Legend of Calcio: Andriy Shevchenko
Undoubtedly one of the finest strikers ever to grace Italian football, Andriy Shevchenko became a legend of calcio during his seven year spell at AC Milan.
While his return to the Rossoneri on loan in 2008 did not see him reclaim his magnificent goalscoring touch, it did not tarnish the Ukrainian hitman’s reputation.
The 35-year-old has now retired from the game and moved into politics and if he is as good in chambers as he was on the football field, then he will be a great success.
In total during his collective spells with the San Siro outfit, he scored 175 times in 322 games to become Milan’s second most prolific goalscorer of all time behind only Gunnar Nordahl.
He is also the third highest scorer in the Champions League after Raul and Filippo Inzaghi on 67 goals and his tally of 48 strikes for Ukraine makes him the national side’s best frontman which gives an indication of just how talented a striker he was.
He caught the eye at an early age and became a Dynamo Kiev player at the age of 10 before getting a chance with the club’s reserve side when he was just 16-years-old.
‘Sheva’ grabbed his chance immediately as he hit 12 goals that season to become top scorer and thus caught the eye of first team manager Mykhaylo Fomenko who drafted the player into the first team for the 1994-95 season.
In fact, he won the league championship every year he played with Dynamo Kiev until he left for Milan in 1999 as well as three Ukrainian Cups and three league cups.
However, it was in November 1997 that he shot to international prominence when his Dynamo side went to the Camp Nou to take on Barcelona.
Although they were not the force then that they had been six years previously or are today, they were still a formidable force but the young Shevchenko was not intimidated as he hit a first half hat trick to help his team to a 4-0 victory.
The following season was to be his last in the Ukrainian capital although he did show everyone his true class as he hit 10 goals in Europe’s premier competition to help the club to the tournament’s semi finals.
At such a young age, he hit a phenomenal 66 goals in his final two seasons with the club and won a Ukrainian Footballer of the Year award (his first of six) at the age of 20 to earn him a big money move to Milan.
Some players may take time to adjust to such a change but Shevchenko took to his new surroundings like a duck to water and impressed in one of the finest debut seasons seen by a foreigner in Serie A, hitting 24 goals in 32 league games.
Phenomenal when you consider how tough a league Serie A is to play in let alone score on a regular basis in with even other calcio greats such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic not finding it as easy at a similar age.
A wonder goal against Juve that season also showed his technical brilliance as well as his devastating predatory instincts as he beat four
Eager to prove that his debut campaign was not just a flash in the pan, Sheva equaled his previous season’s total the following year and went on to score nine times in that year’s Champions League competition as he solidifed his reputation as one of Europe’s best strikers.
A wonder goal against Juve that season also showed his technical brilliance as well as his devastating predatory instincts as he beat three of the Bianconeri backline before lashing the ball over Gianluigi Buffon from the tightest of angles on the edge of the box.
It was to be in 2003 though that he ensured he would go down in history as a Milan legend although ironically it was to be his most frustrating spell in front of goal during his first tenure with the club.
He managed to hit the back of the net only five times in an injury-hit league campaign but he made history that year during his side’s Champions League campaign.
In the semi final against city rivals Inter, he grabbed a fine strike when he danced his way past Ivan Cordoba before placing the ball past Francesco Toldo to put the Rossoneri through to the Champions League Final on away goals where Juventus lay waiting at Old Trafford.
The Milan man thought he had hit the winner in that game too in normal time with a snap shot that was tightly ruled out for offside but he was not to be deterred by this and went on to slot home the winning penalty in the resulting shoot-out and in doing so becoming the first man from his nation to win the Champions League trophy.
Shevchenko’s mentor in his formative footballing years, Valery Lobanovsky had died the previous year and missed his protege’s finest hour but the bond between the pair was so great that Shevchenko brought the giant trophy back to Lobanovsky’s grave in a tribute to the man who had helped him achieve the honour.
Although two years later he went from Final hero to villain as his tame penalty kick in the shoot-out against Liverpool in Istanbul ensured the trophy would be on its way to England.
The 2003/04 season was to be his finest as his 24 goals helped the club not only to his one and only Scudetto in his time at San Siro but also to a well deserved Ballon d’Or and he would go on to finish 3rd in the World Player of the Year rankings.
A player of undoubted class who could rise to the big occasion he also won the league’s Goal of the Season award that year for a phenomenal bullet header from a Kaka cross against Roma in a title decider at the beginning of May.
As if he did not do enough scoring goals in crucial games at that time, he hit the winner against Porto in the Super Cup Final before downing Lazio with a hat trick in the Italian Suppercoppa.
The following year was another one that was tainted by injuries as he broke his cheekbone but that still did not stop him scoring an impressive 17 goals.
However by 2005/06 his time at Milan was drawing to a close although he made Champions League history against Fenerbahce in Turkey in November by becoming only the fourth player ever to hit four goals in a single game.
He was again plagued by injuries throughout that year and although he still score 18 goals, the Rossoneri decided that it was time to cash in on their star man at the end of that particular campaign.
Chelsea had long been admirers of the player and it was there that he eventually went as he joined the Londoners that summer for a fee of €44m (£30m).
At 30-years-old then, it was a hefty price tag for a player who was increasingly looking more injury-prone and his time at Stamford Bridge was not an enjoyable one for the striker who failed to adapt and is now widely labelled as one of the Premier League’s biggest flops.
In 46 games for the club, he managed to score just nine times as he failed to live up to his massive price tag and after just two years with Chelsea, he returned to his spiritual home at San Siro on loan.
Sheva did not enjoy the same prolific run of form in his second coming where he was not used as a regular starter and he failed to score one league goal during this time as he scored just twice, once in the Coppa Italia and once in Europe.
Under the stewardship of Carlo Ancelotti who had brought the best out of Shevchenko during his time at Milan, his fortunes could have turned but he made just one league appearance before being sold to other former club Dynamo Kiev.
In the final three years of his career, he hit 30 goals with Dynamo to remind fans that he was still a danger in front of goal and this summer he ended his career on a perfect high.
Injured and out-of-sorts, he took to the field regardless this summer to lead his country out against Sweden at his country’s first ever game in the European Championships and on home soil too.
Against Sweden, he missed a good chance before his side went 1-0 to an Ibrahimovic strike and it looked as though one of the world’s finest centre forwards would not get the fairytale ending his career deserved.
However, winding back the years he scored two sublime headers to give his country a win celebrated all over the nation and ensure his time on the football field would end in style.
So whether you remember him as the man who scored that all-important penalty kick that won Milan the Champions League, the man who fired in one of the finest goals ever seen at San Siro or the player who is the scourge of rivals Inter as his 14 goals in the Derby della Madonnina are the most ever scored by any player, there is no debating that he is well deserving of his spot as one of calcio’s greats.