I may be speaking too soon, but the decision by Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko to retire is probably the right one for him in many regards, one of which
he won’t be a temptation – even a remote if not ludicrous one -- for MLS.
The 35-year-old forward had been hinting for years about coming this way, and upon the advent of the Designated Player rule the setup seemed plausible. After all, his wife is former American model Kristen Pazik. The latest rumor surfaced prior to the European Championships and picked up steam when he led his country, the Euro co-host, to a 2-1 victory over Sweden in its opening game by scoring two goals.
In the cyberworld, trumpets blared and angels sang. New York, Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, wherever he chose, he’d lord over America’s league much as he’d done for more than a decade in Europe.
Yet that’s not the Sheva we’d likely have seen in MLS. Yes, he’d scored 23 goals the past two seasons playing for Dynamo Kyiv and had been perhaps the most feared marksman in the world when he played for AC Milan (a subsequent stint at Chelsea, not so much). But playing in his homeland, where he’s a member of the sporting royalty, he’d been ensconced in a familiar comfort zone. He started his career with Dynamo as a youth player in 1986 and in an 18-year pro career became an icon of the club and his country.
That would not have been the case in MLS, and more likely he’d have been hobbled by injuries, such as the knee problems that forced him to start on the bench for Euro 2012 group finale against England. (He came on as a sub with 20 minutes to play.) Yet even fully healthy, he’d have struggled in MLS. The heat, the travel, the haphazard officiating, and the wear and tear on his body would have been staggering burdens for him.
This isn’t to say MLS is superior to the Ukrainian league. Comparisons are specious. The top teams – Skakhtar Donetsk, Dynamo Kyiv, Metalist Kharkiv -- can compete respectably in Europe, and Ukrainian players have been playing for famous clubs in Western Europe for decades. Rather than pick up easy money in the Qatari or Chinese league, he’s decided to enter another risky, potentially high-stakes game: politics.
He may or may not actually work in the government, per se. There are certainly posts with clubs or the national soccer federation he can take, and/or business opportunities he can pursue. At least initially, he’s jumping right in: Upon announcing his retirement Saturday, he said he will join a pro-business party, "Ukraine -- Forward!," which is comprised of politicians who were expelled by the main opposition coalition once led by former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
“I want to fulfill myself in politics and share the experience I gained in Europe, to do something for my country,” said a statement from Shevchenko posted on the Dynamo Kiev Web site.
Of course, there’s nothing to stop him from un-retiring next week or next month or next year, whereupon the drumbeats of support will again be heard. If he turns out for a charity match in Europe or on these shores, we’re in for at least a few more days of the madness.
It’s too soon to tell, but it seems at least a few teams have made good calls with their DPs, even those of European vintage well along in years: Marco di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta (Montreal), Arne Friedrich (Chicago) and Torsten Frings (Toronto). There are a few younger ones doing well, such as Robbie Keane, who just turned 32 and seems to have some spring in his legs. Tim Cahill, recently signed by the Red Bulls, is the same age.
Shevchenko retires as the third leading scorer in the Champions’ League (58 goals), the second all-time leading scorer for AC Milan (175 goals), and with 48 goals, 111 caps, and some golden memories playing for Ukraine. That’s more than enough.