Marcello Lippi was at ease on 30 June, 2006 at AOL Arena stadium in Hamburg. Things so far had progressed the way that could have only pleased him. His team could not have asked for a better draw having been put into a pool where they eliminated Australia in the pre-quarters and were now 3-0 up against their eastern European counterparts Ukraine in the last eight of the tournament.
In the 77 minutes played, Lippi had found two new goal-scorers for the tournament in Gianluca Zambrotta and Luca Toni taking the total number to 8. The moment of celebration was nearing and with-in no time he was going to take the Italian side to the semi-final of a World Cup after 12 years.
There were absolutely no signs of any panic in the Azzuri camp and all of a sudden out of nowhere Lippi found his goalkeeper—the best in the world at that point of time—Gigi Buffon firing at his wall with all guns blazing.
The anxiety in his gestures and the fear in his eyes were in no way describing the position his team was sailing through. Soon after, Marcello Lippi realized the cause for Buffon’s concerns and he too held a similar sense of dismay.
The opposition were awarded a free kick from a range of 30 meters and the Ukrainian belligerent who was all set to break the set-piece with another fierce strike was apparently the reason Italy’s No. 1 was unable to hold his composure in an otherwise fairly one-sided game.
Such was the impact the Ukrainian held on the course of the game who incidentally happened to be loved in Milan more than many of the Italian players themselves were. The hot-blooded forward glowing as an invigorated flash in colour Yellow donning the No. 7 jersey the other night was none other than the wonder boy of the Rossonerri, Andriy Mykolayovich Shevchenko.
The memories immediately take one back to the all Italian Champions League final contested between AC Milan and Juventus in the memorable season of 2002-03 where Sheva kicked the winning strike in the penalty shootout that went past the net guarded by Buffon—perhaps the only night in the history of time where a certain Nelson Dida can be thought of getting the better of a certain Gianluigi Buffon.
The best-to-forget memories of this day would have procured within Buffon’s mind for the next three years to come and it very much showed in his body language while dealing with that free kick in the World Cup quarterfinal. Given the stature of Buffon’s goal keeping during the 2006 era, he should have ideally not been much bothered about Sheva setting the spot kick but perhaps that is what “mutual respect and admiration” is all about.
The game of football is extremely vast spread. What it brings along is an amazing variance in the tactical and technical methodologies exhibited by players on the turf. The difference is much evident in the nature of the game even in two different parts of Europe let alone across continents.
Therefore, the debate to determine a great player putting in comparison with the other carries a great dependency on the region the player has happened to have played his club football for a prolonged period of time.
There is a certain set of players however, who make this parameter an insignificant one. Andriy Shevchenko is one such player who gels with the change so seamlessly that sometimes it questions the importance of this very factor of regional differences in gameplay.
He has managed to play his club football in highly contrastive styles of game majorly in Ukraine, Italy and in a later part England. One thing that has never been in detached from his play no matter wherever he played is sheer class.
The Making of a Star
In 1986, at the age of 10 Sheva was rejected over his dribbling skills by a school in Kyiv but very soon he was absorbed in the youth squad of Ukraine’s elite club Dynamo Kyiv. His career at the Bilo-Syni hogged the glory straight from the days when he started playing for club’s U-14 team.
In the year of 1990, he turned out to be the top-scorer of the team in the Ian Rush cup—now known as Welsh Super Cup—and received a pair of boots by the Liverpool legend himself.
Years at Dynamo Kyiv
Very soon he started being a part of Dynamo’s first team and immediately started finding the net often enough to be soon reckoned as club’s machine of goals. The highlight of his career with Dynamo Kyiv would always be the first half hat-trick that he scored against Barcelona in the group stage of the 1997-98 Champions League where they eventually drubbed the Catalans 4-0.
A year later the temptation of joining a bigger club could no longer resist and he made his way to San Siro. What followed remains history.
Golden Run at Milan
A sensational debut with the Rossonerri during the 1999-00 season that was marked with a streak of 24 goals in 32 appearances marked a key contribution in their tale in the Serie A triumph and Sheva became the first foreign player in the history of the Italian football to win the league scoring in his debut season.
At the end of his third season in the Red & Black colours, he became a part of the Champions League triumphant Milan squad thus adding yet another feather to an already gleaming cap. A year later he became only third Ukrainian to claim the European Footballer of the Year award for his heroics during the 2003-04 season where his was one of the most significant roles in bringing the Serie A back at San Siro for the first time in four years.
There were two more seasons to follow before Roman Abramovic’s persuasions worked to make him leave the Italians and joined the London giants Chelsea. In his tenure of seven years, he was majorly partnered by Pippo Inzaghi in the attacking line and formed an unbreakable bond with Milan midfield of Pirlo, Seedorf, Gattuso and Kaka.
In the course of his time at Milan, he scored 127 goals becoming club’s second highest goal scorer ever trailing only to the Swedish great Gunnar Nordahl. The imbalance that his departure was going to initiate in Milan’s attacking front was not something Berlusconi would have really shaped in his mind.
Sheva, however, joined the Londoners donning his favoured No. 7 in the colour Blue as well. The Chelsea team then boasted of one of the better strikers in the world in Didier Drogba. Ukrainian’s partnership with Drogba was always going to be an affair of concern for Mourinho but the Portuguese was quite adamant about what he wanted.
On quite frequent basis, he used to introduce both his firemen in a bi-directional attacking setup but the results were not exactly meeting the Russian anticipations. Very soon questions started raising against the most expensive English buy in years and it was about time Mourinho came up with some real answers.
Shevchenko remained on and off form and was not finding it easy to cast into the English setup. The inconsistency in his form started prolonging and he no longer remained Chelsea’s favourite starter.
Perhaps the wrong side of 30 came a little too early to him but he remained no longer the deadly Sheva world once knew him to be. Mourinho’s parting from the club too played a major role in Sheva being sidelined as the subsequent managers Avaram Grant and Luiz Felipe Scolari both rated him surplus to club’s requirements.
Being benched was not something that could go with Shevchenko’s stature and Adriano Galliani did not waste a moment in availing their former No. 7’s services once again as Milan loaned him from Chelsea on a year’s spell for the 2008-09 season.
His second stint with the Red & Black was not speaking for his credentials at the club and the decline in his form and match fitness became much evident. Sheva could not score a single goal during the second stint with his ex-club in his 18 appearances and it was no surprise to anyone when Galliani asked him to spend the remaining one year of his contract at Chelsea.
Apparently, Carlo Ancelotti too chose to move to Chelsea at the end of the season.
Carlo’s arrival at Stamford Bridge revitalised the football there and induced a much needed freshness but a completely unexpected move that he worked on was to keep Sheva out of his choice of 23 players for the Champions League squad. Later, he asserted that his gesture would save the Ukrainian from being cuptied should he choose to move back to Ukraine.
It did not take long in realising Ancelotti’s indications and Sheva packed his bags back home. Dynamo Kyiv always held a special place in his heart and it was perhaps the right call to make at that point of time in his career. Valery Gazzayev was all thumbs up for the return of the king at the Lobanovsky Dynamo Stadium.
Sheva assumed the captaincy upon his return to the club and already dealt business as his team was poised to compete with Inter and Barcelona in the group stages of the Champions League. In the group match against Inter which was more like a Derby to him, Sheva scored his 16th goal against the Nerazurris.
As things stand today, Shevchenko continues to lead the Ukrainian runner-up of the last season and aims to retire a White-Blue. At this point of time, he stands third in the list of the all time top scorers in European competitions with 64 goals behind Filippo Inzaghi and Raul in that order. He may well be superseding either of them with his never-ending yearnings for goals.
Glory with Yellow Too
The legends are those who carry the same momentum and form that they display on the club even while representing their nation and Sheva cannot be possibly discounted from this aspect too. Having won 99 caps for the country, Shevchenko today tops the chart in the history of Ukraine’s goal-scorers with 45 goals at his claim.
Due to the lack of top notch players at their disposal, Ukraine have failed to maintain their presence at the international competitions of the highest level. What the world football camaraderie has missed on their part is, to continually see a legendary striker ornamenting an event of this level with his skills and lethality.
The World Cup of 2006 in Germany remains the spotlight of his international career where Ukraine reached to the last eight of the competitions only to be humbled by the Italians having made up of many of Sheva’s teammates in Milan. Although Ukraine failed to deliver a single major upset during the course of the event, they made their presence felt till the last eight which was an attainment in itself nevertheless.
Sheva never really boasts of a beautiful game that would treat the eyes of classical viewers and appreciators. Even during the peak time of his career, his game mainly relied on his powerful strikes and lethal finishes. A traditional striker that he is, has on numerous occasions played the role of centre forward as well.
He prefers to attack from the left bay of the pitch but has done good enough while in the other roles in the attacking line. He mainly disposes of breath taking runs from the left area of the pitch and finishes of extreme intensity but at the same time has been equally effective in set pieces and penalties.
One thing that speaks against him is winning balls from the air has never really been his forte. The usual sight that one could visualise him in would be the giant killer figure steaming in from the left wing making a run that could prove to be a nightmare even for the best in class centre backs around the world.
What Lies Ahead
As he has reasserted time and again ever since his re-arrival at the club of his childhood, he is more than likely to spend the rest of his career with Dynamo Kyiv. Presently the White-Blue do not possess any world class forward apart from Sheva in their ranks and the likes of Artem Milevskiy and Artem Kravets hold a bright chance of being groomed into more effective forwards playing alongside someone of Sheva’s experience and exposure.
As per what the national duties demand, he has already expressed his desire to lead the side in UEFA Euro 2012 which is to be co-hosted by Ukraine. Another surprising turn of events in the tournament could stage a perfect platform for the legend to step down from the international commitments in an already proliferative career both with the country and the club.