Eye of the storm (cont.)
Posted: Friday May 18, 2007 11:45AM; Updated: Friday May 18, 2007 3:35PM
No? "No," he repeated. And then thought better of it after his handlers stepped in. "It's a long story, I'd rather not," he continued. "Maybe it's best if we leave this question out." So much for Sheva's side of the story.
I don't necessarily blame him. After all, he's still trying to make his English adventure work out. And if he really is planning on going back to AC Milan, as some speculation says (club president Silvio Berlusconi has repeated time and again he'd take Sheva back in a heartbeat), he doesn't want to burn any bridges.
With my scoop dissolved into thin air, I pressed on. Sheva dished a little on his struggles, but we kept the conversation to mostly soccer: his experiences adapting to England (perhaps tellingly, in the past tense), his relationships with his teammates and what it will be like to see his former teammates at Milan back in the Champions League final without him.
I found Shevchenko to be a fascinating guy, quite honestly, even second-hand through Marcotti's translating. It's not every day you talk to a man who lived through the Chernobyl nuclear disaster as a 9-year-old growing up in a small Ukrainian village.
We closed our conversation with the topic it seems every matured European star talks about these days: a desire to someday end his career in Major League Soccer.
There's an image: And starting at center forward for Chivas USA, Andriiiiiiy Shev-CHENNNN-ko!!
I doubt anyone in the U.S. would be disappointed in that.
SI.com: Has this been the most difficult season of your career?
Shevchenko: It wasn't a great season but it hasn't been the worst. It was a new experience, but I did my part. I ignored all the talk and worked for the time. I contributed the best I could to the results we reached.
SI.com: Has there been more pressure on you than before?
Shevchenko: People always expect a lot from me. And when you can only give, say, 20 percent less than what people expect, people will start talking. I wasn't well in the first four months, partly because of [fatigue from] the World Cup, partly because of the injury I was carrying. But then I had a good stretch in the middle of the season. I scored some important goals [and] we played well. In the end, despite everything, I ended up with 14 goals and 11 or 12 assists -- and that's not a bad season. I know people wanted 30 goals a season, but the reality is that it can't happen every season. With all the problems I had, I don't think I did that badly.
SI.com: Why do you think you struggled on the field this season?
Shevchenko: I didn't play in my position this year. I wasn't the key of the attack. I was playing further behind, away from goal, which is different from how I played at Milan and maybe that's why Drogba scored so many goals this year. We made a good partnership with me setting him up some of the time. At Milan I played in my natural role. Here I had to adapt to be something else. And I did it so I could help the team.
SI.com: So then why have you received such criticism this year?
Shevchenko: Because there were problems that were created, some of them invented by journalists. I think the club could have worked a lot better in that sense if they had communicated things better to the press in the right way and at the right time. The truth is that all I thought about here was trying to play better and trying to do my best, partly for myself and partly also for these fans who supported me all along and who deserve much better. I never created any problems, but there were many things that were written about me that were simply made up. And the media was able to do that because the club's p.r. department didn't communicate the truth in time.
SI.com: Have you been able to build friendships with your teammates here?
Shevchenko: I have good relationship with my teammates; I've never had conflicts with any of them. [Kristen and I] often go out with Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack and their girlfriends. I've played golf with John Terry. When I arrived, Lampard and his fiancée, Elen, immediately organized things for us and our families and invited the kids around -- they were very welcoming.
SI.com: What have you found to be the biggest differences in the English game?
Shevchenko: There is a lot of difference between the English and Italian leagues. In England, it's more physical. Some teams play simpler -- they just rely on the long ball and try to pick up scraps. But there is also a lot of difference between Milan and Chelsea, and a big difference between Chelsea and, say, some other English sides like Arsenal or Manchester United, whose game is perhaps closer to Milan's.
SI.com: Are you glad you made the move to Chelsea?
Shevchenko: Moving to Chelsea was a great experience despite the difficulties which, after all, are part of my job. The fans backed me all the way. They were always close to me. Plus, I really like England -- the quality of life is high. And it's been great to see all these different grounds, see the differences from club to club, the way the fans are, the way the teams play, discovering the Premiership. That has all been great. My main priority for me is feeling well next season.
SI.com: If Chelsea had made the Champions League final, you could have been playing against your former teammates.
Shevchenko: I don't know how I would have reacted. But I'm happy for Milan. They proved to all once again that they are a great club with great players who play great football. I talk often with them -- mostly Paolo Maldini, Kaká, Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf and Kakha Kaladze.
SI.com: So what's your prediction for the rematch against Liverpool?
Shevchenko: 2-0 Milan. Kaká will score both goals.
SI.com: I hear you'd eventually like to raise your two sons in the U.S.?
Shevchenko: I'd like to play there, actually. Soccer is growing in the U.S. and I'd like to be a part of that. I played there last summer against the MLS All-Stars and I saw myself that it's definitely improving.