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Shakhtar Donetsk chief executive on transfers: ‘Some agents are destroying us’

Shakhtar Donetsk chief executive Sergei Palkin has accused football agents of seeking to exploit the war in Ukraine and he has claimed that a FIFA ruling this week weakened the negotiating position of Ukrainian clubs attempting to raise vital funds via the sale of foreign players.

The Ukrainian club are hoping to negotiate the sale of several overseas players registered to their club due to the ongoing war in the country, but a FIFA stipulation is weakening their hand in the market. The Ukrainian domestic campaign was suspended in February following the outbreak of war, but discussions are ongoing about restarting the league in August, although the location remains undecided.

Between the war breaking out in February and the end of the season, temporary regulations had been imposed by FIFA that allowed foreign players registered to Ukrainian clubs to play elsewhere. A ruling this week by FIFA extended this by a further year, as a FIFA statement on Tuesday revealed that foreign players and coaches contracted to Ukrainian clubs have the right to suspend their contracts until June 30, 2023 due to the ongoing war.

The only exception is if a mutual agreement is found between a player/coach and their club by June 30 this year, which essentially leaves a club such as Shakhtar with a week to cash in on foreign players they may have wished to sell this summer to recoup vital funds.

According to Palkin, some agents had pre-empted FIFA’s position by telling clubs not to pay a transfer fee for foreign players at Shakhtar and instead just give the agents a major commission.

Palkin, speaking in an exclusive interview with The Athletic, said: “First of all, I think 95 per cent of Ukrainian players we will keep. Foreigners, I do not know yet. There are difficult negotiations.

“Some agents are destroying us. They are trying to steal players. They play games, contacting clubs, saying don’t pay us (Shakhtar) and deals are being broken. You cannot imagine what is going on.

“Agents are arriving to clubs and saying, ‘Don’t pay Shakhtar, the players will become free, just pay me (the agent) €10m and forget about the club’.

Following FIFA’s verdict on Tuesday, he added: “The power to decide on suspension of the contracts is now in the hands of players’ agents. It doesn’t reflect the club’s intention to save players and investments.

“And we now basically have nine days to agree with our players their sale or loan to foreign clubs, which is just impossible. FIFA has not helped Ukrainian clubs by issuing regulations. On the contrary, it significantly worsened our negotiations with players and made agents even more powerful and richer.”

As a counterpoint, representatives of players are arguing that the welfare and working rights of players ought to take priority over the economic security of clubs. Malle Koido is the director of International Football at International Sports Consulting agency and she suggests FIFA are correct in their ruling.

She said: “FIFA’s decision is essential in giving players an option. Football resuming can certainly give the people of Ukraine a sense of normality back, but nobody should be forced to return to a war zone to boost morale unless they do so by their own free will. Some players will return and if the league resumed as planned, they will play — there is still loyalty with their football club, community and the country. Considering Russia are willing to bomb children’s hospitals, nobody can guarantee safety at football. It’s a prime target in a lawless war.

“It is certainly true that players contracted to Ukrainian clubs will be one year closer to the end of their contracts with the club by the end of the 2022-23 season. Many contracts will by then have run out or have a year left, which makes it more difficult to benefit from the sale of players. But we can’t be holding a handful of foreign football players at each club hostage because they have a transfer value attached. Individuals must have free choice to stay or go in such extreme circumstances. In a club versus player stand-off, the footballer is the little guy, and somebody needs to stand up for their rights.”

In a statement to The Athletic, FIFA said it has consulted “key football stakeholders”, including both in Ukraine and globally. They added that the European Club Association had been consulted and said that any “potential disputes arising from the decision will be dealt with by the relevant FIFA bodies”.

(Photo: Getty Images)

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