To many Andriy Shevchenko was one of the best strikers in the first decade of the 21st century. His career spanned a host of big clubs, where he scored a lot of goals for them. While he’s now the manager of the Ukrainian national team and qualified them for the Euros, he isn’t quite renowned as a manager yet. His playing days might be well behind him, but he is still well-remembered for that.
His best spell came before he came into the bigger spotlight. Dynamo Kiev was the place where he first broke onto the scene. Having initially played for the Reserves side, his goalscoring exploits saw him rise through the ranks and later earn a big move to Milan in the summer of 1999.
His stint at the rossoneri was full of goals that won the hearts of not just the Diavolo faithful but it also made an impact in the minds of many football fans in general. The move had come for what was then a world-record $25 million fee. His debut season saw him win the Serie A, scoring 24 goals and he replicated that in the next season too.
He then captured more spotlights with stellar performances in the 2002-03 season of the UEFA Champions League. He scored a vital away goal against Inter in the semi-final of the competition and found the net against Juventus in the final, playing a role in the rossoneri winning the final under Carlo Ancelotti. In a sensational year, Shevchenko won the 2004 European Player of the Year after having helped the club win the Scudetto, win the UEFA Super Cup and win the Coppa Italia. Shevchenko was hugely important in all of them.
All of this saw many consider Shevchenko to be regarded as one of the best players in the world. To many, he was the best striker in the world as well. His goalscoring exploits had attracted the interest of Chelsea, who were acquired by Roman Abramovich in 2003 and were aiming big.
The Blues had won the Premier League title under a much younger Jose Mourinho. In a bid to increase their attacking might, as Manchester United and Arsenal were constantly pushing for improvement, Abramovich thought Shevchenko would add world-class potential to the Blues’ strike-force. They already had Didier Drogba scoring regularly, while Eidur Gudjohnsen would also do a fair job of scoring goals. Scott Sinclair and Carlton Cole were options, but they weren’t exactly renowned and reliable goalscorers.
This saw Chelsea turn their attention to Sheva- as he was popularly known as. Their initial world-record offer was rejected by Milan. The Ukrainian had missed a crucial penalty against Liverpool in the famous UEFA Champions League final in Istanbul. Milan wanted redemption next season and to them, Sheva was crucial in doing just that in the 2005-06 season.
Chelsea’s interest was strong and genuine. The club’s then chief executive Peter Kenyon said:
“I think Shevchenko is the type of player we would like. At the end of the day to improve what we have got, it has to be a great player and Shevchenko certainly comes into that class.”
Milan couldn’t afford to let him leave though. Instead of Shevchenko though, Hernan Crespo was loaned out to the Stamford Bridge-based side. It was said that the rossoneri had offered Shevchenko a six-year contract in a desperate attempt to keep him. While Sheva didn’t accept it, Milan came close to winning the Champions League title in 2006.
In the Champions League campaign of the 2005-06 campaign, Shevchenko contributed to 12 goals in 12 appearances. Nine of them were goals, while three were assists. They were knocked out by Barcelona in the semi-final and that was it at Milan for Sheva. He had ended his time at the San Siro as the club’s second-highest all-time goalscorer and it was a fitting way to leave.
The move to Chelsea in the summer of 2006 came for a fee of £30.8 million. It was the highest that an English club had spent for a player at that point and was a club record transfer for Chelsea. To hype up the transfer more, he was handed the number seven jersey and under Mourinho, many thought he was bound to be a huge success.
More than coming in with a reputation, he had come in with a brilliant form. And on his debut in the FA Community Shield, he scored in a losing cause against Liverpool. But as promising as the start was, that was the only thing which was good about the season.
For a team that had won the league twice in a row by pipping teams managed by Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, there was no way a move for probably the best striker in Europe could go wrong. The Community Sheild game had seen Sheva and Drogba start up front and the 2004 Ballon D’or winner enjoyed a solid debut.
The early period saw reasoning for Shevchenko not playing enough. It was being said that he was only settling in and it was a matter of time before Shevchenko would tide over this transition. By his time, Drogba had begun to score regularly and Sheva’s numbers declined.
He couldn’t score a single goal in the first three Champions League games. His struggles became common knowledge. And it became public when Chelsea had visited Reading. Having started in an unnatural right-wing role, he got subbed in the 63rd minute. Everyone knew that something was going wrong.
He wasn’t in the squad in the next two games after a goal against Portsmouth. He returned to the first-team against Watford and while Drogba scored a hat-trick, Shevchenko’s contributions of one goal and two assists hardly got much attention.
The next few games were one of the most frustrating periods of Sheva’s career. He didn’t score a single goal in the next 16 Premier League games. He was dropped for the last three games and to many, it was strange how this downfall had come about.
He did contribute to 24 goals in 51 appearances in all competitions. But it was far from how many had envisaged him to be at Stamford Bridge. The campaign had seen Mourinho self-destruct and draw enemy lines with Abramovich because of lack of January signings. The title was won by Fergie’s United, while Chelsea were knocked out of the Champions League by Liverpool in the semi-finals.
To many, Mourinho’s constant acts of dropping Sheva was because of his tendency to put pressure on the board for signings. He wouldn’t use him- like he didn’t in the semi-final second-leg against Liverpool. Mourinho did leave in the summer of 2007 and it was Sheva himself who had scored the last goal of his tenure, scoring against Rosenborg.
Avram Grant came in. He was seen as someone who had a softer side for Abramovich and would give more opportunities to Sheva. 30 by then, the striker played only 1124 minutes of first-team football. It was hampered by injuries or him not playing- like he didn’t against United in the Champions League final. That was the final nail in the coffin.
By this time, Shevchenko was a man short of any confidence. The Premier League seemed to be too quick for him. The emphasis on Drogba saw him play in an unnatural deeper position many times.
He said in 2007: “I was playing further behind, away from goal – different from how I played at Milan, and maybe that’s why Drogba scored so many goals this year. At Milan, I played in my natural role. Here I had to adapt to be something else, and I did it so I could help the team.”
A loan move to Milan was seen as a means of him recovering his confidence. But he couldn’t score a single goal and later moved onto Dynamo Kiev. While the ending of his career came where it had all begun, things could have been much better for him. Sadly enough, things didn’t work out as everyone had hoped.