Shevchenko epitomises Milan spirit

By Tim Rich
Friday 04 October 2013 05:00
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There are many things that Andrei Shevchenko and Alessandro Del Piero share. They are both from the countryside, they both like basketball and they are both given extravagant nicknames by the tifosi who support them from the vertical stands of the San Siro and the Stadio delle Alpi. Shevchenko is, naturally enough, "The Tsar", Del Piero simply "God".

The boy from the village of Dvirkivshchyna in Ukraine's great wheat belt is, however, rather better at putting the ball in the net. In terms of public profile, Del Piero is David Beckham, the first sportsman asked to be the public face of the Damiani jewel empire; Shevchenko is more Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, exceptional at his job but with little liking for the limelight.

This should be his second European Cup final. Shevchenko was the spearhead of Valeri Lobanovsky's great Dynamo Kiev side, which, after knocking out Real Madrid in the quarter-finals in 1999, somehow squandered a 3-1 lead to Bayern Munich in the semi-final.

Lobanovsky moulded him and his death last year moved Shevchenko deeply. "The truth is, that I never liked going to school, so I never aspired to be an astronaut or a physicist," he recalled. "I didn't choose football, football chose me.

"It's an infectious thing; you have it inside you and fate brings it out. Lobanovsky shaped me as a player and as a man. He made me believe I could reach the highest level. He always told me I was a better player than Ronaldo. He was probably the best coach in the world."

His Kiev team did not survive defeat by the Germans. Shevchenko was sold to Milan for £16m while his fellow forward and goal creator, Sergei Rebrov, whom George Graham thought the more important element of the partnership, went to Tottenham for £11m.

It would have been no surprise had Shevchenko failed. He was deprived of Rebrov, cut adrift from Lobanovsky, whom he had known since he was nine years old, and plunged into the tightest and most unforgiving league in the world, Serie A. If Shevchenko has a fault, it is that he can be taken out of a game by determined defending, as he was by Tony Adams when England played Ukraine just before embarking on their disastrous Euro 2000 campaign.

Serie A had plenty of Tony Adamses but instead it was Rebrov who was left sulking on the sidelines, while Shevchenko flourished. "I owe a great debt to 'Billy' Costacurta and Demetrio Albertini," he said of the way he was welcomed by two of Milan's veterans. "They helped me from my first day in Italy and I will never forget what they did for me." In his first season at San Siro, he finished as the leading scorer in Serie A, finding the net 48 times by the end of the 2000-01 campaign.

Then, perhaps inevitably, came the injuries. His back and thigh began to trouble him and against Bologna he broke his nose. He began this season by damaging his knee in the Champions' League qualifier with Slovan Liberec, which cost Shevchenko a further two months.

However, like Del Piero, Shevchenko dazzled at the death. His coach, Carlo Ancelotti, was bitterly criticised by the rossoneri supporters for failing to land bigger names than Jon Dahl Tomasson or Clarence Seedorf in the summer but in August Shevchenko predicted that "Milan's star man will be team spirit". They were, however, grateful for one piece of individual skill. In the Milan derby, which would decide whether Milan or Internazionale would reach the European Cup final, Shevchenko turned Ivan Cordoba and lifted the ball expertly over Inter's goalkeeper, Francesco Toldo. Although both teams played in the same stadium, it was the crucial and ironic "away goal" that saw Milan to Manchester and it will not be forgotten.

ANDREI SHEVCHENKO

Age: 26

Height: 1.83m

Weight: 72kg

Honours: Five Ukrainian championships with Dynamo Kiev. Winner of Serie A Golden Boot in 2000.

Strengths: Deadly in front of goal, especially intuitive when linking up with Inzaghi. Has outstanding positional sense.

Weaknesses: Can occasionally be marked out of a big game and has never played in such a major match before.

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