Dynamo Kyiv is one step away from one of the greatest stories in modern sport

Dynamo Kyiv is one step away from one of the greatest stories in modern sport

Dynamo Kyiv is one step away from one of the greatest stories in modern sport

On the playing fields of a sports complex in the Polish spa town of Uniejow, a team prepares for a crucial Champions League qualifier among groups of children attending summer football schools.

Dynamo Kyiv – 29-time league champions and one of football’s big names – have not played a league game this year due to the ongoing war in their native Ukraine, and have suffered practical upheaval and emotions that he could never have imagined a year ago.

Yet here they are, 180 minutes from the group stage of the Champions League. They have already knocked out Fenerbahce and Sturm Graz and if they were to overtake Benfica, who won the European Cup in 1961 and 1962, it would be one of the greatest stories in modern sport.

Dynamo Kyiv is one step away from one of the greatest stories in modern sport

Dynamo Kyiv have not played a league game this year due to the ongoing war in Ukraine

The 29-time league champions are one step away from the Champions League group stages

The 29-time league champions are one step away from the Champions League group stages

The first leg will take place in Lodz, Poland on Wednesday evening, with the return to Lisbon next week.

Before and after these sessions open to the public, players and coaches rub shoulders with young people and holidaymakers, signing autographs and posing for photos.

Guided by their remarkable boss Mircea Lucescu, who is 77 and has been a head coach for more than half his life.

Dynamo have already knocked out Fenerbahce and Sturm Graz, with Benfica next on the list

Dynamo have already knocked out Fenerbahce and Sturm Graz, with Benfica next on the list

Having worked for 12 clubs, including Dynamo’s main rivals Shakhtar Donetsk, as well as Inter Milan, Galatasaray and Zenit Saint Petersburg and the Romanian and Turkish national teams, Lucescu has forgotten more about football than most. of his peers will never know.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Lucescu has been much more than just a football coach. The Romanian has helped his Ukrainian players and some of their family members to leave the country and pursue their careers.

He was a father, counselor, teacher and politician at the same time, at a stage in his life when he could have chosen to take a step back and return to live quietly in his hometown of Bucharest.

Mircea Lucescu is more than just a football manager since the invasion of Ukraine

‘How could I have retired in this situation?’ argues Lucescu, speaking exclusively to Uniejow’s Sportsmail. “It was the same when I was in Shakhtar and there was a conflict in the Donbass region for the last decade.

“Maybe you have opportunities to leave immediately but you stay because in times like these you have to give everything you have to the situation.” I couldn’t retire. That would make me an idiot.

“My football and life experience can help these youngsters a lot. I can use what I have learned to help people who are afraid and have never experienced such situations before.

“I have a duty to stand up, to lead by example, not to give up. I give myself this responsibility. It is the most complete experience of my career. I can’t imagine going through something like that again in the future.

Dynamo’s results are all the more impressive considering their lack of competitive action. Instead, Lucescu’s players effectively became a touring team – “a nomadic team” in the words of their manager – playing friendlies across Europe.

Not only did the matches keep tabs on the players, but they also brought together members of the Ukrainian community in the various European countries and raised funds for the humanitarian effort in the country.

Lucescu's players have effectively become a touring team, playing friendlies across Europe

Lucescu’s players have effectively become a touring team, playing friendlies across Europe

Since late June, Dynamo have faced clubs from Switzerland, France and Belgium, as well as Everton at Goodison Park on July 29.

They have also returned to Kyiv since the start of the war “because we wanted to give people hope, to show them that life could go on”, explains Lucescu.

“It was not easy to prepare for competitive matches under these circumstances,” he continued. “Look at the Fenerbahce team, with players who have competed in England, France, Germany and Italy.

“But my players feel responsible for those who are still in Ukraine, their family members there and those who are involved in the war. They have a great enthusiasm for these games but also a huge motivation.

“They are preparing for these games away from their families and it is difficult, but we still have hope. It’s difficult but it will help players a lot in their life experience.

“We play our European matches in Lodz in Poland, then on August 23 the domestic season starts in Ukraine. It is important for life that we continue. Ukraine is the country of these players. Even if they are a little fearful, players must understand that they are an example for the whole population.

“During the pandemic, cinemas were closed, theaters were closed, but after a while football started up again and people could watch it on TV. It’s the same in Ukraine – people love football and it has to come back at some point.

Dynamo have faced clubs from Switzerland, France and Belgium, as well as Everton

Dynamo have faced clubs from Switzerland, France and Belgium, as well as Everton

Traveling across the border for every domestic match will be just another challenge for a team that has already handled so many.

Lucescu and the club hierarchy are considering moving their temporary base to Krakow, which is closer to the border with Ukraine but still nearly 600 miles from Kyiv.

Uniejow will miss them. The children who play alongside them today will always remember the time when they rubbed shoulders with Champions League players. Lucescu, meanwhile, believes that these unusual circumstances even benefited his team.

“It’s not like a training complex at a big European club, where you have 10 or more different pitches to choose from,” he smiles. “There are a lot of tourists and others watching the sessions.

“But we’re here, the kids are here, and that’s how we prepared. You certainly won’t find me complaining about it.

‘It’s not a problem for us at all. Being around these children, feeling their enthusiasm, is something that can help us and still helps us.

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