Frenzied night the gods forgot to smile on Andriy

Mourinho's prized striker can begin to exact revenge for that comeback of comebacks
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The Independent Football

He has played the recording too many times, for real, in his head. Now he would like to press the erase button, and replace it with something easier on the eye. Istanbul, 25 May 2005. If ever the gods scorned Andriy Shevchenko, it was that frenzied, pulsating night. Not just the penalty shoot-out miss which sparked Liverpool euph-oria, but Jerzy Dudek's double save at the death of extra time. And the manner in which the Ukranian's Milan team capitulated after the interval to a team they had hitherto outplayed.

"I've watched it many times since, and the more I watch it, the more difficult it is to find explanations," Shevchenko says. He speaks through a translator, who communicates with him in Italian. "I've got great respect for Liverpool, but for a team winning 3-0 at half-time and playing very good football, it's something I can't explain. I still can't believe the result. But that's the past."

The striker adds wryly: "Liverpool are a very good team. One of the most important clubs in the world. But I'd like, for once in my life, to win against them. I've played against them twice [one was in this year's Community Shield], and twice I've lost."

Today he is offered such a possibility with his new club Chelsea at Stamford Bridge as hostilities are resumed between two sides, and two managers, who have been ultra-sensitive to miscarriages of justice and perceived and real slights. There has been a slight thaw, with hands of conciliation being proffered, but you suspect that it will not require too much to provoke yet more vitriol.

Shevchenko will be privately more concerned with increasing his goalscoring ratio. One goal against Liverpool in the defeat at Cardiff and one against Middlesbrough (another rev-erse) were not the anticipated return for a man hired at a cost of £30 million and arguablythe world's most prized striker.

If you are Jimmy Average from Longball United you are allowed time for assimilation. If you are even Peter Crouch of Liverpool the same can be true. There was almost pity rather than condemnation for the England striker likely to be in opposition today as goals eluded him for what seemed an eternity when he first joined Liverpool. But if you are Shevchenko, former European Footballer of the Year, scorer of 94 goals in 166 games for Dinamo Kiev and 173 in 296 for Milan, judgement is harsh. He would expect nothing less.

Goals have been expected of him since he played for the Dinamo Kiev Under-14 team in the Ian Rush Cup in Wales and was the top scorer in the tournament. His reward was a pair of the former Liverpool striker's boots, presented by the man himself.

Shevchenko insists that nobody can rival Valeri Lobanovsky, at various times the Kiev and Ukraine coach, for what he contributed to his career, adding: "But others, particularly [Carlo] Ancelotti, have helped me in their own ways." Jose Mourinho he describes as "very involved with every player. Very tactically aware".

Since his initial goals for Chelsea, though, Shevchenko has at times appeared somewhat bemused by the dearth of service in a side who have lacked the width that would normally be provided by Arjen Robben and Joe Cole, who have been injured. Robben is back in contention today. Still, there is already muttering in some quarters, questioning the Ukranian's pace and fitness. There is, how-ever, an insouciance from a player who will doubtless have been the recipient of similar observations over the years. He insists: "I've only played six games. I'm [nearly] 30 years old, and in my past I've done a lot of important things in football. What I'm doing is working 100 per cent for the team, and for this club. I'm clear in what I want to do. I think we're still trying to get some proper rhythm. It's important to be a collective group. Sometimes we will not play well, but it is very important that we stay together."

Did he feel the pressure of expectation? "I believe I'm doing things for the team, but I always put a lot of pressure on myself to play well," Shevchenko insists, disputing the contention that it should be easier to score in the Premiership than Serie A. "There isn't an easy championship," he maintains. "It's difficult to score goals anywhere. Football's not an individual game. It's a collective game."

He admires Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry. "I like players who play very intelligently, score goals and work for the team. There are also forwards who don't score as many goals but make a lot of movement, which leaves others free to score goals; players like those I have mentioned, and also Kaka."

He is not fazed by the stature of some of his team-mates. He was asked whether he had ever come across such an inspirational figure as John Terry before.

"Si, Paolo Maldini." That did not need any translating.

And the presence of Michael Ballack? "No doubt, he will be a great acquisition for Chelsea."

How did he regard the criticism that Roman Abramovich's money had bought two Premiership titles? "In any sport in the world, you can't buy success," he retorts. "If you did that, it wouldn't be sport. I see here many players who want to work very hard, and are very motivated. The mentality of the team is to be 100 per cent every game."

Two years ago, he married the American model Kristen Pazik in Washington DC. They had met at a Giorgio Armani party. Milan, the US... there are many places the striker could make his home once he retires. He is asked if he envisages a long career in England. It provokes perhaps the most surprising response of all. "I think I will stay here and live," he declares. "I like the ambience of London, and the people here give you respect."

Mourinho will hope that Shevchenko is still convinced of that by the season's end.

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