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Interview with Andriy Shevchenko, a famous Ukrainian footballer
Andriy Shevchenko, a Ukrainian soccer player, admired by soccer fans in Ukraine and in other countries, started his football career at Dynamo Kyiv and then played for several years for AC Milan, Italy; he is also a striker of Team Ukraine who, in the words of his team mate Serhiy Rebrov, is the only player for whom the place on Team Ukraine is always guaranteed. Mr Shevchenko has been recently interviewed by Anatoly YANGOL exclusively for Welcome to Ukraine Magazine.
MrShevchenko, you were born in Ukraine and started playing football that later became your professional occupation in Ukraine too. I read somewhere that you had a chance of being born in Germany. Is it true?
Yes, it is. My father was a soviet officer who was stationed in Potsdam, Germany, but shortly before I was born, my parents returned to Ukraine. I do not know the exact reasons of their return but nostalgia must have been a decisive factor. Several years later, my father was offered a job in Eastern Germany but he turned down the offer, though it would have been useful both careerwise and moneywise. He did not want his family to leave their native land to live abroad. At that time I was already a student of a football school, and my sister Olena who is three years my senior, was a student of a prestigious school of advanced learning. My father thought it would not be too good for us to adjust to a new educational system as we would have to do if we had had to go to Germany, and he decided that we should stay in Ukraine. I think it was a right decision but the family budget suffered and my mother had to find a job to make her own contribution to it.
As far as I am concerned, it was good for me that we stayed in Ukraine — I do not think I’d be able to learn to play football as well as I did in Kyiv. But in 1989 I did go to Germany as a member of a Ukrainian junior soccer team to take part in a tournament that was held in Cologne. I lived not in a hotel but in a private home with a German family. They proved to be very hospitable and nice people.
Was it your first visit to a western country?
It was. Everything seemed to be so different — clothes people wore, cars, TV shows, the way people behaved. Everything seemed to be so well taken care of. There was a great difference in the standards of living in Ukraine which was still a part of the Soviet Union, and in West Germany. Among the things I was particularly impressed with were the German cars. Years later, the time came when I could buy cars I fancied, and I did own different cars. I liked fast cars, but not any longer. Now I’m a family man, you know. After my son Jordan was born, I changed a lot. At present I have a jeep, Range Rover, which is big and comfortable enough for me and my family.
Four years ago Team Ukraine failed to get through the qualifying stage but now the Ukrainians will play at the World Cup championship. Is it purely a sport achievement, or could it be regarded as an important event in improving Ukraine’s image in the world?
Both. Plus, Ukraine’s participation in the World Cup is a great boost for the development of football in Ukraine. No matter how far Team Ukraine will go at the championship or whether it qualifies for the next stage, it will be a great experience. For the people of Ukraine it is important psychologically to know that Ukraine has been on the world football map and it is good for bolstering their confidence. Ukrainian soccer fans are happy to know that Ukraine’s national soccer team competes at the most prestigious soccer event in the world. It shows that if we, Ukrainians, try hard enough, we can achieve a lot… As far as our failure four years ago to qualify for the world championship is concerned, we did not make it because we were not confident enough, we did not quite believe in success. Now we are very different as a team — we play much better, and we fully understand what the team effort is.
Do you believe that Team Ukraine will be able to make it to the eighth-finals?
The very fact that we shall play at the World Cup is of a great importance to us, no matter what the results will be, but I do believe that we’ll get through to the eighth-finals. We have an advantage of not being hard-pressed by the necessity to win like Brazil or Germany are. Of course, we’ll be happy to qualify for the quarter-finals but participation is what matters for us most at the moment.
Once you said, “I’m a good player, but I’ll never be called a great one if I don’t play at a world championship.” Now you have that chance.
I’ve always dreamt of playing at a world championship. With the clubs I played for — first Dynamo Kyiv and then AC Milan — I won the national championships, and the Champions’ League. In other words, I’ve achieved everything a soccer player may wish to achieve but it’ll be great to be playing for Team Ukraine at the world championship. I’ve been on Team Ukraine for ten years now, and now my task is not only to contribute to the team effort but also to lead the younger players and help them acquire confidence. But at the same time I do not want to be an idol — I want to help other players realize their potential, I want to be just a team mate for others, a friend. When I play for Team Ukraine, I’m just one of the players who does his best to contribute to victory.
So, you do not have an ambition to become the best striker at the world championship?
I can’t say I would not want it, but it’s not something that I’d do at any price. I repeat — I want Team Ukraine to succeed and I’ll do my very best to help my team mates do it.
Dynamo Kyiv is a good club but the best it could do, when you played for it at the international competitions, was to get to the semi-finals at the Champions’ League. After that, Dynamo kept failing to qualify for the plays-off. Why is that?
Dynamo Kyiv may be a good squad but it cannot be compared yet to such great clubs as AC Milan or Real Madrid. Dynamo does not have enough money for keeping, training or buying the best players. At the same time, the best Ukrainian players leave the club to play abroad where they’ll be paid much better.
What about Shakhtar Donetsk? This club is owned by a billionaire who puts a lot of money into his club. Will Shakhtar be able to compete as an equal with great clubs of Europe?
No, I don’t think it will be able to do that, at least not in the near future. Shakhtar cannot afford such players as AC Milan, Manchester United or Bavaria can. I don’t think Shakhtar should even try to do that. It should concentrate on training Ukrainian players and I think the club is making a mistake by buying foreign players. It seems to me Shakhtar should have trained a number of good players first, and only then, if that club saw that it still needed a couple of excellent players it could go ahead and buy them from some leading foreign clubs.
You’ve been playing for AC Milan since 1999. Did you ever think of moving on to other clubs?
Back in 1999 I did not have much choice — everything was decided by the club, that is by Dynamo, but I had actually wanted to play for Milan. At this point, I’d rather not talk about my future football career (in May 2006, shortly before this issue of WU was to go to press, it was made public that negotiations of possible Shevchenko’s transfer to Chelsea, London, were underway — ed.).
How difficult is it to find time to play for Team Ukraine?
My club treated my desire to play for Team Ukraine with proper understanding but the schedules have always been very tight with little free time left for anything but football.
How does your wife react to your not having much time for your family?
My wife Christen would, of course, like to see me at home more often but she perfectly understands how important playing football is for me and she realizes that I can’t give her and our child more time. She accepts my having to be away from home most of the time as something that cannot be changed… The squad I play for has two or three games a week. I have to join the squad twenty four hours before the game — how much free time does such a schedule leave you? I’m afraid my son sees me on television more than at home in flesh and blood. My wife says he does not actually recognize me yet on the TV screen but playing with balls which are his favourite toys is a great pastime for him. He can actually say “ball” when he wants it.
It was not the first coherent word that he ever said, was it?
No, it was not. The first recognizable word that he clearly pronounced was “Mama”, of course. It is my wife who is always with him, and “mama” in all the European languages sounds more or less the same.
Does she have any help at home?
Yes, we hire a nurse and a cook but I also provide whatever help I can in doing the household chores. But Jordan, our son, needs constant attention — you cannot take your eyes off him for a second. Once, he would have had a very bad fall, had I not been close enough to catch him. It happened six months ago but I still insist that a constant watch must be kept over him though I fully realize that falling and getting bumps is a necessary part of growing up…
Infants in the first months of their life can cause their parents many sleepless nights.
During the first months after his birth, there were, of course, some bad nights when we could not get much sleep but my wife did everything she could to let me sleep. I was present at the delivery and was allowed to take my son into my arms the moment after he came into this world. I was overwhelmed by a very special feeling which is impossible to describe in words. The emotion was so strong that I actually wept… My life changed radically after our son was born. I began to look at the world, at myself, at my parents in a different, more appreciative way.
You produce an impression of a person who feels comfortable in any country he may find himself in. How correct or incorrect is this impression?
Basically it is correct. I feel I was going through some psychological change lately. I’ve come to realize that to feel comfortably in a country you live in, you should understand the mentality of the people of this country. For the Italians, for example, such things as fashion, food and some other things are very important. When I travel, I try to learn as much as possible about the country I go to and the people who live in that country…
Is there a language problem?
No, not really but when I come to Kyiv, it takes me quite some time to get adjusted to speaking Russian or Ukrainian, but when I return to Italy, it also takes a day or two to switch back to Italian without trying to use Ukrainian or Russian words.
You must be mobbed by eager fans wherever you go. How do you take it?
Lack of privacy is the other side of being well known. I do wish my wife and I could go to a restaurant for a quiet meal, or do shopping without being bothered, but it’s impossible. There’s always someone who wants an autograph, or a picture, and I never refuse. I’d hate to offend people. At the same time I understand that for my wife and other people close to me this lack of privacy may be very annoying. Unfortunately, I can’t help it.
Your house is situated in a resort area on the bank of Lake Como where, as far as I know, many celebrities have their houses too. Are there any guards there to protect your privacy?
No, there are no guards around. Everyone is free to come and go as they please, but I’ve never noticed any paparazzi or fans hanging around.
Your wife used to be a model. Does she have an intention to resume her modelling?
In fact, she does appear on the catwalk once in a while. Recently she was offered two roles in two US-Italian films. She always wanted to be in the movies and I’m sure she’ll make a good actress.
Did you ever get any such proposals to appear in films?
I did, but as long as I play football there’s no time for anything else. Besides, I’m not sure whether I’d be able to act… No, I don’t think I’d ever want to be a movie actor. You’ve got to have a talent for it and I apparently don’t have it.
Among your friends there are all kinds of people. Is Giorgio Armani among them?
Yes, he is. He often comes to our place, and we visit him at his place. I wear the clothes he designs. I took part in photo sessions wearing clothes he has designed. I attend the Armani fashion shows. Once, I even appeared on the catwalk modelling some clothes from his collection.
You mentioned that most of your time is taken by training and playing football. But you do have some free time, don’t you? How do you spend it?
I like travelling. I like the sea. I also play golf. It’s a great game and I wish I had more time for it. Occasionally I enjoy red dry wine. I have a sweet tooth. I like sweetmeats and cakes, but unfortunately in Italy or elsewhere I cannot find cakes of the kind my mother used to make.
Do you do any charity work?
Yes, I do. I provide some help for orphanages. My sister Olena heads the Andriy Shevchenko Fund which has been set up to provide support for the needy or handicapped children in Ukraine.
You’ve been living abroad for several years now. Are you planning to come back to Ukraine to live?
I really do not know. Frankly, I’ve grown accustomed to living in Italy. Besides, I have a family and I am not sure they’d be prepared to move to Ukraine.
You as a striker of AC Milan played against Barcelona, the well-known Spanish club. Now you’ll face the Spaniards again but as a player of Team Ukraine — at the World Cup Ukraine it will play its first game against Spain. Do you think it would be better if the Ukrainians had less formidable opponents at the start of the championship?
Any opponents should be respected rather than feared. We have successfully gotten through the qualifying stage, we have gained a lot of experience, we are a better team than we used to be. We can take on any opponent. Yes, that first game against the Spaniards will be a very important one, it will set the tone, so to speak, for the rest of the tournament for us, but it will be very important not only for us but for the Spaniards too. They surely realize that Team Ukraine will do its absolute best to win that game and that means they will have a very hard time playing against us. Team Ukraine has learnt well what is a team effort, and every player knows his place and what he can contribute.
I wish you and Team Ukraine good luck. And thank you for your time.
Photos have been provided by the Ukrainian Federation of Football
Andriy Shevchenko is the third soccer
Andriy Shevchenko with the Gold Ball Prize
Andriy Shevchenko with Oleh Blokhin,
Team Ukraine that won the qualifying games
Andriy Shevchenko shoots at the goal —
Oleh Blokhin, Team Ukraine’s coach,
The opponents often use foul play to stop
The moment of triumph — Team Ukraine
Andriy Shevchenko supports and encourages