On Monday this week, Andriy Shevchenko announced that he will be leaving Milan at the end of the season. The muted reaction is in stark contrast to the situation of two years ago when he made his ill-fated move to Chelsea. Then banners at matches and fans picketing at training begged for him to stay, now there is barely a peep even on the club’s fan forums. The question that must be asked is, where did it all go wrong for the former Ballon d’Or winner and the club’s second all-time top scorer?
There is no doubt that Shevchenko is not the same player that he once was, but when you compare him to strike partner Filippo Inzaghi, and their differing achievements this season, it is perplexing that he has looked so poor this season. At 32, he is three years younger than Inzaghi, who was formerly considered the ‘weaker’ member of the strikeforce, and yet to watch them when they have played you would be surprised to think that Sheva was that much more youthful. The UEFA Cup performance against Portsmouth was one match where this was particularly obvious, as Inzaghi caused trouble for the whole match, eventually scoring a classy goal, whilst Shevchenko looked as if he was still playing for Chelsea.
It is of course at the West London club that many will point to when we look for Shevchenko’s downfall. He moved there for £31m amid all the fanfare and promise that his performances at Milan suggested and was seen as the player who would take Chelsea to a Champions League title. Of course, none of that panned out, although he doubtless would have taken a better spot-kick than John Terry or Nicolas Anelka did. His time at Chelsea was an abject failure, and despite good performances and goals in his second season, he had already lost much of the support of the Stamford Bridge crowd. Sheva’s first season was blighted by constant reports in the press that his presence in the first XI was down to club owner and friend Roman Abramovich, and that Jose Mourinho didn’t even want the player in the squad. It seemed that the Portuguese was trying to find ways to make his time there all the more difficult, both demeaning him through the press and playing him in awkward positions, such as on the wings.
The reason many chose to explain his problems in the Premier League was the argument that he couldn’t keep up with the pace of the English game. Whilst the Ukrainian was always a fairly quick frontman, there may be some credence to the idea that he couldn’t keep up with the constant frenetic tempo in Britain. However, since returning to Milan, he has looked equally devoid of pace, his first touch has often looked suspect and most pertinently, his natural finishing ability appears to have deserted him. With Milan declaring that they are on the lookout for a new striker this summer, and with the Ukrainian forward having taken part in just 21 matches in all competitions, mostly as a substitute, Milan’s former golden boy has decided that he will almost certainly be seeking pastures new. The question that must be asked is where will he go?
It seems very unlikely that his return to Chelsea will be anything more than stage one of his transfer out of the club, as he would fare as no more than a squad player. Regardless of who the next Chelsea Manager is, the striker is unlikely to get a look in with a squad still built around Mourinho’s 4-3-3 system. One of the leading candidates to be in charge at Stamford Bridge next season, Carlo Ancelotti, has barely used him this season at the San Siro, so it is hard to see him breaking through even under him. Wherever he goes Shevchenko will surely be taking a downward step towards retirement. The most obvious option is that he returns to Dynamo Kiev in order to see out his career at his boyhood club. He surely still has enough left to perform well in the Ukrainian league for a few seasons, and Sheva has often spoken of wanting to finish his career at the side where it all began for him.
Yet at 32, he may feel he still has something to offer at a club in one of the ‘big’ leagues of Europe. With the global financial crisis hitting many football clubs, there will be many on the lookout for a bargain, especially those clubs who may have to sell their stars in order to keep themselves in a good position. Teams like Valencia, who look likely to lose David Villa this summer, will be looking for a cheap, proven replacement to keep the side afloat, as well might some of the Italian sides not guaranteed of European qualification, such as Roma, Fiorentina or Napoli. Whilst Sheva would not necessarily be a first choice starter for any of these clubs, he would surely get more first-team opportunities than he would at one of the elite European clubs, especially should they need to cut costs having not got into the Champions League. The only thing that does seem certain is that there is no place for him at the San Siro, and should he leave Serie A altogether, we can look back on many of the fine goals that he has scored over the past decade and remember the truly great striker that he was, and not the shadow of his former self that he has now become.