Oceans and cultural differences may separate American football from European football. From what we've seen since the U.S.'s relative recent arrival onto the world soccer stage, it seems as though the differences in philosophies between the hard-hitting, gritty action of football and the beauty and elegance that soccer showcases are not ready to be held in equal esteem by each of the sport's respective fanbases.
What we can use to draw parallels, however, are the athletes from both games. No matter how different the sports may be, a great player or controversial figure can transcend differences in any sport.
Enter Brett Favre of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. Favre has captivated thousands during his extensive 19-year career in the league—recently, for some of the wrong reasons, but mostly for the right ones. He's a three-time MVP who holds all-time NFL records for passing touchdowns, passing yards, and career victories.
Americans would contend that there is no other athlete on the planet like him. His mixture of career success and the ability to have an entire nation hang on his every decision are characteristics that Yanks will tell you cannot be found in any other major U.S. sport.
But would they be surprised to find another athlete comparable to Brett Favre in soccer?
Enter Andriy Shevchenko, a Ukranian Ballon D'Or winner who is currently the third all-time scorer in European club competition history. The 33-year-old has had his fair share of retirement talk and career ups and downs, not unlike the NFL's Favre.
Brett Favre was raised in the small town of Kiln, Mississippi. As a high-schooler, Favre quarterbacked a wishbone offense, which saw him throw a minimal amount of passes each game, keeping the focus on the running backs. As a result, Favre did not get many looks for a college scholarship, only receiving one from Southern Mississippi. He started out as the seventh-string quarterback option before playing his way into the starting role.
Likewise, Shevchenko game from a modest background. His small Ukrainian village was forced to evacuate after the Chernobyl disaster; Shevchenko was nine at the time and was on track to becoming a pro boxer. Shevchenko later opted for soccer; however, he failed a Kyiv academy dribbling test. Andriy's luck later turned when he was spotted by Dynamo Kyiv scouts and brought onto their youth team. By 1992, he was the top scorer on Dynamo's second team.
The Golden Years
After being drafted 33rd overall by the Atlanta Falcons, Favre was traded that same year to the Green Bay Packers. He only threw five passes for the Falcons.
Favre was an instant fan favorite at Lambeau, taking over the starting role and leading the Pack to the playoffs in 1993 and 1994. It was the first time Green Bay had made back-to-back playoff appearances since the Vince Lombardi era. What he did during the rest of his 16 years is legend.
Favre was named to the Pro Bowl 10 times, making two Superbowl appearances, and capturing Superbowl XXXI. Favre also added three MVPs to his repertoire. His seasoned tenure in Green Bay cemented him as an NFL legend. However, swirling retirement talk and rumoured severed relations between Favre and the Green Bay management shrouded the end of his career there. On March 4th, 2008, Favre announced his formal retirement.
After winning five domestic league titles with Dynamo Kyiv from 1994 to 1999, Shevchenko was transferred to A.C. Milan for a then-record transfer fee of 25 million euros. Shevchenko flourished at the San Siro, capturing the Serie A scoring title in his first season and never looked back. He helped Milan to two UEFA Champions League Finals, winning one and losing the other in penalty kicks. In 2004, he was awarded the prestigious Ballon D'Or, as the best player in Europe.
Shevchenko helped Milan make deep Champions League runs all the way up to 2006, when he capped of his career in the San Siro by becoming A.C. Milan's second all-time leading scorer.
In the summer of 2008, Brett Favre announced he was returning to the NFL but asked that Green Bay release him and allow him to switch teams. On August 7th, the New York Jets signed Favre to a short-term deal.
Sheva was on the move himself two years earlier after a record transfer to Chelsea made him all the buzz at Stamford Bridge. In each case, many anticipated that both stars would make their most recent destinations their places of retirement.
Favre and Shevchenko both started with some promise in their new homes, but by the end of their spells (Favre in 2008 and Shevchenko in 2009), both were well on their way out of town.
Favre was pitiful down the stretch at New York and rumblings began to arise about troubles in the locker room. Later, news broke about an unknown injury that Favre had sustained during the season that was never reported by the Jets, leading to yet another bout of controversy that put Favre and the Jets back in the headlines.
Likewise for Shevchenko, he was a shell of himself while playing for the Blues. He wasn't used often and made a habit of botching chances. His 2006 season was cut short due to injury and by the time manager Jose Mourinho was out of town, Chelsea had seen enough poor performances from their big-money signing—30 million euros for nine league goals was not going to cut it. After a dismal loan spell back at A.C. Milan (during which Andriy announced he would retire and then reneged), new Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti announced that Sheva was on his way out of Stamford Bridge.
After announcing his retirement yet again in the summer of 2009, Brett Favre was coaxed back into the league by the Minnesota Vikings. The 40-year-old wonder constructed a magical season in which he was named to the Pro Bowl, but more importantly, got the Vikings within a play of the Superbowl.
In that same year, Shevchenko announced he was returning to Dynamo Kyiv. Like Favre, Sheva enjoyed a return to form. He re-discovered his scoring touch and was named the Ukrainian Premier League's best player for 2009-10. Once again, he has Dynamo Kyiv in the hunt for a spot in the Champions League group stage.
What the Future Holds
As of now, it looks as though both players will be back for yet another season. Now entering the twilight of their respective careers, both have made their marks statistically, but how they are viewed by the media and public are ever-changing.
Both are polarizing figures—you love them or hate them. There are countless naysayers who contend that Shevchenko is overrated, while many an avid NFL fan can't stand Favre's gunslinger approach to football. Some can't get enough of them, while others just wish they would go away. Shevchenko and Favre are one in the same when it comes to their cemented legacies on the stat sheet versus how they are perceived by fans of their sport.
NFL fans may have never heard of Andriy Shevchenko and soccer fans may not give a damn about who Brett Favre is, but the parallels break through any walls that their games of choice may put up between each other.
Whether you adore them or think they're a waste of space, the similarities are strikingly similar between these two football legends who amazingly are still finding success as they continue to make waves in their respective games.