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The rise and fall of Shevchenko

Andriy Shevchenko

By Sam Lyon

Andriy Shevchenko, one of the great names of European football in the last decade, is struggling.

Struggling for form. Struggling for fitness. Struggling to score the goals that brought a Champions League winner's medal, the European footballer of the year award and big-money moves to AC Milan and Chelsea.

When the 32-year-old leads Ukraine out in the World Cup qualifier at Wembley on Wednesday, England will not be facing the Shevchenko of old, but a striker who has mustered 10 club goals in three years.

Sergei Rebrov, his long-term strike partner at Dynamo Kiev, and with the national team, admits Shevchenko's best days "appear to be behind him".

"It has been difficult for him," the former Tottenham and West Ham striker told BBC Sport. "I don't think he has played much for three years and he is a player who needs games to be fit and on form.

"It is hard to be at your best all the time anyway but when you go through what he has gone through, it is even tougher."

That theory has been borne out emphatically this season.

Shevchenko - hailed as a returning hero when he re-signed for AC Milan from Chelsea in the summer - has scored only once since his return to the San Siro and is reduced now to cameo substitute appearances in the club's domestic cup games.

He rarely plays in Serie A anymore, making just two starts this season and another 11 substitute appearances in their 29 games.


His return to a club described by him as "his family" has, in fact, been so underwhelming, the love affair the Milan fans have had with him is almost over.

"It is, to be honest, quite depressing because during his first spell at Milan he was adored by the supporters," said Italian football expert John Foot.

"He was their absolute hero. He was the best striker in Europe for a time and the Milanese fell in love with this 'galactico' who had inspired the team and taken the club into his heart.

"Now, since his return, he never plays and he doesn't score. The same fans who protested against his move to Chelsea in 2006 now watch on in horror at a player who is clearly past his best.

"Few of them understand why he was brought back because he is not really a player anymore.

"I can't think of a modern-day comparison. He has gone from a £30m player to a bench-warmer for an AC Milan team that isn't particularly good in such a short time. It's an amazing story."

The seeds of his decline were not just planted but almost completely realised by that £30m move to Chelsea in 2006 - a transfer that still ranks as the biggest in the club's history.

At the time, it appeared a match made in heaven. One of the best strikers in Europe joining the richest club in Europe - a team that had just won two straight Premier League titles - and for a gargantuan fee that only Chelsea could justify. On paper, it looked like it could not go wrong.

But it did. Over time it became clear that Shevchenko was not rated by then Blues manager Jose Mourinho and had, in fact, been brought to the club over the Portuguese's head by owner Roman Abramovich.

Andriy Shevchenko
Shevchenko has started infrequently for AC Milan this season

As a result, the Ukrainian was rarely given a run of matches, was played out of position and slowly lost fitness, form and confidence, not helped by the fact he arrived at Stamford Bridge still feeling the effects of a serious knee injury sustained before the 2006 World Cup.

In two years he made only 47 appearances - many of them off the bench - and scored only nine goals. Chelsea have not won a title since his arrival, boasting instead an FA Cup and League Cup, only the latter of which involved the Ukrainian.

"Everything conspired to work against him," stated former Chelsea star Pat Nevin.

"He arrived over the manager's head, he turned up with an injury that he never fully recovered from and he was a square peg in a round hole in that he didn't suit Chelsea's style of play.

"On top of that, I don't think there was anyone in the Chelsea team who understood him and could help him do what he did best - hang on the shoulder of centre-backs, get in behind defences and score goals.

"Of course, the reality is also that he was probably over the hill when he arrived. You look at all the recent 'greats' - Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and so on - and they don't tend to enjoy as long as 10 to 15 years at the top of their game. Shevchenko's best years were at Kiev and AC Milan."

Nevin believes the move was a disaster, not only for Shevchenko but also for Chelsea.

"I think you can say the move broke Shevchenko and the move also spelt the beginning of the end of Mourinho at Chelsea," said the Scot.

"With the type of person Mourinho is, signing a player over his head was never going to be acceptable.

"In the style he runs a team and builds an outfit, it would be very fair to say that was one of the major points that caused the divisions between him and Abramovich and ultimately led to his departure."


It is a far cry from the player's halcyon days at Kiev and, in particular, Milan - spells that wrote Shevchenko's name not only into the record books but also the hearts of supporters the world over.

A record of 60 goals in 117 Dynamo appearances - including a Champions League hat-trick against Barcelona in 1997 - earned Shevchenko a host of Ukrainian league title medals and a then record $25m move to AC Milan in 2002, where he went on to score 127 goals in 208 appearances.

In 2003 he scored the penalty against Juventus that won Milan the Champions League and in 2004 he was awarded the prestigious Ballon D'Or award.

He married the American model Kristen Pazik and the couple, who have two sons, talk to each other in Italian and still regard London as their home.

"For a time he was simply the best striker in the world," commented Foot. "He had pace, he was a brilliant finisher and he gave absolutely everything in every match."

Key to that success, it seems, is that 'Sheva' felt "loved and at home" at both Kiev and Milan.

"The Milan fans took him into their hearts and it's clear that meant so much to Andriy," revealed Foot. "He was comfortable, adored the club, was playing brilliantly and it seemed like the perfect marriage.

"He was the main man. The team was built around him, to suit his needs as a striker, and it paid dividends. You saw the best of Shevchenko as a result."

Conditions, of course, that Shevchenko did not enjoy at Chelsea.

Shevchenko's disappointment is not alien to Ukrainian footballers, though.

Andriy Shevchenko
Shevchenko struggled to settle at Chelsea

Big-money moves to the Premier League did not work as hoped for Rebrov (Spurs and West Ham) or Andrei Voronin (Liverpool) either, despite both players enjoying huge success away from England and in the Champions League.

Agent Sandor Varga, a close confidante of Shevchenko's since the age of 16, believes part of the reason lay in the players' psyche.

Shevchenko was born in the Ukrainian village of Dvirkivshchyna but in 1976, the year of his birth, the village was part of the then Soviet Union, frequently referred to as Russia.

When he was nine the village was affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, forcing his family to abandon their home.

"Shevchenko is like many Russians - very sensitive and very much a heart-over-head person. The same for Rebrov and Voronin too, I think," said Varga.

"It is a Russian trait to be emotional, sensitive people. If something is not perfect - even a little thing - it can ruin anything and everything. These players are not like European players or South American players in mentality, they need special treatment."

And so it came to pass that in the space of three short years Shevchenko went from Europe's best to Europe's forgotten man.

Can he, then, shove the critics' words down their throats when he runs out at Wembley for the first time on Wednesday and prove he still has what it takes to be the best?

He will be helped by Milan's ethos of staying loyal to their best-loved players well into their 30s.

The likes of Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta and Clarence Seedorf are recent examples of the club's willingness to keep faith with the old guard and Foot believes Shevchenko will benefit from similar patience.

"Milan has that very strong, family culture," he said. "They have always been loyal to their players, their staff, and the players and staff vice-versa. It creates that sense of family that Shevchenko thrived so much in during his first spell.

"They almost undoubtedly suffer in terms of quality because of that but the unity and spirit in the Milan camp is second to none."

I will not write him off; he might bounce back and surprise everybody

Former team-mate Sergei Rebrov

And Shevchenko need look no further than Rebrov to find inspiration in someone bouncing back from a disappointing spell in England.

The now 34-year-old left England to return to Kiev, which he said "showed my unbelievable hunger to work hard and get back to my quality", and won the title, the Ukrainian player of the year award and then the Russian title with Rubin Kazan - the first in the club's history - following a £1m move in 2007.

"In England it is normal to play until you are in your mid or late thirties but in Ukraine when you reach 31 or 32 people expect you to retire," added Rebrov. "So, if you want to succeed, you have to have unbelievable character and a will to succeed.

"Shevchenko is a big, strong person and he is still important for Ukraine - he is the leader of the team. I will not write him off; he might bounce back and surprise everybody.

"But he has lost so much. It is difficult for him."

Shevchenko's international record - 39 goals in 85 appearances - underlines the danger he possesses in front of goal.

His unbelievable talent may have been seen only in glimpses since 2006 - a result of issues over fitness, circumstance and the player's own mentality, perhaps.

However, "put him in front of goal and he can still score goals, make no mistake," warned Varga, a sentiment heartily supported by Chelsea and England midfielder Frank Lampard on Monday.

What a story it would be if Shevchenko - unfit, out of form, and written off by so many - returned to haunt the country that played host to the breakdown of his game as he knew it.

It is unlikely, say the experts and those who know him best, but England fans will still hope the path towards the 2010 World Cup in South Africa is not laced with a sense of irony.

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see also
Owen has England future - Lampard
30 Mar 09 |  Internationals
Heskey pulls out of England squad
29 Mar 09 |  Internationals
Terry tips Rooney for caps record
29 Mar 09 |  Internationals
England 4-0 Slovakia
28 Mar 09 |  Internationals
Beckham reaches new caps landmark
28 Mar 09 |  Internationals
Shevchenko completes Milan move
25 Aug 08 |  Chelsea
Chelsea complete Shevchenko deal
31 May 06 |  Chelsea
Country profile: Ukraine
01 Jan 09 |  Country profiles

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