Ukraine v England: Andrei Shevchenko key to Ukraine's World Cup hopes
It is a hip club...
It is a hip club on the banks of the River Thames and Andrei Shevchenko is fashionably late. Suddenly the PRs and flunkeys swing into action – the motorboat carrying Chelsea`s new £31 million man has roared into view, according to Telegraph.co.uk.
Shevchenko, the club`s record signing, the man whose departure from Milan had caused consternation among the Rossoneri, the face of Giorgio Armani with the billionaire friends and the model wife, the player to cap Roman Abramovich`s ambitions, had arrived.
It was May 2006 and Abramovich had finally got his man. Such was the Russian`s desire to sign Sheva, as the Ukrainian is known, and make him happy, that he immediately arranged for him to stay next to his own Knightsbridge home and dined with him regularly while the club claimed there were no special favours.
The Special One, José Mourinho, whose lip would eventually curl at the mere mention of Shevchenko`s name, claimed he was pleased, something he came to bitterly regret. "Today is the day when the dream became reality," Mourinho declared. "Andrei has always been my first choice for Chelsea."
Furthermore the manager added: "He has great qualities. Ambition, discipline, tactical awareness and of course he is a great goal-scorer."
Ambition? Mourinho soon decided Shevchenko had come for the money and preferred to work on his golf handicap.
Discipline? Mourinho despaired at what he felt was Shevchenko`s amateurish approach to training, often threatening to pack him off to play with the youth team.
Tactical awareness? Mourinho was infuriated by the way Shevchenko failed to integrate.
A great goalscorer? Well 19 in two seasons would be a poor return.
Abramovich despaired. What had happened to Sheva? The Russian blamed Mourinho, and Shevchenko became an unwitting pawn in the power struggles.
In his book, Preferisco La Coppa, it is illuminating to read Carlo Ancelotti`s revelations of a conversation he had with Abramovich about Shevchenko. "Abramovich said: `I can`t understand why he`s not playing, because since we`ve brought him to England he`s not the real Sheva, he`s in difficulties`," Ancelotti related.
After his appointment as manager, Ancelotti spoke respectfully about Shevchenko, blaming his problems, with some justification, on the fact that he arrived injured from the 2006 World Cup.
But Ancelotti also made clear that Shevchenko could go. Chelsea tried to find a club but the offers were paltry. Finally a face-saving exercise, of sorts, was arranged with Shevchenko forgoing the final year of his contract at Stamford Bridge, and more than £5 million in wages, in return for a homecoming to his first club, Dynamo Kiev.
Having now just turned 33, Shevchenko is setting about rebuilding his reputation, or salvaging what he can of it, at the club where it was first earned. The "White Ronaldo" – as Dynamo`s legendary coach Valeri Lobanovsky called him – was part of a golden era.
He was the poster boy not just for Ukrainian sport but for the country. His move to Milan bred belief that Ukraine could be European, looking west rather than east, and his image – from magazines to billboards – dominated Kiev.
Internationally he has meant a lot to a country, not just a football team and now he is back where he started and ready to face England tomorrow in Dnepropetrvsk, the former closed city in the south-east.
Ukraine can still qualify for the World Cup play-offs and they need a resurgent Shevchenko even if he is no longer the team`s most important player. Dynamo, who count Shevchenko`s former strike partner Sergei Rebrov on their coaching staff, have gone nine matches unbeaten with the former Chelsea striker, who has settled after a tricky start, scoring a spectacular free-kick last weekend in a 1-0 victory over FC Arsenal Kiev.
How he would have loved to have done so against the original Arsenal. But he still has the opportunity to show English supporters that he has something to offer.