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When a transfer becomes political

When a transfer becomes political

When Yaroslav Rakitskyi moved from Shakhtar Donetsk to Zenit St. Petersburg, he was dropped from the Ukrainian National team. Why did it take a war for him to fully realise the implications of his move?

Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen how quickly things can change in football.

The ongoing war in Ukraine has had far reaching consequences. 

Who could have predicted just a few weeks ago, for example, that Chelsea would be seized from its Russian owner?

This Champions League goal scored in late November provides us with a perfect example of how global events have changed the game.

“Penalty. Rakitskiy is right on the money! And Zenit are level!”

BT Sport

At the time, Russian team Zenit St. Petersburg were still allowed to play in European competitions. They wore Gazprom, the Russian state owned energy company, as a sponsor on their shirts. 

The scorer for Zenit that night was Yaroslav Rakitskyi, who is Ukrainian.

That was before Russia invaded Ukraine. Now though, Gazprom is being frozen out of European football.

“So Kaveh, as we were saying before, St. Petersburg will no longer be hosting the Champions League final, but very significant developments since we last spoke.”

“Er, yes. UEFA are in talks with their lawyers about trying to terminate their contract with Gazprom.”

Sky Sports News

And Yaroslav Rakitskyi no longer plays for Zenit. 

At the beginning of this month, the club issued a statement to announce the news.

“The club and our supporters wish to thank Yaroslav Rakitskyi for his time here and recognise the professionalism and passion he displayed while with us,” it read. “We sincerely wish the best to Yaroslav, his friends and his family.”

He’d played 108 times for the Russian club since signing in January 2019. 

Then, just a week before he quit the club, he posted a picture of a Ukrainian flag on his Instagram account with the message “I’m Ukrainian!” as well as calling for peace.

“First of all I have to say that I am really thankful and grateful that I’m allowed to work for this really exciting club. It was perhaps not the obvious choice at first because of my German background and yeah also I’ve worked in England for the last nearly five years…”

FC Krasnodar

That was former Norwich boss Daniel Farke’s introduction to Russian Premier League side Krasnodar. 

He’s since left the club by mutual consent, without having taken charge of a single game.

Daniel Farke said that he could not pursue his calling in a country whose leader is responsible for a war of aggression. 

You might say all this is fair enough. 

But Russia’s hostility towards Ukraine is nothing new. 

“The pressure from Russia is growing. Large groups of pro-Russia troops are surrounding Ukrainian bases, ordering their forces off of them so they can occupy them. The international warning to Russia to end its invasion is being ignored.”

ABC News

Eight years ago Russian troops occupied the Crimea region of Ukraine. 

At the time, in 2014, UEFA ruled that Russian and Ukrainian teams would be kept apart in the Champions League and Europa League draws.

So why did Yaroslav Rakitskyi still sign for a Russian club in 2019?

Yaroslav Rakitskyi’s decision to play for Zenit St. Petersburg led to his eventual retirement from the Ukraine National Team.

He started out in the youth ranks of Shakhtar Donetsk, making his first senior appearance for the Ukrainian club at the age of 20. 

“Rakitskyi! Yaroslav Rakitskyi!”

Shakhtar Donetsk

By the end of 2018, he’d won eight Ukrainian Premier League titles and six Ukrainian Cups in his home country. 

And he’d represented Ukraine at international level more than 50 times. He played at the Euros in 2012 and 2016.

Like many footballers, he probably needed a new challenge. But of all the countries he could’ve moved to, he chose Russia.

That move to Zenit St. Petersburg in 2019 meant his international career was over. 

Yaroslav Rakitskyi was labelled a traitor, because tensions between the two countries had been high for years after Russia annexed Crimea.

Maybe he didn’t realise just how bad things could get between Ukraine and Russia. 

Maybe his recent public show of support for Ukraine shows that he now understands why his move to Zenit St. Petersburg caused outrage.

And maybe he’s also realised – along with many others – that no matter how hard you try, you can’t keep politics out of football.

Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford and produced by Katie Gunning.