Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk’s rise and fall
It pains me to write this, but the end is near for a club which wrote history for its country. In both Soviet Union and independent Ukraine, one particular season being the climax of Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk’s history: the 2015 UEFA Europa League final. Nothing could’ve predicted the disaster the club would be thrown into 4 years later, when it’s slowly nearing it’s demise. Unlike rivals Metalist Harkov, Dnipro have did a good job mentaining their existence in some form. However, the road from the third Ukrainian team to reach a UEFA Cup final, and the second since Ukraine’s independence, to the Amateur Leagues, is a tragic story.
First of all, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk was Ukraine’s second most important team in the Soviet league, after Dynamo Kyiv. The second Ukrainian club to win the Soviet title, in 1983 and 1988, as well as a club who registered two European Cup quarter-finals, eliminated by Bordeaux and Benfica. However, after Ukraine’s independence, the team experienced quite a downfall, not being relevant until 2004, when it turned back to participating in European cups on an anual basis with various success.
But onwards to their most successful season. It all started when Dnipro finished 2nd in Ukraine, in 2014, narrowly missing the league title to Shakhtar Donetsk but qualifying in the UEFA Champions League after years, first time in the new format. Then being eliminated by Copenhaga. Nothing could’ve predicted their huge performance. Having collected just four points in their opening five group games, Dnipro propped up Group F as they welcomed Saint-Étienne to the Dnipro-Arena in front of just over 2,500 with nothing to lose but their ill-fated position in the tournament. No matter who entered their temporary residence-cum-indestructible fortress, Juan De Ramos’ men simply brushed them aside. Olympiacos, Ajax, Club Brugge and Napoli all fell victim to the powerful Ukrainians. Four matches, four victories, five goals scored and not a single goal conceded on the ground they were so accustomed to defeat at the hands of permanent tenants Dynamo Kyiv.
Consequently, their astonishing ability to nullify opponents on home soil meant that resolute performances in the reverse fixtures were enough to pull them through to the final, and in spite of their outstanding efforts against Sevilla, their reliance on home advantage eventually came to bite them. The Spaniards came away with a marginal 3-2 victory on a night that could so easily have gone in Dnipro’s favour. Such promise, such purpose, but ultimately they fell short – a description that not only proves to accurately summarise the game, but provides an understating truth to their ensuing demise. The sound of Martin Atkinson’s final whistle marked the conclusion of a historic night and campaign. Soon, the historic club would fall too.
The following season began in typical fashion for the Warriors of Light, and as they went in search of building upon the solid foundations provided by their remarkable 2014/15 season, cracks were already beginning to show. Sevilla rubbed salt in their previously inflicted wounds with the signing of star man Konoplyanka, before other top performers in Kalinić and goalkeeper Denys Boiko followed suit with moves elsewhere. As financial dilemmas emerged, so did the failure to replace. As the 2016/17 domestic season began, the remains of the club’s crumbling foundations had all but dissolved into thin air as matches came as frequently as news of disarray disseminated. First it was the resignation of manager Myron Markevych, along with the sales of 17 first team players, all of whom were released on free transfers.
An announcement that the club was unable to sign players excluding free agents, having failed to pay off former manager Juande Ramos and his staff, came as no surprise soon after, as did the points deduction of six and three in October 2016 and April 2017 as Kolomoyskyi’s continued reign of negligence edged them closer to their inevitable plunge. Remarkably, the worst was yet to come.
Dnipro were relegated not one but two divisions as they plummeted into the depths of despair; to amateur football less than three years after a European final. As their 100-year anniversary approached, the hallmark of a historic century at the heights of Ukrainian football had been humiliated by the work of one man; one man who single-handedly disconnected the heart of the city where he was born; one man whose work had only just begun.