The split club

When TSG Hoffenheim play against Ukrainian champion Schachtar Donezk in the evening, it will not only be celebrating a premiere. For Hoffenheim it’s the debut in the Champions League, for Schachtar it’s the first royal class match in the Kharkiv stadium (6.55 pm; Stream: Dazn; Liveticker SPIEGEL ONLINE).

Nothing has been normal at Schachtar for a few years now. Almost 300 kilometres away from the home stadium there has been war since 2014, so far it has cost the lives of about 10,000 people. It is a war that has not only changed Ukraine, but also Ukrainian football.

The Premjer Liha, the highest Ukrainian league, has meanwhile shrunk from 16 to 12 teams, as some clubs like Metalist Kharkiv or FK Dnipro, the 2015 European League finalist after all, disappeared due to financial problems. Spectator numbers are declining, not only because the sporting quality of the league has diminished, but also because teams like Zorja Luhansk or Olimpik Donetsk have had to leave their homeland and their supporters because of the war in the Donbass. Problems that the Champions League final held in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in May only covered for a few hours.

But the most famous club to leave its home Donbass because of the war is Schachtar. Since 2014, the club, which last season reached the eighth-finals of the Champions League, has no longer played in Donetsk. After a brief interlude in Lviv, Western Ukraine, where Schachtar played his international games in the arena built for the 2012 European Championship, the club has now found a new home in Kharkiv, Eastern Ukraine, for both the league and the UEFA competitions.

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The team will only be flown in for the matches

However, there can be no question of a new home. The matches in the stadium, which has also been converted for the European Championship 2012, are well attended, but Schachtar is not really accepted in Kharkiv. As soon as the club anthem sounds before the kick-off whistle, the whistles of the Metalist-Charkiw fans are unmistakable.

The club, including its junior teams, is administered from the Ukrainian capital Kiev. The luxurious Opera Hotel, owned by oligarch and chessbox owner Rinat Akhmetov, is the home not only of the club’s managers, but also of many players. After Kharkiv the team is only flown in to the games.

The consequences of the war and the associated tensions and ruptures are also reflected in the supporters of the traditional club. The first signs of this could already be seen during the Majdan Revolution.

When Schachtar received Viktoria Pilsen from the Czech Republic in the Europa League on 27 February 2014, a minute’s silence was observed for 80 demonstrators who had died on the Majdan in Kiev. However, quite a few fans cheered the then still existing special unit of the Ukrainian Ministry of the Interior Berkut, which was involved in exactly these incidents.

„The war ended my support.“

How deep the rift caused by the war goes through the association was again demonstrated at the beginning of September after the deadly bomb attack on Alexander Sachartschenko, the head of the self-proclaimed „People’s Republic Donetsk“. His successor was Dimitrij Trapesnikow on an interim basis. Between 2001 and 2005 he organized the fan work at Schachtar. He then went to Kiev, where he worked as a businessman, and returned to Donetsk in 2014 to join the separatists. For more infos on this game check the quotes at 12bet.

And among the first victims of the separatists were supporters of Shakhtar Donetsk. Many fans had to leave Donetsk because of their critical and pro-Ukrainian attitude, especially among the Ultras of the miners‘ club. Like Andrei Ulyanov. „In the eighties, when the Soviet Union still existed, I came from Anapa in southern Russia to Donetsk,“ he told SPIEGEL. „It was a great time, also because of Schachtar. I got to know friends, we went to away games. Conversely, fans of other clubs came to Donetsk. Great friendships developed,“ recalls Ulyanov, who now lives in Kiev. Then came the war. And with him ended his active support for the club.

FC Bayern ahead of Champions League kick-off Finally no Bundesliga

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge opened the barrel again on Tuesday morning: All against us. „It’s something that has to be stopped in the Bundesliga somehow,“ said the CEO of FC Bayern about the fouls in recent weeks, which had caused the club two more long-term injuries in addition to Corentin Tolisso’s cruciate ligament rupture. After all, he welcomed the clear penalty of four games ban for Karim Bellarabi for the foul on Rafinha last Saturday. And then Rummenigge remarked that, in his experience, the Champions League was not that unfair.

Which at least brought him to the topic at hand. On Tuesday morning, the Bavarians flew to Portugal to once again chase the Henkelpott, the Champions League trophy that means much more to the club than the championship trophy, through the whole of Europe. The Bundesliga, which you’ll be leading alone again after three matchdays, seems to be nothing more than a disruptive factor for squad planning at the moment.

But even if Rafinha’s experience from 60 Champions League games, Tolisso’s World Champion aura and Kingsley Coman’s sprint strength are lacking: In Group E, the Bavarians are of course the clear favourite when they start in Group E on Wednesday at Benfica Lisbon (9 p.m. Sky, live ticker SPIEGEL ONLINE).
On the one hand, it’s just that the injured misery is well suited to avoiding other topics. Behind the scenes there seems to be a lot of movement at the moment. As the „Bild am Sonntag“ reported, BMW could soon replace the previous sponsor Audi, after all a shareholder of FC Bayern München AG. And the fact that on Thursday the Bavarians will not be flying back from Lisbon until the early evening, when they will have to compete at Schalke 04 again on Saturday, should cause internal displeasure. One possible reason is that the footballers have been sponsored by Qatar Airways since 1 July, no longer by Lufthansa. For flights within Europe, however, the Bavarians are still dependent on Lufthansa. But they no longer seem to enjoy any right of way.

Secondly, the serious phase of a big venture is now beginning in purely sporting terms. On the one hand, a veteran like Thomas Müller is about to make his 100th appearance in the premier class. But there are also players in the squad like Leon Goretzka, who has never played in the Champions League before. Also present were Paul Will, 19, and Woo-yeong Jeong, 18, from the second team. Coach Niko Kovac is keeping a close eye on the U23s, and it is likely that he will at least give the talents more chances than his predecessors did. Their chances could come faster than expected due to the situation in the military hospital.

Niko Kovac Honours


Bayer Leverkusen
  • Bundesliga Runner-up: 1996–97, 1998–99
Bayern Munich
  • Intercontinental Cup: 2001
  • Bundesliga: 2002–03
  • DFB-Pokal: 2002–03
Red Bull Salzburg
  • Austrian Bundesliga: 2006–07; Runner-Up: 2007–08


Eintracht Frankfurt
  • DFB-Pokal: 2017–18
Bayern Munich
  • DFL-Supercup: 2018

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The same goes for Renato Sanches, who played Bayern in the quarter-finals with Benfica just two and a half years ago and has now been drawn for a home visit. After his return from the loan at Swansea City, they all attest to his good development, but the proof of his duty has yet to be furnished. Whether he can make his season debut against Benfica and play in front of friends and relatives seems questionable. Kovac merely said on Tuesday that the 21-year-old would „play a few times in the near future“.

CEO Rummenigge did not sound too confident. He said that Sanches might be deployed if events allowed it. In other words: with clear leadership when it is no longer so important. Except Rummenigge, by the way, all the Bavarians talked small about the injured players. It could also still happen that the starting eleven against Benfica looks exactly like a possible starting eleven from the 2017/18 season.

But then there is also Niko Kovac himself: As a coach, he is a Champions League debutant. „It’s an absolute joy. Tomorrow will certainly be a time of tension, but that has nothing to do explicitly with the Champions League,“ said the 46-year-old. Play 7spins Casino as it is one of the best casino games with best casino bonuses.

„It’s still hard to say what it will look like internationally,“ said goalkeeper Manuel Neuer on Tuesday evening after arriving in Portugal. He meant the changes made by the new coaching team. That may have sounded more negative than it was meant to. The players are confident that they will come a long way again this time.