Shakhtar Donetsk are officially recognised as the most improved team in world football but do they get the recognition they deserve? Graeme Bailey looks for answers to the question...
By Graeme Bailey - Tweet me: @graemebailey. Last Updated: 13/02/13 11:29am
Shakhtar Donetsk are officially recognised as the most improved team in world football over the last decade by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS). They are ranked 12th in Europe, they knocked European champions Chelsea out of the group stages - yet do they get the recognition they deserve?
Shakhtar take on German champions Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last 16 clash as they look to make the quarter-finals for the second time in three seasons - which only underlines their progress. In 2009 they also won the Europa League.
"It would be nice to get more plaudits but that will come with us being more consistent, we are in the Champions League and if we are in every year, and progress then we will start to get that recognition I think we deserve."
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The Ukrainian giants made history when they dispatched Chelsea as they progressed with Juventus into the latter stages - indeed they qualified for the latter stages before the Italians as for the first time ever the Champions League holders failed to make it through.
"It was a historical first with the champions going out in group stage," Shakhtar's director of strategy Joe Palmer told Sky Sports.
"When we got the group everyone was thinking Juve and Chelsea - but our players were always confident, that is one of our secrets we have a young team who know they can play and can beat anyone on their day and that is how we approach it."
And Palmer admits that perhaps their achievements, especially this tem - are not recognised.
"Yes it would be nice to get more plaudits but that will come with us being more consistent, we are in the Champions League and if we are in every year, and progress then we will start to get that recognition I think we deserve.
"We have reached the quarter-finals, we beat Roma two years ago and we would love for something similar this time, but once you get into this stage - the teams you're playing are very, very good."
Shakhtar's progress will only help underline their place at European football's top table.
"We are ranked 12th in Europe now and if you see who we are ahead of, there are some big, big players, and so for any team from Eastern Europe to be in the top 20 you are doing pretty well," he said, admitting that increased competition in their domestic league is helping.
"Ukrainian football is getting there now, it just used to be Dynamo [Kiev] and us, but we now have four very strong teams with Metalist Kharkiv and Dnipro and I think this year for the first time in about 17 years, there could be a different 1-2. And if that happens it will have a major impact on football here."
Shakhtar do go into the game for their first match without Brazilian ace Willian - who was a big-money departure to Russian giants Anzhi Makhachkala.
Palmer admits that the factors surrounding Willian's departure were because everyone was happy.
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"It is very simple, there are two factors - one is that someone had to come in with the right offer and meet our valuation of the player and secondly, the player gets the right offer and wants to move.
"Without those two things the move won't happen but that is what happened and he wanted to make the move, the reason he left? You would have to ask Willian."
But Shakhtar are no fools, and their planning and strategy meant they already had a replacement not only targeted - but signed and sealed in the shape of Taison, from Metalist Kharkiv. A player who was wanted by both Chelsea and Manchester City.
"It is great that he has already played in the Ukraine, he knows the style of football here and also had European experience and he is great and I am looking forward to seeing him perform," he said of Taison.
Reports in the English press over the weekend claimed that Chelsea were unable to do a deal for Willian - because it was claimed Shakhtar's owner Rinat Akhmetov would not sell to fellow oligarch Roman Abramovich.
Palmer, though was quick to laugh off such a story,
"That is not an issue at all, I don't know the exact details as to what happened with the negotiations but I understand that is not the case. He was actually sat next to the president not just at the Chelsea match during the Euros - so I just think that is speculation. From what I can see that certainly would not be the case.
"I think it is someone making a story. I don't know where that story came from, I really don't."
Shakhtar come into the game with Borussia, maybe not favourites, but still fancied by many to cause problems for Jurgen Klopp's side.
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"It is a bit of an unknown quantity for us," explained Palmer.
"We have different styles of play and it is going to be an interest outcome and nobody is 100 per cent what the result will be.
"We are confident, we have had a good winter break, the boys have played well and we are fairly confident even though we know it is going to be very tough."
He is hopeful their extended winter break will help them.
"We have a normal winter break but it's just longer as we start in May but we need to have that because of the weather but we just about start and finish as the same time with the rest of Europe.
"Them the losing at the weekend was a bit of a positive for us, but the break will always be a bit of an issue - but at the same time our players have time to recover and will hopefully be a bit fresh and once we have this first game under our wing then usually we start playing really well."