Chelsea move 'the biggest mistake of Sheva's career'

Old club encourage troubled striker to return home
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The Independent Football

Goals against Wycombe and Nottingham Forest eased the pressure to an extent, but it shows how far a player widely hailed as the best forward in Europe has fallen that strikes against League Two and League One opposition are greeted with relief. To be sure, there was an intimation of the old sharpness as he seized on Tommy Doherty's loose pass to put Chelsea ahead for the first of his two goals in the second leg of that Carling Cup semi-final, but, while that seems to have softened Jose Mourinho's attitude towards him, he has not exactly burst into life since.

It would take a remarkable blizzard of goals between now and the end of the season if his £30 million move were not to be deemed a disaster. At Dynamo Kiev, he scored 0.517 goals per league appearance; at Milan, his ratio was 0.611; at Chelsea it is 0.125. Ihor Surkis, the president of Dynamo and a man who forged a close relationship with Shevchenko in his later years at the club, is unequivocal. "Moving to Chelsea was the biggest mistake in Andriy's career," he said. "I told him he wouldn't play his best there because they don't trust him. The coach has to trust him and stop nagging him. He's not an ordinary player; he's a player of the highest level."

Surkis, it should be pointed out, has a vested interest, as he dreams of recreating the strike-force that took Dynamo to a Champions' League semi-final in 1999 by reuniting Shevchenko with Sergiy Rebrov, another player who struggled to make an impact in England. "A change of team could give Andriy new impetus," Surkis said ahead of Chelsea's Champions' League trip to Porto on Wednesday. "Chelsea spent a huge amount on him and will try to recover their outlay, so he must struggle in London until the summer and then consider his position. I really hope I'll be able to agree with Andriy the terms by which he'll return to Dynamo, just like I did with Rebrov."

That is still a little far-fetched, but it is nowhere near as fantastical as it seemed last summer. The question is how far past his best Roman Abram-ovich's favourite player considers himself to be.

A host of mitigating factors have been suggested for his disappointing form, the most convincing of which is that, having played in the World Cup, he has, for the first time in his career, not had a significant break between seasons. Add to that the fact he was hindered by a knee injury in Germany and the natural fatigue of a body reaching 30, and it does not need the internal machinations at Chelsea to account for a loss of sharpness.

Still, the tendency in Ukraine is to blame Chelsea, a club whose conduct Viktor Leonenko, a centre-forward at Dynamo Kiev when Shevchenko first broke into the team, has described as "brainless". "Chelsea is just not his team," Leonenko went on. "To talk of a player of his level needing a period of adaptation is nonsense. He had no such problems going to Milan."

That is debatable, given the problems any number of top-class players - most pertinently, his colleague Didier Drogba - have had adjusting to the pace and physicality of the English game, while the former Manchester United winger Andriy Kanchelskis has identified a "second foreign country syndrome". He admits he found it far harder to come to terms with life in Italy after joining Fiorentina at 28 than he did England when he arrived aged 22. He was, he said, too set in his ways; old dogs are naturally resistant to new tricks.

Oleksandr Shpakov, the Dyn-amo coach who first spotted Shevchenko playing in a street game as a nine-year-old, has sympathy for that point of view. "You have to understand that Andriy is 30," he said, "and that is an age at which an adaptation period can take longer, especially when you take into account that he has changed his situation radically. English football is quite different, so you have to change yourself psychologically.

"He didn't have much luck to begin with, and that is particularly important for a striker because everybody demands that he scores goals. I have read that the climate around him in the team is not good now, but I can assure you that although he has a rebellious streak, in seven years of working with him he proved that his main principle was always to be part of the team and never let his team-mates down."

His team-mates, though, may not be the only people Shev-chenko has to please. Ukrainians may disagree on the specific reasons for the forward's loss of form, but there seems to be agreement that the influence of his wife, the American model Kristen Pazik, is baleful. A scathing Silvio Berlusconi suggested he was "a poodle", at the beck and call of his wife.

It was another former Dynamo forward, Oleh Salenko, who put it most succinctly. "Andriy must decide what is more important for him - to play football or to indulge his wife," he said. "Return-ing to Dynamo would probably be the best thing for him now, but is his wife going to swap the capital of England for Kiev?"