An Englishman abroad
Graeme Bailey talks with Shakhtar Donetsk's Joe Palmer
By Graeme Bailey - Tweet me: @skygraemebailey. Last Updated: June 7, 2012 12:26pm
Joe Palmer: Making a big impact in European football
An Englishman being described by some as one of the most powerful men in European club football perhaps is not that unusual, but then you have to consider Joe Palmer does not work for a Premier League club.
Rather he is a director of strategy at Ukrainian giants Shakhtar Donetsk and is working hard on making them one of the top clubs in Europe.
Interest in Ukrainian football has never been higher with the European Championship being co-staged in the country, and Shakhtar are the biggest club in the region.
As the most powerful club in Eastern Europe, Shakhtar are more fortunate than some but Palmer insists he wants to lead them on a path to world power.
"We have to continue to perform at a European level, the Champions League and that we continue to show that we are a leading club," he told Sky Sports.
"Last year we were ranked 12th in Europe, but we have dropped a little after our showing in the Champions League but we hope to be back up there again this year.
"We are very happy with our progress."
Shakhtar are often accused of buying success, but that is an old tune that Palmer insists does not ring true around the hallways of the hugely impressive 50,000 capacity Donbass Arena
"We realise that if you want top European success, like any club - Chelsea, Real Madrid - they are all full of foreign players and you have to buy the best if you want to be the best," he explained.
"And unfortunately for us, for us to achieve good results there are not enough of those Ukrainian players that exist here and those Ukrainians we do have are of the top level and if a player in Ukraine was of the level we require we would buy him."
Palmer admits buying foreign will remain part of their plans, but he highlights the way in which they do it often benefits top clubs around the continent.
"We have a philosophy and strategy that works well for us," he continued.
"A lot of the top clubs in Europe, they will very rarely take a gamble on an untested player in Europe so we are happy to find those players that show a lot of potential but are still in their homeland, maybe Brazil, and have shown they can perform in Europe and we bring them here and train them in a European way and blood them into European football and from then, this is where the big clubs then potentially see these players and see they are potentially capable of playing at the top level, and that is when they make an offer and for us it is good business as we get players that give us the sport results we want, but we make a financial return as we have taken that risk and invested in them and we have done the hard work for the bigger clubs."
Financial Fair Play
One of the issues surrounding all top clubs in Europe at this moment is UEFA's introduction of Financial Fair Play.
"It is not easy, we are very lucky as we are probably the biggest club in Eastern Europe so we will achieve it so for other clubs who do not have the profile and don't get the money from things such as the Champions League, it could be hard," he said - but he admits he could never envisage UEFA taking a tough stance with one of Europe's bigger clubs.
"It would go against all they are trying to achieve [if they threw any club out] but it is going to be tough for us in Eastern Europe as we don't have a TV market domestically so it may force some clubs, in terms of finances, that it may be more difficult for UEFA to assess as that is the situation they have created but only time will tell and I know a lot of clubs we are talking to, who are regularly participating in Europe, they are looking and finding different ways like I know in Russia they have a new TV deal which will pump money into them legitimately," he said.
Palmer concedes that some of the fears around Financial Fair Play, including making the stronger teams stronger, could bear out.
"There is the chance that the big teams could be made stronger," he admitted.
"They obviously already have the profile and have the high incomes, you have the Real Madrids and Manchester United bringing in £400million or £500million level of income which means they are still able to purchase players at high levels and pay high salaries which gives them the performance they need and for clubs in Eastern Europe they just don't have the opportunity for commercial revenues which will be required."
Palmer though insists that Shakhtar are well on course to meet any rules due to their own forward planning.
"Before it even came in, part of our strategy was that our club wanted to be self-sustainable from a business point of view, gone are the days of the oligarchs pumping millions and millions in, I think that is slowly dying and even Roman Abramovich at Chelsea is showing that he has slowed down. It is a timing thing where some clubs have got in, clubs have to be smart and they need to look at their investments and how they can generate further investments, commercially how they can open up new markets to generate more revenue."
One avenue for some clubs to earn extra income under the radar of financial fair play is stadium sponsorship, but Shakhtar, whose own arena is actually named after the local region, are not likely to look at this avenue.
"Our new stadium has been massively important to us, and that investment doesn't fall into that category so clubs can do that. We are not looking at sponsorship. We could, but our president built this stadium for the people and he is passionate about keeping it for the people and not owned by a sponsor, so we could but it is a principled thing and important for the region as it is a beacon of growth and development," he said.
Speaking ahead of what looks to be a busy summer, Palmer admitted that they were likely to be investing again. But he also insisted that none of their own big stars were under offer.
"We are anticipating a few signings inwards, we have not had any concrete offers for anyone," he insisted.
The most likely departures for Shakhtar remain one of their high-profile Brazilians - they current have nearly a dozen in their first-team squad, and the likes of Douglas Costa and Willian are being linked with some of Europe's top clubs.
"We have nine, if that [a transfer] happens for one or two them fine," said Palmer.
"But it is interesting you will think about moving them but if you think he is that good he could give you fantastic results so there is a dichotomy there about it.
"We have had some of our Brazilians for a long time. They have stayed and that has surprised a lot of people but they have great conditions and for them it is great and they get to play at the top level."