Pep Guardiola was suitably impressed.
“Before every game against Shakhtar, I have the same feeling," he told the assembled media before Manchester City's home tie with the Ukrainian outfit.
“The first time we faced them in the group stage, my [scouting] team went to see them and they came back saying, ‘Wow.’ They were really impressed. In Barcelona all the time it was, ‘Shakhtar, Ukraine, who cares which players play, nobody knows them.’
“I can assure you it was one of the best teams in terms of playing football. It was so tough for me. For Barcelona, Bayern, we had good results but it was tough. I have a lot of respect for them.”
As endorsements go, this was right up there. For someone such as Shakhtar' Donetsk's Paulo Fonseca, a manager very much cut from the same cloth as Guardiola, it must have been music to the ears.
City eventually went on to record a 2-0 victory over the men from Donetsk, but a lasting impression had already been formed. Fonseca, at just 44, was one to watch with interest.
Over the ensuing months, the Portuguese made good on his promise by recording shock victories over both City and Napoli on home soil, and making the knockout stages of the Champions League at the expense of the Serie A giants.
It was no surprise that at a similar time, reports started to emerge of talks with Everton about the vacant managerial position following the sacking of Ronald Koeman. This, after all, was a coach who had super agent Jorge Mendes fighting his corner. As exclusive interviews were granted to English broadsheets, it quickly became apparent that the Premier League was the end goal.
“All coaches want to go to England and I am one,” Fonseca told Telegraph Sport back in October. “I have this dream and I believe this can happen. I believe a lot this can happen. If it’s soon or not, I have this dream.
“I have a big, big passion about the game and the atmosphere in England is amazing. I hope one day to live it. It’s the biggest league in the world. For any coach, to work in England can be amazing. You have the best coaches and the best players.”
Despite the appointment of Sam Allardyce at Goodison Park, the links with Everton persist to this day. Indeed, there is currently a growing feeling that Allardyce will not be at the helm come the summer, with Blues major shareholder Farhad Moshiri understood to be paying close attention to the Portuguese's work in Ukraine. With doubts also plaguing Arsene Wenger's future, Arsenal, too have reportedly shown an interest in Fonseca of late.
Context is everything in football. So often managers build momentum at just the right time to seal a big move- or vice versa if you look at the way Eddie Howe's occasional slumps at Bournemouth have impacted upon his chances of landing one of the top jobs. And so, Shakhtar's recent 2-1 victory over Roma in the Champions League came at the opportune moment for Fonseca.
This was by no means the perfect result for Shakhtar. The Italian side's away goal makes the second-leg in Rome a difficult obstacle to overcome. But what impressed most was the way in which Fonseca's team recovered from the blow of conceding first to wrestle the initiative back after half-time against their more illustrious opponents.
It showed a manager flexible in his tactical approach- for all their neat and tidy build-up play, Shakhtar's equaliser came via a long pass forward, while the winner was a direct free-kick- but also rooted to certain principles. As with all possession-focused managers, Fonseca aims to dominate possession but also stifle opponents with a rigorous high-press.
Favouring a 4-2-3-1 which privileges quick, vertical ball to a gifted attacking midfield triumvirate of Brazilians, Shakhtar have become an attractive side to watch- and also much more than the sum of their parts. Facundo Ferreyra, who scored the equaliser against Roma, has seen his career revitalised since flopping so emphatically at Newcastle, while the likes of Fred and Bernard have developed to such an extent under Fonseca's tutelage that some of Europe's top teams have started to take notice. The former, it seems, is nailed on to move to Guardiola's City this summer.
In the 44-year-old's setup, players improve both technically and tactically, with solid defensive principles creating the ideal platform for midfielders and attackers to excel. Fonseca's teams generally defend well. It's why parallels with another Guardiola-inspired coach in Roberto Martinez appear to have little foundation.
The need for regeneration- and perhaps revolution- at both Everton and Arsenal offers an intriguing opportunity for Fonseca. At each club, there could well be a chance to build not just a style but also a legacy over the course of a number of years. Continuity, in both cases, is key. So stable conditions could well provide the perfect framework for a new project.
Especially at Everton, where a reactive- perhaps even regressive- style of football has taken hold, the front-foot approach favoured by Fonseca would no doubt be welcomed with opened arms. The type of domination seen at the Etihad, where Shakhtar had more of the ball than City for long spells, potentially offers a sustainable way forward both domestically and in Europe- where possession simply cannot be squandered with regularity.
Out of contract at the end of the Ukrainian season, and with at least one of Everton and Arsenal expected to be on the hunt for a new coach during the summer, Paulo Fonseca may just be about to get his big break.