The stellar career of Andriy Shevchenko may be winding down, but the Ukraine captain remains firmly focused on the future. With UEFA EURO 2012 due to be held jointly between his homeland and Poland, the 34-year-old clearly has much to look forward to as well. The competition will be an emotional event for the prolific marksman, who is an icon in his native country thanks to an eye for goal that has yielded 45 international strikes. He has also registered 67 times in the UEFA Champions League, putting him third on the competition’s all-time list behind Raul and Filippo Inzaghi, and boasts an overall tally of 315 goals in 626 club games.
Now back with the team where he first made his name, Dynamo Kyiv, the former AC Milan and Chelsea forward spoke to FIFA.com about his career, how the game has changed and Ukraine’s chances at next summer’s European Championship. Before the interview had even begun, however, he was at pains to address recent rumours that he will retire after the continental showcase: “I never said I’m going to stop playing after 2012.”
FIFA.com: Andriy, how long do you plan to continue playing?
Andriy Shevchenko: I feel good, still young, the motivation is still there and I think I’ll carry on. Of course, the day will come when I have to hang up my boots, but for now I don’t know when I’ll retire. I scored quite a few goals again last season. My short-term objective is the upcoming EURO.
Dynamo finished second behind Shakhtar Donetsk for the second consecutive season last term. That must have been frustrating.
Not really, because we had a good campaign and played well as a team. Shakhtar were more consistent than us, especially in the first half of the season. Although both teams are often in the top two, the standard of the championship as a whole has improved a lot.
What are your thoughts on recent developments in the game, particularly the success smaller players are enjoying?
It’s true that the sport is changing. What matters the most now is how quickly you can move the ball around and read the game, both of which need to be done with an increasingly refined technique. A team like Barcelona has players with great technique and their smaller size is compensated by their ability to speed the game up. Pep Guardiola has done a fantastic job.
That was also the philosophy of your former Dynamo coach Valeri Lobanovsky, who saw speed and team movement as the basis of the modern game.
That’s right, but not just speed in terms of sprinting. What matters is the ability of great players to analyse a situation and distribute the ball in the blink of an eye. It’s also an issue of how quickly the players in great teams can defend or attack together. The basis of the modern game is the use of technique to allow greater speed of execution. It’s essential to play together as a team, but if a great team wants to win something, it’s necessary to have players like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo who can change a match during key moments. That kind of exceptional player has to be able to fit into a team strategy but also make the difference on an individual level when they feel it’s possible.
What have been the highlights and low points of your long career so far?
I don’t think careers are made up of good moments and bad ones. They’re all a part of what football’s about. I appeared in four [FIFA World Cup™] play-off matches in 2002 and 2010 and we were knocked out by Germany and Greece, but I still fulfilled my dream by representing Ukraine in the 2006 World Cup, when we were knocked out by Italy in the quarter-finals after a good run. Any defeat, no matter how significant it is, can make you stronger if you know how to learn from it.
Which forward do you feel has the most similar style to your own?
Right now there are lots of top-level strikers, each with different characteristics. Personally, I’ve never tried to resemble anyone else. The forward I like the most is undoubtedly Wayne Rooney. He never stops moving, he works hard for the team and scores important goals.
You are a stalwart of the Ukraine side with 101 caps, three behind Anatoliy Tymoschuk. Who will finish with the most?
We’ve both gone past the century mark, which had never been done before in Ukraine. There’s not too much chance of me catching him because he’s younger than me. But I’ll say it again: I still plan to continue playing for my national team.
What will be Ukraine’s objective at EURO 2012?
I think we have the potential to trouble the favourites for the title. Ukrainian football is on the up at international level and club level, as Shakhtar Donetsk proved with their run in the Champions League. That’s been one of the direct consequences of the decision in April 2007 to award EURO 2012 to Poland and Ukraine. Since then, clubs have been investing in infrastructure and training. In Ukraine’s case, it’s given us the chance to undergo real development, not just in football terms but for the whole country and its inhabitants. I’m sure we’ll be ready when the time comes – it’s a question of national pride. And with a bit of luck, we can hope to win the title too. The task of the older players like Tymoshchuk, Andriy Voronin, Oleksandr Shovkovskyi and myself will be to support the younger talents and help them quickly raise the level of their play.
Who are the most exciting young Ukrainian players coming through?
Shakhtar’s Taras Stepanenko, Yevhen Konoplyanka from Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and my team-mate Andriy Yarmolenko represent the future of Ukrainian football and a generation on whom our hopes rest. I’m certain they’ll rise to the occasion. It’s a question of honour for the entire country. The important thing is to have belief.
You celebrated the birth of your two children with goals. After Jordan was born, you scored in a 1-0 win for Milan against Sampdoria, and for Kristian you were on target as Chelsea beat Watford 4-0. Have you thought about planning an addition to the family ahead of the EURO 2012 final?
(Laughs) Not yet, but it’s a great idea.