Last night, Andriy Shevchenko and his Ukrainian team qualified for the Euro 2020 quarter-final stage. A last minute goal in extra-time, avoided a penalty shoot-out, and will see Ukraine take on England in Rome on Saturday night.
What, you may be asking, has this got to do with Fiorentina? As we await the imminent confirmation of Italiano as new manager and the transfer window which officialy opens tomorrow, which will bring with it the endless onslaught of rumours and news, I am still preferring to enjoy football on the pitch, and immersing myself in the current European Championships. Watching Shevchenko on the sidelines last night, brought back memories of my first ever Fiorentina game the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
This was back in January of 2002, yes that disastrous final season under the Vittorio Cecchi Gori ownership. It was a Sunday night game, and AC Milan were in town. Fiorentina were in serious relegation trouble by this stage, and current Italian manager Roberto Mancini had already left the bench to be replaced by Ottavio Bianchi. Milan too had undergone a change of manager, with Carlo Ancelotti taking over from former Viola manager, Fatih Terim. Silvio Berlusconi’s club were down in fifth place coming into the game, eight points behind Serie A leaders AS Roma.
The previous week had seen them struggle in a scoreless draw against Brescia at the San Siro. As the sides left the pitch at the final whistle, Shevchenko and team-mate Billy Costacurta were involved in a heated verbal argument, suggesting all was not well in the Milan camp. Against Fiorentina, Milan went ahead early in the second half, and they had a chance to finish off the game with 20 minutes left to play. Shevchenko was judged to have been fouled in the area by Torricelli, but his weak effort from the spot was saved by Manninger. Eight minutes later, and Ancelotti put an end to the Ukrainian’s off night, replacing him with Massimo Donati, shortly after Rino Gattuso had been shown a second yellow card. Adriano, on loan from Inter, rescued a point for the home side in the last minute, but Fiorentina really needed a win at this stage. They would remain second from bottom to the end of the season, while Milan, despite finishing 16 points behind league winners Juventus, just edged out Chievo for a Champions League spot.
That qualification was a vital turning point for both Milan and Shevchencko. It would give the Ukrainian striker his first trophy with the club in his fourth season. He had already scored the vital away goal against Inter in the semi-final derby, and in an all Italian final, they would get the better of Juventus in a penalty shoot-out. With both sides having only converted two penalties each, the final spot kick came down to Sheva. Unlike that penalty against Fiorentina, under the Curva Ferrovia where I stood watching, at Old Trafford he made no mistake. Gigi Buffon was sent the wrong way as the penalty this time was powerfully driven into the corner.
While Milan and Shevchenko were celebrating European glory, and a Coppa Italia win, Fiorentina were winning promotion from Serie C2. The following season, 2003/04, as the Viola struggled to escape from Serie B, where they needed a play-off to return to the top flight, Milan, helped by the league’s top-scorer Shevchenko, won the Scudetto with eleven points separating them from runners-up Roma.
Fiorentina’s first season back in Serie A would be a struggle, and their trip to the San Siro in December 2004, ended in a resounding 6-0 thumping, with Shevchenko scoring twice. He had already started the season in style back in August, scoring all three goals in Milan’s 3-0 win over Lazio in the Italian Supercoppa. The day after that double strike against the Viola, Shevchenko was presented with the Ballon D’Or for 2004. When the sides met again in May in Florence, it was another two goals from Shevchenko which sank Fiorentina deeper into relegation trouble. That Saturday night at the Franchi I watched as Giorgio Chiellini struggled to contain the Milan forward, and his two second-half goals saw them claim a 2-1 win having gone behind in the opening half. This saw them remain level at the top with Juventus, but a home defeat to their title rivals the following week, followed by three draws, saw their Scudetto hopes slip away.
Fiorentina’s season ended with a final day salvation from relegation while Milan finished as runners-up not only in the Serie A title race, but also in the Champions League. A dramatic final against Liverpool, where Milan threw away a 3-0 lead, ended in another penalty shoot-out. Once again it would be Shevchenko who would take the decisive spot kick, but this time Jerzy Dudek was able to keep out a poor effort down the middle. Milan could have won the game in extra-time but Dudek somehow pulled off a remarkable double-save from Shevchenko, and the Ukrainian later admitted that he had nightmares about that game for months afterwards.
His final season with Milan would be the Calciopoli marred 2005/06 campaign. When they traveled to Florence in November, the home side managed to keep Shevchenko quiet and record a 3-1 win. In their clash at the San Siro in March however, the result would be reversed. Serie A top-scorer Luca Toni had given Fiorentina an early lead, but it was Shevchenko’s equalizer which set Milan on the road to a 3-1 victory. This was Andriy Shevchenko’s eight and final goal against Fiorentina in his ten league games between the sides.
Of all 24 managers at the Euro finals, Shevchenko is the only one without any club managerial experience. He had been offered the Ukrainian national team job when he retired from playing in 2012, but he turned it down and instead was involved in politics. He did join the coaching staff in 2016, and was the assistant manager at the Euro finals that year. After they lost all three group games, he then took over as manager, and in guiding them to the Euro 2020 tournament , his side topped a group containing Portugal, the winners of the previous competition. Ukraine were undefeated in that qualifying group, and despite only winning one game in their group in the current competition, they have now reached the quarter-final stage.
There is a large Italian contingent in Shevchenko’s staff. Once he had been made manager back in 2016, he immediately brought in Mauro Tassotti as his assistant. The two knew each other very well from their Milan days, where Tassotti had first been involved with the youth team and then as assistant manager to the senior side. A former Milan player, the fact that Tassotti left the club after 36 years, shows both the great bond the pair formed and also the belief he had in his former player.
Another former Milan staff member, Andrea Maldera is the Technical Coach with the Ukraine, Andrea Azzalin is the Athletic Coach and Luigi Nocentini is their Video Analyst. Shevchenko’s first ever goal against Fiorentina came back in 2001, when his Milan side were on the end of a 2-1 defeat. Both Fiorentina goals at the San Siro that day were scored by Enrico Chiesa. If Andriy Shevchenko manages to take his side all the way to the final, who knows, he may come up against Federico, the son of Enrico Chiesa.