Andriy Shevchenko could do little to prevent his Ukraine side from losing 4-0 to an impressive England in the last-eight
There will be at least one man in the deafening Wembley crowd for Sunday night’s European Championships final who knows exactly the kind of headaches Italy coach Roberto Mancini has been facing.
A week before England’s first major tournament final appearance since 1966, it was Andriy Shevchenko, manager of the Ukraine national team, who was trying to plot a way of trying to stop Gareth Southgate’s side.
The fact Shevchenko made a beeline for Jack Grealish at the full-time whistle in many ways told its own story, given the Aston Villa star had not even got on to the pitch in England’s 4-0 quarter-final win in Rome.
Stop Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling will be waiting. Nullify Sterling and you must still watch for Bukayo Saka or Jadon Sancho, who started against Ukraine. Keep all three quiet and you can be sure Grealish or Phil Foden will get on to the pitch. There’s also a certain Marcus Rashford still hoping to make an impact on the tournament.
“We know, especially in attack, there are a lot of options for England,” said Shevchenko, who has returned to his home in England since Ukraine’s elimination. “We knew the difficulties, but look at the squad of England. You know you are facing a very strong team, who are in a very good moment, a historic moment.
“If you drop back a bit, they have very quick players. They are good on set pieces, as we saw. Also, Harry Kane is a modern striker who not only scores the goals, he works for the team and holds the ball. He can make the assists. For me, he’s a big piece of England’s success. His start, maybe it was not the best but now he is scoring the goals and he always works hard for the team. England have a lot of options in attack.”
Southgate’s squad management has been a feature of this tournament, as he is yet to pick the same team for successive games and, according to Shevchenko, the ability to make changes comes from the bond the England manager shares with his players.
“The team reflects the manager and what I like is the relationship between him and the players because the players trust him,” said the former AC Milan and Chelsea striker. “When he changes something, the players don’t have any argument with him. Change the system, bam. He can sacrifice the players, like Jack Grealish in the semi-final. I thought he came very nicely into the game. He gives some fantasy to the game. I actually really like him, like mad. But when the coach substituted him, he was doing what was good for the team and then the team won and the result is more important.”
Shevchenko has huge respect for Gareth Southgate and for what he's achieved with England
Grealish was delighted by Shevchenko’s embrace in Rome, posting a message of thanks on Twitter, and the 44-year-old still believes the Aston Villa captain could make an impact on the final, even if it’s from the substitutes’ bench.
“I’ve been watching his performances for Aston Villa,” said Shevchenko. “He’s a very talented, nice player. I like how he plays. Fans appreciate his style and I do as well. I complimented him on his season and then complimented him for his style because he plays with the freedom, he’s always a creative player.
“It’s nice to have a player like him in the team because you always can play that card when you need it.”
Thank you for the nice words legend! ❤️ what a player he was and what a man! ⚽️❤️ pic.twitter.com/hot8rTnnGa
— Jack Grealish (@JackGrealish) July 3, 2021
Shevchenko first moved to England from Italy, where he became an AC Milan legend, in 2006 and believes the most significant shift he has seen from the national team is a change of mentality which he believes has been influenced by some of the foreign coaches and players in the Premier League.
“I think that England have a different mentality on the pitch and that, for me, makes England even stronger,” said Shevchenko. “They have a lot more different options because they play with a different style to the past.
“Manchester City with Guardiola, it’s different football. Liverpool with Klopp, Jose Mourinho also brought a lot. From traditional football, England opened up and it’s a lot more international.
“It’s very important for the young players when you grow up and see some international stars playing, and then you learn from them and you learn a different mentality.
“England now can play, you can dictate the game like in the semi-final. In the last 15 minutes, Southgate changed the system a bit, he changed different players, dropped back a bit, put some solid defence on the park and then played counter-attack but not long (ball). In the last five minutes, it was holding the ball. I’ve never seen England do that and, for me, it’s a big compliment for the players and the coach.”
Shevchenko watched England’s victory over Denmark on the television, but will be inside Wembley for the final when he expects the loud home crowd to give Southgate’s team an advantage.
“It’s going to be a big advantage,” said Shevchenko. “There will be more English supporters. I know what it means, a Wembley full of English supporters, it’s a huge advantage for England.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm now in England. This, obviously, is a big help for the players because all the country believes. That was a huge advantage. But never forget the Italians are fighters. You have to respect Italy, they’re a strong team.
“I’m sure we can see something incredible in the final because both teams play great football, both teams have great players, fast, very intelligent, very creative. I’ll be there.”