Granted, I first became a supporter of AC Milan simply because Paolo Maldini played there.
But when Ukrainian national Andriy Shevchenko joined the Italian club in 1999, I had quickly found another player to root for. Sheva, as he is affectionately called by his fans, made it so easy.
Already a star at his previous club Dynamo Kyiv, Sheva went on to become one of the most successful strikers Europe has ever seen, with 127 goals in 222 games during his time in Milan alone.
But it was not only his goal-scoring abilities that turned Sheva into fans’ favorite. His charming personality, coupled with a tough childhood, made Sheva the ideal candidate to be ‘adopted’ by Milan supporters.
Sheva was nine years old when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened. The village, where he lived together with his family, had been affected as well, and they had to relocate in order to escape the after-effects. His father, he once said in an interview, was a strict person, who not only raised his voice at his children, but also didn’t shy away from corporal punishment from time to time.
The world of sports seemed to be Sheva’s refuge into another – a better – world, and even though he initially eyed a career as a professional boxer, he eventually decided to go with football.
After seven successful years in Milan, Sheva transferred to Chelsea, where he unfortunately wasn’t able to repeat his victorios run. He returned to Milan for one season on loan, and then moved back to Dynamo Kyiv. This is place where he began his football career, and this is where he ends it.
I have read about his retirement from football with a feeling of nostalgia, as it brought back some of my fondest football memories.
In 2006, when the World Cup took place in Germany, I was lucky enough to get a ticket to watch one game live at the stadium in Berlin: Ukraine vs. Tunisia. When my sister asked me, “So, who are we rooting for?”, I immediately answered “Ukraine!”, and gave her one of my shirts that says “Forza Sheva,” while I wore a Ukraine jersey, which I still keep to this day somewhere in my closet. I actually disliked the colors of the jersey, and frankly, I also wasn’t interested at all in the rest of the Ukrainian national team, but the mere fact that it was ‘Sheva’s team’ was enough for me to be excited and cheer as loud as I could.
Sure, the match wasn’t among the ‘big ones,’ but since it was the only time I have seen Sheva live, it was a great experience nevertheless.
But one of my favorite Sheva moments happened only recently.
Prior to the 2012 Euro Cup, Sheva had already announced that this would be the last time for him to play for the national team. Some people probably thought, well, it’s about time, and there’s not much this 35-year-old past his prime can do for the Ukrainian team anyway.
But in Ukraine’s opening match against Sweden, we witnessed a rejuvenated Sheva, who led his team to victory, and en passant, scored two goals.
It was a delight to watch him play, a revival of his glorious time at Milan. Even though the Ukraine didn’t manage to make it beyond the group stage, seeing Sheva shine one last time on an international stage was, in my eyes, one of the best parts of the Euro Cup.
Sheva has announced to go into politics after his stellar sports career.
If he turns out to be as talented in politics as he was in football, well, then the Ukraine can definitely look forward to a brighter future.