For Ukraine’s Shevchenko,the end is just a beginning

FORMER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNER WILL HOPE FOR A GRAND FINALE before MLS SWITCH

Written by New York Times | Published:June 8, 2012 12:30 am

The end is near,so much so that Andriy Shevchenko cannot precisely remember the distant beginning of his brilliant soccer career. He is said to have begun kicking a ball before he could walk. “My whole life has been connected with this ball,” he said.

The European Championships start on Friday,co-hosted by Poland and Shevchenko’s native Ukraine. At 35,he is gearing up for his final major tournament before,he hopes,a stint with Major League Soccer. He is married to an American,Kristen Pazik,a former model,and they want to spend time with their two young sons in the United States. “I have several offers,” Shevchenko,who is known as Sheva,said in a telephone interview,speaking Russian through an interpreter.

An M.L.S. official confirmed the league’s interest in Shevchenko,who said,“I asked everyone to wait until the end of this tournament so I can decide what to do.” He has had a great and curious career as a striker,with a shimmering ascent and a puzzling decline. At the pinnacle,Shevchenko won the European Champions League with A.C. Milan in 2003,scoring the decisive penalty kick in the final against Juventus. In 2004 he was named Europe’s player of the year and finished among the top three for world player of the year. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall,perhaps only Hristo Stoichkov of Bulgaria and Shevchenko have left the East to so thoroughly master the West.

He is Ukraine’s leading scorer,with 46 goals,and Milan’s second-leading career scorer,with 175. At his best,Shevchenko was full of speed and power,deft with both feet,able to score as a center forward or from both wings,a master at knowing when to lurk and when to pounce.“All my dreams came true,” Shevchenko said. “My best characteristic is that I made the most important goals in the most difficult games.”

Of course,there were moments of regret. That is the drama of sports. Shevchenko missed the final,critical penalty kick in the 2005 Champions League final against Liverpool.

His move to Chelsea of the English Premier League in 2006 became an expensive disappointment,amid much speculation that Roman Abramovich,Chelsea’s Russian owner,coveted Shevchenko more than José Mourinho,then its coach. Injury and age played their inevitable role in Shevchenko’s rapid decline.

Now there is one final tournament to play,the Euro 2012. It will be difficult for Ukraine to emerge from a group that includes Sweden,France and England.

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