In 1994, then West Ham manager Harry Redknapp came close to signing Andriy Shevchenko. It is a story well known in football lore.
But how exactly would history have panned out had the move proceeded? Be in doubt no longer!
18th November 1994
Having been on the radar of West Ham manager Harry Redknapp for several years, 18-year old Andriy Shevchenko signed for the Hammers from Dynamo Kiev on an undisclosed fee. In typical fashion, the press were all too quick to criticise such a bold move for an unproven talent.
In response, Redknapp said:
“The lad has got it. No question. He might be coming from an inferior league, but his playing style will propel us into the 21st century. We’ve not had a bad start to the season, but we’re struggling for consistency. I feel we could have more firepower, with most of our recent matches being settled by a single goal”
The following day, West Ham fell to a 1-0 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday, with Shevchenko watching from the Hillsborough stands. One week later, the Ukrainian hotshot made his West Ham debut. An expectant Upton Park was to be disappointed though, as Shevchenko never once breached a resolute Coventry defence. After ninety uninspired minutes, the Sky Blues ran out 1-0 winners.
Almost immediately, Shevchenko was declared a flop by fans and media alike. Harry Redknapp stood by his new acquisition but the situation did not improve. Indeed, it would take a turn for the worse, with Shevchenko being stretchered off in a Boxing Day clash with Ipswich.
14th May 1995
After a four-month absence, Shevchenko would struggle to regain his place in the West Ham squad. With nothing at stake, Redknapp eventually decided to include him in the starting line-up, to face Manchester United on the final day of the season.
With just three minutes remaining, the match was level at 1-1, and Manchester United F.C were still in with a chance of claiming a third consecutive Premier League title. A corner from Manchester United was swung into the box, dangerously close to the goal line. The ball was going wide, but it was handled by Shevchenko for an instant penalty.
Andy Cole slotted the resultant penalty for a 2-1 win to United. That result, combined with Blackburn’s 2-1 defeat at Anfield, saw the 1994/95 Premier League title go to Old Trafford.
Instantly, Shevchenko became a nationwide hate figure. After receiving a single red rose in the post, with the inscription “Watch your back. Arte et Labore” written in what looked like human blood, Shevchenko was loaned to first division Grimsby.
After firing the Mariners to the 1995/96 first division title, Shevchenko’s loan became a permanent deal. He carried his form into the new Premier League season, and this time, everything clicked. Grimsby finished fifth in their first Premier League season and secured a UEFA Cup spot.
Grimsby were looking good ahead of the new season, but then disaster struck. As a result of his achievements as Grimsby manager, Brian Laws took the vacant Everton hotseat in July 1997, relishing the prospect of managing a bigger club.
With a quick turnaround needed, ex-Norwich and Everton manager Mike Walker became the new Grimsby Town gaffer. Although he had recently failed at (of all clubs) Everton, Walker’s continental approach was seen as a step forward. Ultimately, it was the undoing of Shevchenko’s Grimsby career.
Disrupted by the change of management, Grimsby suffered an early exit from the UEFA Cup and began the season in dreadful fashion. With Grimsby nosediving down the table and the dressing room in disarray, Walker granted Shevchenko’s inevitable transfer request. Almost immediately, AC Milan lodged a huge bid, and Shevchenko went to the continent.
Shevchenko became an immediate success at AC Milan. On the international stage, he would hit the pinnacle of his form ahead of a World Cup qualification tie with Croatia. His firepower ensured that Ukraine qualified for the 1998 World Cup, at the expense of Croatia and their main striker Davor Suker.
Many believed that Suker would have taken Croatia far in the finals, but the spotlight was now on Shevchenko.
11th July 1998
A last-minute goal for Shevchenko against the Netherlands secured third spot for Ukraine in the World Cup. He also finished as top goalscorer of the tournament.
Within days, Chelsea lodged an immediate bid for Shevchenko. However, he knew his Premier League days were over.
His loyalties firmly with AC Milan, Shevchenko retired from football in 2012 as the club’s all-time top goalscorer.
Do any of Shevchenko’s Grimsby pals make it into the former Hammers striker’s all-time best XI?