Exclusive: Andriy Shevchenko insists compatriot Mykhailo Mudryk won't be another Chelsea flop and reveals the one quality which makes Erling Haaland the most deadly striker in the world

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Andriy Shevchenko
The former Ukraine striker and Ballon d'Or winner discusses the tragic impact of the war in his country and football being an escape for youngsters

Andriy Shevchenko has just finished the interview but he wants to keep talking. “You have to keep talking about Ukraine,” he says. “When you go there, it breaks your heart.”

Shevchenko is looking down at a complex of football pitches where groups of teenagers are warming up for the day’s matches. They have flown from around the world to compete in the Gatorade 5v5 Global Finals in Istanbul, the final phase of a grassroots tournament for boys and girls aged 14 to 16.

After a meet and greet session with Shevchenko, the youngsters represent their country while competing for the trophy and for tickets to the UEFA Champions League final. Past winners of Gatorade 5v5 have gone on to build successful professional football careers, and some have even represented their country at major football tournaments.

Shevchenko is reminded of the youth football tournaments he played in Ukraine on the way to becoming a professional and winning major trophies in his home country, Italy and England as well as lifting the Champions League in 2003.

But organised sport in Ukraine has been brutally disrupted along with all semblance of normal life since the invasion by Russia last year. Shevchenko knows the power of football and how important it is for people to play and, just for a moment, to escape the horrors of war.

  1. 'When you play football you forget about war'

    'When you play football you forget about war'

    “Inside Ukraine there's not much sport now. Sport plays such a big role and now, even more, because creating some sporting activities for the kids means a lot for parents and children,” Shevchenko tells GOAL

    “When you play football you forget about war, you forget about the current situation and what's going on in Ukraine. That's the power of football and sport, to connect people, to give them inspiration and a different view of the future.”

    Shevchenko’s belief in football’s power is why he has thrown his support behind the Gatorade 5v5 Global Finals. 

    “Football has such an important role in society, it's great to have such a big strong brand behind social stuff. I have known the programme for four or five years, there are so many teams coming through, the atmosphere is great, it's so fun,” he says.

    “Also it's an opportunity to learn different cultures, sport has a very strong connection between children. The competition means a lot. When I was growing up I always loved football, I grew [as a player] thanks to some similar tournaments. I was growing up in Ukraine and we had a school tournament - I played for my school. This kind of opportunity was awesome, we could see potential players come out from these tournaments.”

  2. Rebuilding a school with Zinchenko

    Rebuilding a school with Zinchenko

    Amid such bleak surroundings, role models play an even more important role in Ukraine and Shevchenko is proud that his country has two great ambassadors in Oleksandr Zinchenko and Mykhailo Mudryk.

    Zinchenko has just helped inspire Arsenal to their best Premier League season since they last won the league in 2004. Although Mikel Arteta’s side were ultimately caught by Zinchenko’s former club Manchester City, the left-back proved an influential player on the pitch and in the Gunners’ dressing room.

    The defender has been a fierce campaigner against Russia’s invasion and his tears during City’s match at Everton in the first game after troops invaded his country moved the football world. 

    Shevchenko and Zinchenko are helping to organise ‘Game 4 Ukraine’, a friendly match between Arsenal and Chelsea on August 4 at Stamford Bridge to raise money to rebuild a school in Chernihiv Oblast, northern Ukraine, which was damaged last year by Russian missiles.

    “He does a lot for the country, he brings attention for Ukraine, he's been involved a lot in fundraising for different projects, we've been working together. We're going to rebuild a school in Ukraine,” Shevchenko says. 

    “It's an important school, it brings eight small villages together, there's only one school in the area. It's been hit by missiles, a couple of classes were destroyed. I was there with Oleksandr 10 days ago. It's terrifying.”

  3. 'Chelsea believe in Mudryk'
    Getty Images

    'Chelsea believe in Mudryk'

    Mudryk was close to joining forces with Zinchenko at Arsenal but Chelsea beat the Gunners to his signature and landed him for £89 million in January from Shakhtar Donetsk.

    The transfer, which made Mudryk Ukraine’s most expensive player ever, led to £20 million being donated to the war effort. Mudryk has struggled to live up to his price tag so far, however, and is yet to score for his new club.

    But Shevchenko is certain the 22-year-old will deliver in the long term for Chelsea, dismissing concerns he could become another big-money flop at Stamford Bridge. And he is looking forward to seeing how he develops under Mauricio Pochettino next season.

    “He's very young, he has a lot of potential in the future. He's signed a very long contract with Chelsea, we should see how it's going at  the end of his contract with them," Shevchenko says.

    "I think he has quality, a strong base. Chelsea look like they believe in him, there's a new manager now, we just have to give him time and wait. That is the policy and vision of the club."

  4. The Ballon d'Or, Champions League finals and 326 goals

    The Ballon d'Or, Champions League finals and 326 goals

    Shevchenko believes Mudryk and Zinchenko can inspire the youth of Ukraine and he knows the importance of role models, both to young aspiring footballers and to young people in general.

    New global data reveals that over four in 10 parents believe that a lack of visible and relatable role models is a barrier to teens taking up and staying in sport. Shevchenko cites legendary former Ukrainian forward and manager Oleg Blokhin as his role model as he was one of the players who put Ukrainian football on the map and forged a path for future stars.

    While at the Gatorade 5v5 tournament, Shevchenko holds up a shirt bearing Blokhin's name along with six young players wearing the name of their role models on the back of their shirts.

    Shevchenko joined the youth academy of Dynamo Kyiv at the age of 10 and went on to become one of the club's greatest players, leading them to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 1998-99. He finished joint top-scorer in the competition that season with eight goals and then joined AC Milan.

    It was in Milan where he turned into perhaps the most lethal striker in the world. He won the Ballon d’Or in 2004 after two superb seasons, scoring the final penalty in the shootout victory over Juventus in the 2003 Champions League final, then firing Milan to the Serie A title the following year. He also played for Chelsea before returning to Milan and then seeing out his career back with boyhood club Dynamo, signing off with 326 goals in 653 matches, fractionally shy of a goal every two games.

  5. 'Haaland is obsessed with goals'
    (C)Getty Images

    'Haaland is obsessed with goals'

    Shevchenko was one of the best strikers of his era and this season he has looked on with admiration while watching Erling Haaland fire Manchester City to a treble of the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League, scoring a jaw-dropping 52 goals in 53 matches.

    Haaland set a new Premier League record with 36 strikes in one season and in March against RB Leipzig he became the first player since Lionel Messi in 2012 to score five goals in a Champions League knockout match.

    “What I like about Haaland is he's always obsessed with goals, his movement around the box is amazing,” Shevchenko says of the City striker.

    “His physical quality helps a lot. He's big, he's strong, he's sharp, he's always ready in the box, he reads the situation very well. His composure when he has to finish... he's always in a good position, his left foot is very impressive.”

    Asked what makes Haaland stand out, Shevchenko responds immediately. “His mindset.”

  6. Guardiola an all-time great

    Guardiola an all-time great

    Shevchenko moved into politics after retiring but then turned his hand to management, becoming head coach of Ukraine’s national team in 2016.

    He led them to the European Championship and in 2021 took them to the quarter-finals for the first time, with his side eventually being knocked out by England. He went on to coach Genoa in Serie A before leaving last year.

    When the conversation turns to Pep Guardiola, who has now won the Champions League three times and won a treble on two occasions, Shevchenko is also effusive in his praise. He regards the Catalan as among the all-time greats and credits him for ending City's long wait to win the Champions League after adapting the team's style of play.

    “The most impressive thing is that he changed slightly the way the team plays in the Champions League," he says.

    "In some games they get less ball possession but are more direct in the boxes, they defend much better in their box and are more effective in the opponents' boxes. We're talking about one of the best coaches ever."