Shevchenko kiss arouses anger for Milan fans

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The Independent Football

Andrei Shevchenko yesterday brushed aside a simmering row in Italy over whether he had kissed the Chelsea badge on his shirt after scoring his first goal for his new club in Sunday's Community Shield.

The "did he, didn't he?" incident, following his accomplished 43rd-minute strike against Liverpool, has even provoked a phone poll in the sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport because of the outraged reaction of the fans of his former club, Milan, who are still aggrieved at his departure.

But Shevchenko was clear. "Really," the striker said. "I am telling you the truth, that the only shirt I kiss is the one of my country. That is the one that matters for me."

Sheva - as he is known - is a fiercely proud Ukrainian, who led his country at the World Cup, and during his journey from his home village, through the ranks at Dynamo Kiev to the success and trappings of stardom he has never forgotten where he came from.

Just as Shevchenko's name is synonymous with Milan, it will also be linked to the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. He was again reminded of it yesterday when discussing his roots and his homeland. It was a discussion which put in perspective the upset caused in Milan.

"The disaster changed for ever my outlook on life," he said of the events that April night. "My village was 130 kilometres from Chernobyl and it was a big disaster - I think not only for my country, for Ukraine, but for the entire world.

"It was not just what happened on that day. It also had an impact over the years. There are still people feeling the effects of the disaster. My family was luckier than others because so far we have not had any problems. At the age I was I could not understand what was going on, but now I'm older I can see the facts and the aftermath with other families and people, especially with children. They are still suffering generations later with illnesses."

Shevchenko has set up a charitable foundation, run by his sister Elena, to help cope with the problems. As many as nine million people were affected by radiation and children are still being born with leukaemia and birth defects. "In the last two years we have done a lot of good for the children of Ukraine," he said.

Shevchenko was nine when the disaster happened - the agehe decided to play football rather than other sports, such as boxing, wrestling, basketball and ice hockey. "Football won my heart," he declared. But it appeared, for a while, that he would not be good enough. At 16, when he left school, he was overlooked by professional clubs and failed an examination to go to a sports university because his skills were not good enough.

"I failed in the field of football," he admitted. "But of course I was confident and in two months I was picked for the Dynamo Kiev second team and six months later I was in the first team and I had the chance to change my destiny."

He won the Ukrainian championship in each of the five seasons he played for the club before moving to Italy. In 207 Serie A games he scored 127 goals and built his worldwide reputation.

Shevchenko also, once Roman Abramovich had bought the club, attracted the interest of Chelsea. For three years Milan resisted but this summer, with Shevchenko approaching 30, Abramovich's offer of £30m was irresistible.

Shevchenko also confirmed his decision to move to Chelsea was a lifestyle one. His wife, the model Kirsten Pazik, is pregnant with their second child and is keen to establish a home in London, where the Shevchenkos will stay after his playing career, and for her husband to learn English.

Yesterday, at the launch of an event to announce a multimillion pound deal with Reebok, Shevchenko spoke in Italian. "When you take a life-changing decision like the one I decided to take you have to move on," he said. "For me this is a new opportunity, a new chance to live this wonderful championship and it's very easy to be motivated for Chelsea because it's a team that aims really high."

Shevchenko said he is adapting well to life in London - "What strikes me most is the number of parks," he said - while revealing that he is developing a keen interest in golf. "I've caught the bug," he said. "I never played as a child in Ukraine because there are no courses. Coming here and in Italy and going to the US, I have discovered this new sport that I like very much."

But for now it's football. His display in Sunday's game banished any doubts that he lacked motivation and Shevchenko said he was looking forward to the start of the Premiership.