Remembering Andriy Shevchenko’s first 45 minutes as a Chelsea hero
Andriy Shevchenko arrived at Chelsea with a massive reputation. And he lived up to it — for exactly one-half of the 2006 Community Shield.
“Andriy has always been my first choice for Chelsea since I arrived.”
That was the party line, and Jose Mourinho would stick with it for a whole seven years.
The “Andriy” in question was the Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko, who Chelsea signed in the summer of 2006 for a British record fee of £30million.
Shevchenko was 29 at the time, but Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich had been pursuing him since buying the club in 2003.
Each summer, AC Milan would issue a hands-off warning, forcing Chelsea towards alternatives like Hernan Crespo and Adrian Mutu.
So when the Ukrainian finally arrived, it felt momentous.
Although approaching his twilight years, Shevchenko had still been posting good numbers at Milan and was, at that point, the all-time leading goalscorer in the Champions League.
And if Chelsea could sign him, there was surely no player beyond their reach.
“Before it was not possible,” Mourinho explained. “Now it is for real. For him to leave Milan for Chelsea is a big statement about where Chelsea is.”
Unfortunately for Mourinho, his words would prove accurate in a way he probably hadn’t meant.
Yes, this was a “statement” signing, but in ways both good and bad.
Until this point, Chelsea seemed to prefer large numbers of mid-priced signings over premium-priced Galacticos.
They were clearly outspending their rivals in the Premier League — in 2003–04, they shelled out £121million, dwarfing Man United’s £40million — but they had only broken the £20million mark on a handful of individual players: Didier Drogba, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Michael Essien.
Shevchenko’s arrival changed that.
It was the first time Chelsea had broken the British transfer record since 1947, when they had bought striker Tommy Lawton for £20,000, and with this new extravagance came a new level of scrutiny.
Things didn’t go well…
Shield of dreams
Or, more accurately, they went well for 45 minutes.
Like many superstar signings of the Premier League era, Shevchenko made his debut in the Community Shield, that uniquely half-competitive event that takes place a week before the Premier League begins.
On 13 August 2006, opponents Liverpool were giving debuts to their own, somewhat less glamorous, new signings: Jermaine Pennant, Craig Bellamy and Fabio Aurelio. Chelsea, for their part, put Shevchenko straight into the starting XI.
But problems were apparent as soon as the team sheet was released.
Ever since Shevchenko’s arrival, Mourinho had been trying to reassure Chelsea fans about the future of Didier Drogba, whose role as the team’s main striker was clearly under threat.
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Reports suggested the Ivorian was unhappy at the prospect of being an understudy and wanted to move elsewhere.
So Mourinho played the peacemaker.
For the Community Shield, both strikers took to the field in a 4-3-3 formation, with Arjen Robben the other forward.
A generous interpretation would call it a ‘fluid front three’. In truth, it was Mourinho coming to a quasi-logical compromise: Shevchenko and Drogba would take turns occupying the central role, moving wide when needed, or perhaps when the other became fed up.
Liverpool, meanwhile, had a more obvious focal point in the form of Peter Crouch, and it was the Merseysiders who took the lead inside 10 minutes.
And with Chelsea chasing the game, it soon became clear that Shevchenko would have to sacrifice more of himself than Drogba.
Salomon Kalou came on to play out wide after just 25 minutes, and Shevchenko ended up in an unfamiliar attacking midfield role.
He didn’t look bad, but was this a warning sign of what was to come? Was Shevchenko simply a record-breaking utility man?
Dead man’s chest
In the 43rd minute, the answer seemed to be…no, actually.
Frank Lampard received the ball in the centre circle and pinged a long pass over Liverpool’s defence.
And making a smart run into the box was Shevchenko. Record-breaking Shevchenko, Ballon d’Or winner Shevchenko.
The Ukrainian chested the ball down just outside the area, adjusted his feet, then slotted the ball past Pepe Reina.
This wasn’t just a debut goal, it was an absolute beauty. “An instant return on £30million!” declared Andy Gray in the Sky Sports commentary box.
It remains one of the best Community Shield goals of the modern era.
In retrospect, however, what happened immediately after the goal was probably more telling than the goal itself.
Nobody appeared happier with the equaliser than Abramovich, who pumped his fists with something like pure joy — a gesture you don’t really associate with the oligarch, and certainly not with the Community Shield.
“I don’t want to use ‘friendship’ because that’s such a strong word,” a coy Shevchenko had recently said about his relationship with Abramovich.
Yet the owner’s fingerprints were all over his transfer.
Previously, Abramovich’s personal preferences had been limited to minor deals, like the £3.5million signing of Russian midfielder Alexey Smertin.
Shevchenko was another pet project, but one of much greater value — and consequence.
And the Ukrainian’s own reaction to scoring was…prescient. In an attempt to kiss the Chelsea badge, he missed the target, instead planting his lips squarely on the Samsung Mobile logo.
The second half contained no further magic from Shevchenko.
In the 55th minute, he had a stooping header saved by Reina, but from then on chances were few and far between, even as players around him were substituted to liven things up.
About 10 minutes before the end, something more ominous happened.
Shevchenko seemed to have the beating of full-back Steve Finnan but then sliced at thin air, prompting a chorus of jeers from the Liverpool supporters.
And the jeers never really stopped.
If the sumptuous chest-and-finish had been a final reminder of Shevchenko’s world-class abilities, the frustrated air shot was a portent of his forthcoming Chelsea struggles.
With Drogba approaching peak form, the record-breaking Ukrainian lost his starting spot by mid-December and picked up just four Premier League goals over the campaign.
He did get to lift the League Cup, but when Chelsea beat Manchester United in the first FA Cup final at the new Wembley, he was ruled out with a hernia.
He played even less over the 2007–08 season and was loaned back to Milan a year later, and a four-minute substitute appearance in Sunderland on 18 August 2009 proved to be his final Chelsea appearance.
So why didn’t it work out for the formerly lethal goalscorer?
Only in 2013, commencing his second spell at Stamford Bridge, did Mourinho contradict his earlier comments, admitting that his actual “first choice” target had been the younger and more dynamic Samuel Eto’o.
A deal had not been possible, so Abramovich had fulfilled his long-held desire to sign Shevchenko instead.
For three quarters of an hour, Shevchenko was everything Abramovich wanted him to be. But outside the fantasy world of the Community Shield, he was a second-choice failure.