Darijo Srna: For president, Shakhtar are more than just a club

Exactly 19 years ago, Rinat Akhmetov became Shakhtar’s president. Soon, the latest issue of the club’s interactive magazine will be released, one of the main materials of which will be Darijo Srna’s opinion's piece. The Pitmen’s captain tells about the president’s character, principles and dreams.

- When I attracted Shakhtar’s interest, I had no idea who owns the club. I remember how my agent went to meet with the president and after coming back he said: ‘Rinat Akhmetov is very ambitious! He invited Schuster, Vukic, Lalatovic, and is going to sign a few more players. This person wants to create a big European club. And it looks like he will do it’. My agent is a former  player. He immediately felt the character of Rinat Akhmetov. And because I fully trust the opinion of the person, who represents me, the decision to move to Donetsk was made immediately. To be honest, initially I planned to simply gain experience in Ukraine, and then move to Europe. But Shakhtar were growing and developing rapidly. It made no sense to go somewhere. A few years later I clearly knew that I was in a big European club.

I did not start to communicate with Rinat Akhmetov straight away. There are only a few people from the club, who are in constant contact with him: first of all, Mircea Lucescu and Sergei Palkin. Initially, I would see the president only in the pre-match training sessions. I was impressed that he began to buy great players from Brazil and at the same time he refused to sell players even for huge money. I was observing. For me it was important to understand what he is like as a person. I saw him in different situations and each time I was convinced: the president is very easy to communicate with, he has a good sense of humour, but at the same time he is extremely demanding as a leader. I will say more: during the years of his presidency, he has watched a lot of games, attended many training sessions. And today he is one of those rare people, who are professionally versed in football without having player and coaching experience. He can engage in a dialogue with experts about the intricacies of football, understandable only to a narrow circle of specialists. Moreover, Rinat Akhmetov is well aware of the situation in world football; he is watching not only matches of the top leagues, but also Brazilian, Croatian, Serbian leagues... Recently, when I greeted him on his birthday, I wished him sound health and patience. Why patience? Because he has not been at home for a year and a half; has not attended the stadium; his team are constantly playing on the road - another president in his place would long ago have stopped financing the club and flown away to live abroad. But not Rinat Akhmetov! I know for sure: he will never leave his Shakhtar no matter what! For him, Shakhtar are more than a club to him. It's his life.

You should seen how the president is worried about the team. Nervous? It is an understatement! On the day of the match, he does not talk to anybody, he is in his thoughts, getting mentally ready for the game. You know, in the season, when we won the UEFA Cup, I often looked at the president’s box from the pitch. I was interested in his reaction. Rinat Akhmetov has not seen the ending of a single match. He would leave the stands in the middle of the second half unable to cope with the nervous tension! He was alone, trying to calm down. And he was waiting for the final whistle with bated breath... The president was present in the stands until the end only at the match in Istanbul, in the final. According to etiquette, he just could not leave the box, where heads of states, UEFA representatives and many VIP-persons were present. I cannot even imagine what he felt back then. Even if I get nervous, when I do not play and watch the match from the stands or on TV, in his case his emotions are ten times stronger.

But no matter what result is, Rinat Akhmetov never makes remarks to players regarding the game and he never criticises them! There is a head coach for that. The president has a strict rule: he does not interfere with professionals’ work – Mircea Lucescu and his staff. He sees his task as transfers, timely payment of wages and providing favourable conditions for the development of the club. I have said many times: when Shakhtar win, the president is the happiest man on earth. And when we lose... he experiences failures in different ways. Sometimes he gets angry, sometimes not. But in any case he supports and protects the team. I remember when president came into the locker room after a home match against Metallist when we failed to win. Then he said: ‘I came down because you just had a crazy second half. Never mind that today we have not claimed three points. With this game, I am sure we will be champions. I'm with you!’. It was very important for the team. And at the end of that season, we became champions.

At the time, the president had a dream to win the UEFA Cup – Shakhtar won the trophy! Rinat Akhmetov decided to build a super stadium for the team - Donbass Arena emerged! Now his goal is for everyone to return to Donetsk and win the Champions League. And we will do it!