by Daisy Cutter
This weekend a true phenomenon of the modern game hung up his boots that fired in over 300 career goals. He blasted, caressed, curled and headed more strikes than anyone in his country’s history, was the second most prolific player ever to wear the red and black of AC Milan, the third top goalscorer in any European competition, and in 2004 was awarded the Ballon d’Or. Not bad for a lad who once failed a dribbling contest to gain entrance to a specialist sports school.
Andriy Shevchenko was the perfect centre-forward coursing with attributes that would individually sustain others. His explosive pace was allied with a finish as clinical as an assassin’s headshot while his reading of the game was programmed pure mathematics; a multitude of diagrams embedded into his retinas with a sharp, agile mind determining the best option within milliseconds. But amongst the science there was finesse to his touch and a joyous abandon in his execution. Shevchenko’s movement alone was a delight to behold and there were few finer sights than witnessing him drift across a back-line like a finely-tuned sports car idling through city traffic. A lithe gait and doleful gaze fooled no-one least of all his man-marker who reluctantly followed knowing that beneath his bonnet lay the restricted power of Bulford T Justice’s patrol car. Then, in an electrifying instant, he was off, a sudden explosion of whirred legs and the wide, thrilled eyes of a predator moments from its prey, racing onto a ball floated over from a midfield schemer.
God I’ll miss that sight but it was merely a brief, vicarious joyride, a prelude to the headline-grabbing acts of wonder that usually followed.
Because for Sheva it was all about the goals. He thrived on them. Existed for them.
And now, through his announcement to retire, there will be no more.
The 35 year old has declared it is his intention to move into the political arena and his hero-status in Ukraine is such he could probably run for high office simply by waving at crowds and kissing babies. Yet it wasn’t always so. Eight years ago an ill-considered public endorsing of the anti-reformist president, Viktor F. Yanukovich led to an uncharacteristic bashing of his popularity. Yankukovich was widely reviled – viewed as nothing more than a Kremlin pawn – and the turbulent era in which he ruled brought the Orange Revolution, a string of protests against corruption and vote-rigging. At one match a supporter held aloft a banner to Sheva – ‘Your choice made a nation weep’.
Lessons have been learnt. Recently he said, “I took sides long ago. Now, I represent Ukraine to the world. I have my own mission.”
Only time will inform us what that mission is but certainly this summer Shevchenko was a consummate ambassador for his nation as they hosted the Euros. He articulately defended Ukraine against charges of racism off the pitch while notching both of their goals on it. Meanwhile his foundation has raised millions to refurbish existing orphanages, donate modern hospital equipment and train hospital staff, doctors, social workers. Relocated as a child away from the Chenobyl fallout he has used his fame and standing to seek the help from such diverse figures as Maradona and Richard Gere to raise a further fortune for children suffering from leukaemia.
It is hoped he does not venture too deeply into party politics in a country where it is infamously murky and stains one and all. Bur rather becomes a figurehead for hope and pride, a role that Ukraine’s favourite son has fulfilled to an exemplary standard in recent years and on the pitch for a lifetime.