There are two rumours surrounding the Vancouver Whitecaps and former Chelsea/AC Milan forward Andriy Shevchenko. One is that the Whitecaps are in negotiations to sign the 34-year-old Ukrainian when his contract with the Ukrainian Premier League's Dynamo Kiev expires this summer. The other is that the Whitecaps have, in fact, already signed the guy and we're just waiting until June for it all to be made official.
This isn't the first time we've been linked to an aging former Premier League star. Remember the Robbie Keane rumours, when we were supposedly on the cusp of signing the out-of-favour Tottenham striker until he found something better to do with his time? Or Derby County captain Robbie Savage, who was actually offered a contract and went around blabbing about it to all and sundry until he decided that no, he wasn't going to sign in Vancouver after all (and thank god for that). We like our old guys who played in England. When the Whitecaps made Eric Hassli their first designated player, it was almost a relief: a guy in his prime who, it turns out, is pretty much a perfect MLS forward aside from his love of early showers.
Shevchenko marks a return to our old habits. He turns 35 in September and had a lot of tough, tough miles on him after spending a decade in Serie A and the English Premier League. In three years with Chelsea his touch was famously erratic, and while he's since been successful in Kiev the Ukrainian League isn't exactly the world's greatest competition. He's never been a soft player, not really, and to date he's managed to avoid injury problems, but it's an open question whether he can handle the grind of Major League Soccer. The rough play, the dirty players, the bad pitches, the commercial travel. It all adds up to a lot for anybody, particularly a 34-year-old who's used to much better.
Would Shevchenko be a good signing for the Whitecaps? I'm hesitant.
A lot depends on how long Shevchenko would be signing for. If he's taking a contract for the rest of the year, even at a designated player's salary, I'd be in favour of it. Shevchenko would be earning some cash while he's out-of-contract, staying in shape, and keeping in the media eye to show that he's still a quality player. The Whitecaps would be getting a motivated veteran with everything to prove. It's not like Vancouver is reportedly looking at any other designated players; if the choice is between using the slot on Shevchenko for a few months or not using it then I'll pick Andriy up at the airport. (On the Canada Line, mind you.)
That's not usually how the Whitecaps operate, though. There've been very few deliberate short-term signings since Teitur Thordarson and, later, Tom Soehn took over. They've been talking all along about building this team for the long haul instead of just one season and so far they've backed it up. If Shevchenko's coming to Vancouver, he's probably coming for more than one year. Indeed, he's probably trying to play out the string, collect some huge paycheques, and then retire with a big ol' nest egg to sit on.
I'm not sure that's what the Whitecaps should be doing. The problem with using Major League Soccer as a retirement home is that you get guys who should just retire already. Take Thierry Henry, for example, he's almost a full year younger than Shevchenko, he came over from Barcelona instead of from Kiev, and he's still struggled to make much of an impact on a very good New York Red Bulls team. David Beckham has played very well for the Los Angeles Galaxy when he's been in the lineup, but when is he ever in the lineup? Very few of the old men brought to Major League Soccer as designated players have been great successes on the field: Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Guillermo Barros Schelotto, probably, but nobody else comes to mind.
Will Shevchenko even be as good as Eric Hassli? Hassli's skill-set seems perfectly suited to MLS: not that fast but fast enough, strong, good ball control, powerful shot. Shevchenko is much more a pure finisher and playmaker, and one whose physical abilities have eroded with age. It's awfully easy to picture Shevchenko drifting at the half-way line while the Whitecaps are struggling to move the ball, standing around, standing around, standing around some more, and then the whistle goes so he can sit down for a while. Without quality service (and it's by no means certain Shevchenko could get quality service in Vancouver, particularly if these injuries keep up), Shevchenko might be useless no matter how hard he wants to play.
Besides, if I was going to spend a tonne of money to improve this team I wouldn't spend it on a forward. Hassli is the real deal as a number one scorer and I'm quite comfortable with Camilo Sanvezzo as a number two. Omar Salgado isn't ready to knock in hat tricks yet but hopefully he soon will be, and while I'd like to have a depth forward come in and do the job Marlon James did with the 2009 Whitecaps, it's safe to say Shevchenko ain't gonna do that.
Meanwhile, we have some real holes. I'd love to see an extra central defender: Jay DeMerit is great when healthy but Michael Boxall, for all his promise, simply isn't a starting MLS central defender yet. I'm not entirely sold on Greg Janicki as a starter at this level. Heck, why not grab Michael Klukowski? He's Canadian and a left back, allowing the sublime Alain Rochat to move into the middle. Plus, he's available on a free transfer because his Turkish team didn't pay his wages. Can you think of anybody more likely to help this team than Mike Klukowski? And even if you disagree with me on the defense, you can't disagree that we could also use a central midfielder, preferably a quiet but effective box-to-box type like Julian de Guzman was supposed to be.
On the lists of "positions to improve on the 2011 Whitecaps", "forward" comes very low. And if we're talking about improving the 2012 or 2013 Whitecaps, you can't tell me that a ready-for-the-retirement-home Shevchenko is the guy to do it. This just doesn't make sense as a "big move" for this team.
Besides. Having wasted a thousand words discussing this rumour... did the Robbie Keane signing happen? How about the Robbie Savage one? Did we ever get Diego Forlan or Petr Cech? And, conversely, who the hell was talking about Eric Hassli before the day he officially signed?
I'll believe Shevchenko in a Vancouver kit when I see it. And I hope I don't.