Andriy Shevchenko's Ukraine face England in the quarter-finals of Euro 2020
It was a hip club on the banks of the River Thames and Andriy Shevchenko was fashionably late. Suddenly the PRs and sponsors swung into action – as a motorboat carrying Chelsea’s new £31million signing roared into view before he stepped on to a specially-constructed jetty.
Back in May 2006 Roman Abramovich had finally got his man and it was all a bit surreal for those of us who were there that afternoon to watch the arrival of a bona fide world superstar.
Such had been the Russian billionaire’s desire to sign ‘Sheva’ that he had made a series of lucrative offers ever since he bought Chelsea. With the striker approaching his 30th birthday, and with the scale of the bid on the table just too tempting, AC Milan had finally relented.
So pleased was Abramovich that, on arriving in London, he initially arranged for Shevchenko to stay near his own Knightsbridge home and dined with him regularly while the club claimed there were no special favours. It did not help Shevchenko, though, and he would later protest angrily that he was not on the phone every day to Abramovich.
And now, as the Ukraine coach, Shevchenko stands in the way of England and a semi-final place at this European Championship. The 44-year-old has coached his country for five years, taking over after they failed to get out of their group at Euro 2016 where he had been the assistant. On his coaching staff is his former Milan team-mate Mauro Tassotti.
Undeniably Shevchenko endured a desperately disappointing time at Chelsea and it is not a quantum leap to assume that he will be more motivated than ever to not just win the tie in Rome but to show England his worth. And yet it was all apparently so different when the striker signed in what was regarded as an astonishing coup.
Jose Mourinho, whose lip would eventually curl at the mere mention of Shevchenko’s name, declared he was happy and said: “Andriy has always been my first choice for Chelsea. He has great qualities. Ambition, discipline, tactical awareness and, of course, he is a great goal-scorer.”
Mourinho and Shevchenko had a strained relationship at Chelsea
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 approach to training, even threatening to pack him off to play with the youth team.
Tactical awareness? Mourinho was infuriated by the way he felt Shevchenko failed to integrate.
A great goalscorer? Nineteen goals in two seasons would be a poor return for such a feted player.
Abramovich despaired. What had happened to Sheva? The Russian blamed Mourinho and maybe Shevchenko became an unwitting pawn in their power struggles. It was even said that Chelsea hired Avram Grant – who would remarkably succeed Mourinho as the manager – to work one-on-one with the forward.
The alarm bells should have been ringing when Shevchenko effectively confirmed his decision to move to Chelsea was partly a lifestyle one. His American wife, the model Kirsten Pazik who he had met at an Armani party, was pregnant with their second child and was keen to establish a home in London, where the Shevchenkos intended to stay after his playing career, and for her husband to learn English.
There was maybe another warning sign when he said he had “caught the bug” and developed an interest in golf – the couple had even got married at a golf club in Washington in July 2004 – and Shevchenko would own a house on the exclusive Wentworth Estate, where he kept his Ballon d’Or on the mantelpiece, and was a member of Wentworth Golf Club, where he played off a handicap of two. It was a source of irritation for those close to Mourinho.
Shevchenko poses with Tiger Woods before the HSBC World Matchplay Championship at Wentworth in 2006
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
In his book Preferisco La Coppa, it was 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 the striker’s problems, with some justification, on the fact that he arrived injured from the 2006 World Cup – when, as now with the European Championship, he led Ukraine into the last eight in what was their first appearance in the finals.
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 £5m in wages, in return for a homecoming to his first club Dynamo Kiev in 2009.
He spent three years setting about rebuilding his reputation 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.
Shevchenko had been the poster boy not just for Ukrainian sport but for the country. His move to Milan in 1999 bred belief that Ukraine could be European, looking west rather than east, and his image – from magazines to billboards – dominated Kiev.
Shevchenko is also fiercely proud of his roots. During a row over whether he had kissed the Chelsea badge after scoring a goal soon after joining the club, which angered Milan fans, he declared the only badge he kisses is Ukraine’s.
There is no doubting Shevchenko’s hero status and how much his country means to him – he even dabbled in politics briefly after the end of his playing career and he will always be linked to the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. Shevchenko was nine when it happened, his village Dvirkivschyna was just 130km away from the site and he has spoken passionately about the effect it had.
There should be no doubting his motivation and that was evident in the scenes of celebration after the dramatic last-16 win over Sweden in Glasgow. After all this time, ‘Sheva’ is back in the spotlight for England and its supporters.