Of all the travelling party arriving in Donetsk today, no one knows the city and the club Chelsea face in our third Champions League game of the season better than our medical director Paco Biosca.
The highly experienced Spanish doctor, who joined Chelsea at the start of last season, held a similar role at Shakhtar for six years prior to his move to England. He has been very much looking forward to a return to Ukraine ever since the group stage draw was made.
‘In recent times more people in England know about Donetsk and the club because the national team of England played there in Euro 2012, and had a very exciting match against Ukraine,’ Biosca tells the official Chelsea website.
‘They now know the stadium and the stadium is a reflection of the club.
‘The city of Donetsk is quite a new city,’ he explains, ‘and was founded by one Welsh guy because he was a miner and they were developing the city around the mines. After the USSR when Ukraine began alone, it was a part of Ukraine that developed more.
‘It is a very quiet city and the Ukraine people are very open and very quiet. When I looked on the television before the Euros and it said that they have neo-nazis and ultras, it was nothing of the reality, the people are very calm.’
John Hughes is the name of the man who gave rise to the city, which was named Hughesovka (Yuzovka in local spelling) in his honour. It has since undergone a couple of name changes but the coal and steel industry he initiated remain.
‘It is true the economic level is not high,’ says Biosca, ‘but it is a city that has good education for all the people and the people have good things. The people who have money have a lot of good things.
‘The centre of the city is nice to walk in and in the summer it is called the City of the Million Flowers. People live a lot outside at this time but in winter, December to March, it is too cold.’
Biosca sees similarities between Shakhtar Donetsk and Chelsea, with both clubs enjoying the most successful period in their history during the last decade.
‘The owner of Chelsea wants to make Chelsea the best team in the world, and there arrived a president at Shakhtar who said I want to make my team the best in the world. In the years I stayed there they finished the construction of their academy, the new stadium and they won the UEFA Cup. They arrived at the quarter-finals of the Champions League where they lost to the eventual champions and they won five league titles. Always before it was Dynamo Kiev.
‘The president is a very clever guy and he has a very structured club.’
Biosca, who worked at Spanish club Lleida for 25 years, was originally contacted by Shakhtar when they wanted advice on improving their medical department. He was president of the European Federation of Orthopedics and Sports Trauma.
Having made a report, he met with the president who asked him to take on a full-time role. During that period he worked closely with Mircea Lucescu, the Romanian coach known to Chelsea from our meetings with Be?ikta? in 2003. The Turkish side he then managed beat us at the Bridge and we defeated them in a match relocated to Germany.
‘Shakhtar’s success is not due to only one guy – there is the president and there is the infrastructure – but for certain we need to speak about Lucescu,’ insists Biosca.
‘He is more than a coach, he is a man with very good human qualities. He is a very big coach but he is more a big man with a very big heart. But he is very competitive. He wants to win in any moment.
‘It will be a noisy match on Tuesday,’ concludes the doctor.
‘Chelsea is the bigger club of course and we are the favourites, but in my heart I want both teams to qualify out of the group. Also what I want this season is we play three matches against Shakhtar – the group games and the final.’