Natural-born goalscorer's journey from Iron Curtain to the Bridge

Andrei Shevchenko's life story will enter another riveting chapter at Chelsea. By Glenn Moore
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The Independent Online

Andrei Shevchenko was born at the right time, but very nearly in the wrong place. Having grown up in the Ukrainian wheat belt he was living in Obolon, a suburb of Kiev, when the Chernobyl disaster happened. The 10-year-old Shevchenko was evacuated to the Black Sea to escape the great clouds of contamination.

He was already on Dynamo Kiev's books, having been spotted the previous year in a youth tournament by scout Oleksandr Shpakov. Valeriy Lobanovskiy, the legendary Kiev coach, soon became aware of the prodigious young striker and he quickly progressed through the ranks, reaching the first team at 17 and winning his first national cap a year later. That also came under Lobanovskiy, who variously coached both Kiev and Ukraine, often together. Dynamo became the dominant team in Ukraine since the break-up of the Soviet Union and the medals rolled in.

So far, so good, but had Shevchenko been born two decades earlier that would have been it. He would have spent the bulk of his career behind the Iron Curtain winning acclaim, and a decent lifestyle, but few of the riches, or honours, available to similar players in the West. Maybe, at the tail-end of his career, he would be allowed to move, but only to bring in some hard currency to the government.

That was the fate of his first hero, Oleg Blokhin, now Ukraine's national coach. Blokhin won the European Cup-Winners' Cup, and was voted European Footballer of the Year in 1975, but these were rare achievements for an East European player.

By 1999, when Shevchenko led Kiev into the semi-finals of the Champions' League, scoring three goals against Real Madrid en route, following the previous season's hat-trick at the Nou Camp, everything had changed. The same liberalisation which enabled Roman Abramovich to become a billionaire allowed Shevchenko to leave when, and to where, he wanted.

He chose Milan, though Arsenal were contenders. The cost, £16m, deterred Arsène Wenger, along with the knowledge that for £10m he could sign a player who might turn out to be every bit as good. So while Thierry Henry left Serie A, Shevchenko arrived.

He did not come alone. His father, an ex-Army NCO, his mother, an accountant, his sister and brother-in-laws, both actors, joined him. He needed this support as East European players had not generally travelled well. Zavarov had struggled at Juventus. Strikers also came under huge pressure in Serie A and while Marco van Basten, to whom the slender, beautifully balanced Shevchenko was quickly compared, had flourished, Patrick Kluivert and Jean-Pierre Papin were among those who had failed.

Not Sheva. He was Serie A's leading scorer in his debut season and only injuries - of which, worryingly for Chelsea there have been a few - have subsequently kept him from the scoresheet. In 2003 he scored the goal against Internazionale which put Milan in the Champions League final. At Old Trafford, after 120 minutes of stylish stalemate, he scored the crucial penalty to defeat Juventus. He has added the Serie A title to the five domestic championships he won with Kiev. And in 2004 he emulated Blokhin by becoming European Footballer of the Year. But his greatest triumph has probably been this season, when he led Ukraine to their first World Cup finals.

And how, when the German fiesta is done, will he fare at Chelsea? He will score plenty of goals, especially in the Premiership. His modesty should ensure his popularity, though he does have a mean streak after so many years at the sharp end of the Rossoneri attack. And having missed the critical penalty against Liverpool in the 2005 Champions' League final, he has plenty still to motivate him.

Ukrainian hitman joins the big-money men

Age: 29

Date of birth: 29 August 1976

Place of birth: Dvirkivshchyna, Ukraine

Nationality: Ukrainian

International caps: 63

International goals: 28

Clubs

Dynamo Kiev 1994 to 1999 (60 goals)

Milan 1999 to 2006 (173 goals)

TOP SIX WORLD TRANSFERS

Zinedine Zidane: Juventus to Real Madrid £45.62m, July 2001

Luis Figo: Barcelona to Real Madrid £37m, July 2000

Hernan Crespo: Parma to Lazio £35m, July 2000

Gianluigi Buffon: Parma to Juventus £32.6, July 2001

Christian Vieri: Lazio to Internazionale £32m, July 1999

Andrei Shevchenko: Milan to Chelsea £30.8m, May 2006

TOP SIX BRITISH TRANSFERS

Andrei Shevchenko: Milan to Chelsea £30.8m

Rio Ferdinand: Leeds to Man Utd £29.1m

Juan Sebastian Veron: Lazio to Man Utd £28.1m

Wayne Rooney: Everton to Man Utd £27m

Michael Essien: Lyon to Chelsea £24.5m

Didier Drogba: Marseilles to Chelsea £24m

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