When Your Champions League Dream Runs Through a War Zone

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When Your Champions League Dream Runs Through a War Zone


Kelsy said signing a five-year contract with a club in a country at war was a surprisingly easy decision. The prospect of fulfilling a dream of making it to Europe trumped everything else, he said — even the persistent threat from Russian missiles and planes, the regular drone of air raid sirens and the rumble of distant explosions. His family, though, had questions.

“When I told them, they asked, ‘Why Ukraine?’” he said in an interview in Spanish. “They knew everything that happened, and there was a little bit of nervousness and a little of fear. But I spoke to them about this theme, that it’s very important for me to go to play football in Europe, in a big team like Shakhtar, and in the end they understood.”

Kelsy, like the scores of South Americans who have signed for Ukrainian clubs in the past, views the club as a steppingstone on a journey that he hopes might one day propel him to the club of his dreams, A.C. Milan. Games in elite competitions like the Champions League, he knows, offer an elite stage to show he belongs. (Shakhtar, which led the Ukrainian league entering the weekend, is on track to return to the competition next season.)

Having lost so many players, Palkin, the Shakhtar chief executive, now insists that any new recruits sign contracts that include clauses that would prevent them from taking advantage of any FIFA regulations that would allow them to suddenly leave. Any player who signs on now, he said, surely understands the commitment they are making.

So strong is the pull of making it as a professional in Europe, though, that Kelsy said not even war could stop him from coming. “I try not to think about it,” he said, “and focus on what matters now.”



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