for a battering. Pinamonti scored twice in six minutes, Tsiatishvili scored from range and Jousse scored his 20th of the season for a 6-0 half-time lead! Unsurprisingly, they didn’t add more after the break and allowed the hosts to get one back.
That gave them confidence heading into a clash at home to third-place Obolon Kyiv, who were set for their best-ever campaign having previously never finished above fifth and were only promoted to the top tier in 2026. Pinamonti gave them a good start from the penalty spot before his strike partner Jousse doubled the lead just before the break. Obolon got one back but Shakhtar held on for a 2-1 win.
A poor performance in the first half at Dnipro saw Shakhtar trailing. But an inspired appearance off the bench from Gouiri saw him setup one and score his first league goal for the club with a brilliant chip to seal a 3-1 win. Dynamo also won 3-1 at Zorya to keep the lead at nine points going into the final five league games.
Five games from glory
The run-in began at Metalist and started nicely as Tsygankov tucked home a penalty after 18 minutes and Pinamonti doubled the lead a minute later. Maycon smacked home a 30-yard free-kick before Tsyankov doubled his tally for a 4-0 half-time lead and a 4-1 win.
A first chance to clinch the title came at home to eighth-place Rukh Lviv. Another great start saw Maycon score another long-ranger and Tsyankov tuck home another penalty. Gouiri scored off the bench again and Maycon scored another free-kick before they yet again couldn’t keep a clean sheet, conceding to the opponent’s first shot. That win saw Shakhtar set a new Ukrainian Premier League record of 31 games unbeaten and sealed the title.
Shakhtar Donetsk were Champions of Ukraine for the 21st time!
Gouiri started in the next game at Volyn and scored inside 15 minutes, and his side finally kept a clean sheet to win 1-0. That was followed by a big test to their unbeaten campaign at home to Dynamo. They again started brightly as Jousse tapped home after four minutes, Pinamonti doubled the lead 10 minutes later and Jousse made it three another two minutes later! But more pathetic goalkeeping bizarrely led to a turnaround and 4-3 loss and Latunov’s first defeat in Ukraine. His fiery temper showed up again and he demoted captain Cagir to the reserves and fined him two weeks wages.
The season concluded at relegation-threatened FC Minaj and, fittingly, Pinamonti and Jousse scored before Gouiri scored twice off the bench. Despite being thumped 4-0, Minaj stayed up by one point as Kolos lost at Desna.
That ensured Shakhtar finished top of the Ukrainian Premier League with 83 points and 27 wins out of 30 games, scoring 90 and conceding 27. Jousse was the league’s top scorer with 24 goals followed by Pinamonti’s 23. Pinamonti and Maycon got the most assists (13) and Pinamonti got the most player of the match awards (7) and highest rating (7.61).
Shakhtar had cruised through to the cup quarter finals, while Dynamo ridiculously got knocked out in the first round on penalties at Rukh Lviv. That just so happened to be Latunov’s opponent in the quarters but, regardless, he fully rotated his side and still eased to a 3-0 win thanks to exciting 16-year-old striker Denis Mamutov, who became the club’s youngest-ever goalscorer, and a double from old-timer Victor Tsygankov.
The semis saw them face Olexandriya, and the deadly strike duo of Jousse and Pinamonti both scored in a dominant first half of 23 shots to one. The rout continued after the break as Jousse doubled his tally before a brilliant solo goal by Shishkhanov, old man Victor Kovalenko and Gouiri’s first for the club sealed a 6-2 semi-final win.
That took them into the Final against Chornomorets, which took place three days after lifting the league title. The Cup Final also happened to be Latunov’s 500th match in football management and took place on the day of his 47th birthday.
Chornomorets lined up in an ultra-defensive 4-5-1 compared to Latunov’s attacking 4-2-4 but took the lead with their first shot. Shakhtar missed a host of chances but eventually got level through a Tsygankov penalty and somehow went into half time at 1-1 after having 21 shots to four with an xG of 2.26. A stern talking to at half-time reaped rewards as Shishkhanov put them ahead three minutes into the second half and Jousse doubled the lead four minutes later. Cakir allowed another shot in after an hour so Latunov immediately hooked his goalie and they ‘held on’ for a 3-2 win after a ridiculous 32 shots to nine.
Shakhtar Donetsk won their 19th Ukrainian Cup and wrapped up the double!
Shakhtar set all sorts of records under Latunov. That included a record unbeaten run (31 games), most team goals (90) and tying the most league wins (27). Jousse set the league record for most goals (24) and Pinamonti and Maycon broke the assists record (13). They also broke the Ukrainian Cup record for most-goals scored with 14.
Jousse led the way with 29 goals in all competitions, followed by Pinamonti (27), Tsiatishvili (11), Tsyganlov (nine_ and Shishkhanov and Maycon (eight). Maycon and Pinamonti got 14 assists, followed by Prioste (13), Tsiatishvili (10) and Shishkhanov (seven). Winter signing Gouiri played a key role with six goals and an assist despite only starting two games.
Pinamonti won fans’ player of the season and the Ukrainian Player of the Season for the third year in a row, and the exciting Shishkhanov won young player. Pinamonti also broke the Shakhtar record for most league goals with 141, passing Luiz Adriano’s record of 130.
Next step on the Soviet Surge
With unmitigated success in Ukraine wrapped up, there was no time for sentiment. Vladimir Latunov had left Shakhtar in a great place, especially with some really exciting youngsters coming through. But, with a seventh Eastern European national title wrapped up, it was time to move on. So he promptly resigned from the role and explored available opportunities.
Latunov still had to target jobs in Belarus, Bulgaria, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia. The biggest job available in those nations was Spartak Moscow, who’d sacked their manager after six months as they finished sixth and had been through six managers in five years. He applied but nothing came for ages so he eyed up jobs elsewhere, which resulted in interviews with Belarussian side FC Lida and Solvak side FC Nitra.
However, Shakhtar hired the Ludogorets manager, so Latunov applied to the vacant Bulgarian role. But he eventually decided to go with Nitra, which presents a very different challenge given they’re in the Slovak Second Division.
Join us next time to discover who Nitra are and the challenge awaiting Vladimir Latunov in Slovakia!
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