x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Euro 2012: A striker who never went out of fashion

Andriy Shevchenko has been the model of a frontman with designs only on scoring goals.

Andriy Shevchenko has scored an impressive 48 international goals for Ukraine.
Andriy Shevchenko has scored an impressive 48 international goals for Ukraine.

Shevchenko the model of a frontman with designs on goals, writes Osman Samiuddin

Somehow, in this world where celebrity trivia escapes no man, the fact of Andriy Shevchenko's marriage to an American model had completely passed me by.

And even that he was actually a bit of a fashionista, having met his wife at an Armani party, worked the ramps and done shoots for Armani, opened the first Armani boutiques in Ukraine and had a biography specially commissioned by Giorgio Armani. (How could I have known or even suspected such leanings, given that he spent the best years of his career, a handsome man in the flush of his youth, in Milan, a city with no known association with glamour or fashion?)

Without excusing my own grave lack of awareness on matters of the fashion world, it makes a certain sense that I didn't know about any of this because Shevchenko always struck me in such narrow footballing terms. (I was aware, of course, that he's an iconic figure inside Ukraine.)

Though he arrived much after the melting away of the Soviet Union, I simply and mistakenly assumed him to be that old stereotype of the Eastern European athlete who exists only for and within sport: no-nonsense, dutiful, ferociously focused and trained, with little time for the frills of sporting celebrity.

It made sense that in a recent interview, his father Myloko, a former member of the Soviet army, took most pride in having taught his children to "love work - any work". The family, he explained, was "industrious".

As Shevchenko bowed out of international football last night, the 1-0 loss to England meant Ukraine exited their own tournament at the group stage, that sense remains most vivid.

At his peak, Shevchenko was so wholly a footballer just because he was a man who thrived in the game's simplest, most brutal equation: scoring goals. His job, his life, his persona, was to score goals and not more. That is how he came to be known and experienced.

And quite like that species of man that is a real man's man, Shevchenko was what might be called a real striker's striker (an altogether more bearable species type). This is not in the old-fashioned sense of the limited, static but effective bully; he was quick, but more than that he was an intimidating runner when going at defenders, intent visible in shoulders that pumped like legs.

Not a trickster with the ball, he was still very comfortable with it, able to beat defenders either with a burst of pace or a blur of quick feet. And as far as those feet went, he was ambidextrous, capable of equal power and control from both. In the time he was at Milan, it was difficult to imagine wanting more from a centre-forward.

Today he is the kind of striker - like that real man - who is not obsolete but slowly becoming a little unhip. It is fashionable these days to want "false" 9s and 10s, who will create as many goals as they will score, who drift back and slip here and there to create routes and space ahead of them, who confuse defenders as much as they best them.

There was no confusion with Shevchenko. You could spot him coming from a distance, but the problem was stopping him. Shevchenko didn't drift anywhere, but he was mobile and ran into spaces, not caring to hide his intentions. If his own defenders needed a release, he was there for them to hold the ball up as well.

His free kicks were hit hard, rarely dinked or chipped, and even though the curl was predictable, it could very often not be saved (no new-age swerves or dips from toe-pokes for him). If free-kick-taking could be placed on a scale of masculinity, his were closer to the alpha male than the metrosexual.

Over the last couple of years he had slipped off the radar, but with the same kind of studious dignity that had graced his entire career, the same kind my myopic mind cannot bring to associate with the fashion world. Chelsea was not exactly a failure, just not as successful as Milan or Dynamo Kiev and personally, at least, that was cause to be suspicious not only of the entire Chelsea project but the English Premier League itself.

Him back on that radar, however brief, has been one of the joys of this tournament.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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