Our Man in the Ukraine – Oleg Yaroslavsky

Olé have a correspondent in the Ukraine at the moment. Martín Macchiavello is his name. This is quite unusual and pegamequemegusta is not sure what prompted such a change in strategy. Nonetheless, there he is and he’s been dishing out some intriguing spoonfuls of Argie-Ukranian football locro-borscht. The other day he did an engaging interview with the apparently much-misunderstood José Sosa, Sabella’s Simon Cox and captain of Metalist, Ukraine’s favourite bridesmaids (worth googling, probably). We should have that for you later on today. First of all, though, let us wipe the crumbs from your beard and lay you lovingly in this reed basket; let us ready you for the ride, babe.

This first piece is the lotion to the Einhornian scrubbing that follows. It is possibly the geekiest thing we’ve ever put up here, but that’s precisely what got our attention. ‘Tis an interview with Oleg Yaroslavsky, the president of Sosa’s club, Metalist – in Macchiavello’s words, an “ultra-mega-billionaire”. Yaroslavsky ‘refounded’ the club six years ago and has made a policy of signing South American players. At the moment they have six Argentines on their books: Sosa, Cristaldo, Villagra, Chaco Torres, Torsiglieri and Sebastián Blanco).

Besides the trappings of superwealth (“When he steps on the accelerator of his black 800-horsepower USV, the city of Kharkiv, his city, splits in two, a lo Moses”), he seems an interesting fellow so we decided to translate it. It seems somewhat surprising that such a figure – holiday buddy of Roman Abramovich, among others – even gives interviews like this, and even more so that it should be so informal (one of Macchiavello’s questions is just “So?”). (We’re reminded of Larry David’s explanation of why he agreed to do an interview with the simpering Ricky Gervais: “Well it’s only going out on British tv…”) You can read between the lines regarding his motives for taking over the club but his comments are revealing nonetheless as regards an insight into the mind of the megarich. He differs from Abramovich in many other respects, too, if he is to be believed regarding his non-interference in team affairs. He even makes a few jokes – although they’re only almost funny because of the deadpan clarification that follows, that hollow silence only the powerful can carve in the air with a word or two.

The interview takes place in Yaroslavsky’s office at the team’s luxurious training complex in Kharkiv. Although the strongman-cum-sugar daddy answers all questions “most amiably”, he never looks our correspondent in the eyes. It’s a strange little piece from an unlikely source, so enjoy. Failing that, pegame, que me gusta.

Is Metalist more than just a few exotic names in the first team?

Six years ago there was nothing. No team, no structure, no stadium nor training ground. There were just a few rickety old buildings, the name of the club, Metalist, which was founded in 1925, and a team, 11 human beings playing in the second division.

You’re a businessman and football will never bring you the same kind of money as your other investments. Why did you get involved in such a messy world?

I didn’t know anything about football, and I had never considered taking over any club, whether in this country or anywhere else. This is my city, though. I got involved because the club was in a bad way and I was asked to help out. I never imagined even 5% of the passion football can awake in you. These days I don’t claim to know everything about the game but what I feel for it now I never suspected possible.

The pictures in this room tell their own story. Here you are with Blatter, Platini, Abramovich… You must have picked something up.

Everything would have been a lot more complicated if I didn’t know those guys. Counting them among your friends is a great boon. But that’s how this Metalist came to be, detail after detail, brick by brick, atom by atom. Whenever anyone comes here they leave with their jaw on the floor. All of a sudden, in just a couple of years, you have a hotel, a stadium, a training complex, an academy…

Jonathan Maidana was the first and ever since you have made a policy of bringing in Argentine players. What makes them special?

Argentine and Brazilian football are the best in the world. The sport may have its origins in England but in these parts we all agree it really came to life in South America, in Argentina and Brazil. We built all this infrastructure so that top players from Argentina would want to come here. During the Euros, Germany, Portugal and Italy all stayed here, and they all made positive comments on the high standards of the facilities. And all of this was put together while Europe has been in crisis.

What player would you sign in the next transfer window? And you can’t say Messi, eh.

That’s an easy one to answer. I set everything up at this club but now everyone here does their own job. The sporting director has full responsibility. The manager looks after the team, the squad, tactics, etc. No-one in the world can tell the manager who to put in the team. I never get involved in team matters nor do I suggest possible signings. There’s a general director who takes care of non-sporting matters at the club. There are about 320 people working here, everyone has their job to do and must focus on doing it well. If someone tries to do someone else’s work for them, we give them the boot. So I can’t name any player. It’s not just a brand we look for but a player. The most important thing is the player’s quality and that he’ll help us achieve our goals. We’re not just after star names.


The player’s individual characteristics are the most important. These days it’s hard to find a player that fits in exactly with what we want. I’m not sure Messi could be part of this group. You’d have to complement him with Xavi and Iniesta. We’d have to buy the whole Barcelona team! But we’re not planning on doing that. In my own opinion, buying a well-known player is less interesting than getting a young talented player and watching him develop. The unknown intrigues me. Cristiano Ronaldo was here a few times but we never said anything to him… I never say never, though. You have to dream…