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BATE Borisov were largely unknown to the global football community until they were surprise qualifiers for the 2008/09 Champions League group stage. They finished bottom of their group, and despite raising a few eyebrows with draws home and away against the mighty Juventus, logic suggested that their brief moment in the limelight was over.
But BATE is not a side that follows the script. They are now back playing on football’s biggest stage for the fifth time in seven years, and having previously claimed such scalps as Bayern Munich and Athletic Bilbao, are going into Tuesday’s meeting with FC Barcelona on the back of a 3-2 victory at home to AS Roma.
So what is the secret that has got this unlikely club rubbing shoulders with the elite of European football on such a regular basis? It’s hard to say, other than the fact that they are very good at what they do.
Based in a city of some 145,000 people, and formed out of Borisov Automobile and Tractor Electronics, after which it was named, BATE ceased to exist entirely between 1981 and 1996. It was then that one of the factory’s owners, Anatoli Kapski, decided to revive the team, and has done so with such success that they have just won their tenth domestic league title in a row.
Such dominance at home means nothing in Europe, where due to Belarus being at the lower end of the UEFA coefficient spectrum, BATE invariably have to get through three rounds of qualifiers before they get to the part of the Champions League that really matters. And until last season, when the 13,126 capacity Borisov Arena was opened, they had to get by without even playing games in their own city, but in Minsk instead, because their former ground failed to meet UEFA standards.
Viktor Goncharenko must take a lot of the credit. The son of an engineer who died in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster, he became the youngest ever coach to appear in the Champions League. Under him, and in a manner not unlike FC Barcelona, the team developed its own unique brand of football and a very successful youth structure. Now, under his successor and long-time assistant, Alyaksandr Yermakovich, the good work is being continued.
All of this is achieved with a squad of largely home-bred players. BATE do have a handful of foreign imports, three Serbs, a Latvian and a Montenegrin this season, although with 21 international caps between them, they are not even household names in their own countries. The rest are entirely Belarusian.
Considering their mammoth achievements both at home and abroad, one would expect BATE to provide the core of the players for the Belarus national team, ranked 71st in the world. But although the squad does include national heroes like former Barça midfielder Alexander Hleb, seeing out the twilight of his career at his boyhood club, and striker Vitali Rodionov, the vast majority of Belarus’ top players have crossed the border to ply their trade in Russia, while others have picked up contracts in Western Europe.
But BATE keep responding to the loss of players by producing more. As chairman Kapski once told uefa.com: “Every year some homegrown players emerge and we count on them ... We are a successful team, but to stand firmer on our feet we need to capitalise on our achievements. That is pretty difficult to do in the current market climate in Belarus, but we try to get stronger every year anyway ... We may go for some transfers that would be considered big for Belarus, but we will not bring stars here that would look down on our young team.”
In the face of adversity, BATE keep going strong, and are a club to be commended for their achievements.
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