LONDON: For Andriy Shevchenko, life is tough. He was born close to Chernobyl, where the nuclear nightmare erupted when he was nine. His family was safely evacuated, and he grew into a lad who could punch out opponents in the amateur boxing ring and more than punch his weight as a soccer striker.
At 30, you'd have to say Shevchenko has it all: an American model as a wife, two baby sons, a London lifestyle with all the luxuries that a US$250,000 weekly salary can afford.
But, alas, poor Andriy, none of those guarantees him peace of mind. He cannot do the single thing he does best: scoring goals.
Worse, his deserved reputation as the most sure-fire striker of his era is being remorselessly questioned.
Still not of an age that should preclude his punishing those who doubt him, he is deprived of the games he needs to prove he is not a spent talent.
He isn't scoring, he doesn't contribute enough to the team, and he's dropped until further notice.
Money does not buy love.
Sheva will score again because it's second nature to him. But he may not get many goals for Chelsea because trust in him is lacking. The team have to feel that or the instinct to give him the ball evaporates.
The Shevchenkos arrived in London after what, by any standards, was a fabulous seven-year stretch in the fashion capital of Italy where the striker met and married a model, Kristin Pazik.
Milan was his heaven. His 126 goals in 207 appearances in Serie A, and 173 goals in all competitions for AC Milan, were second only in the club's history to Gunnar Nordahl who amassed 210 Milan goals in 257 matches from 1949 to 1956.
In Europe, Shevchenko is second best in history to arguably the greatest scorer of any era, the German Gerd Mueller, who hit 66 goals in 74 games in European cups for Bayern Munich.
And even though the strand was broken in Milan when Andriy and Kristin Shevchenko stated that they wanted to move to England for family reasons, there seemed good reason to suppose that he would pick up the thread and carry on doing what he was blessed to do with Chelsea.
The reason was to allow Andriy to learn how to converse in a single language to Jordan, their son born in 2004, and to Christian, who was due when they settled in London.
I tried to convince him to stay, even until the last moment before the public announcement, said Adriano Galliani, the right-hand man to Milan's owner, Silvio Berlusconi. His leaving is a victory for the English language over the Italian.
Not entirely so.
Soccer these days is a buyer's market, money is the lingua franca, and the courtship of Shevchenko, a Ukrainian, was in a language he grew up speaking in school: Russian.
He had been sighted on the yachts of Roman Abramovich so many times since the Russian bought Chelsea that we almost stopped printing the rumour that one day this would end in Shevchenko's wearing Chelski blue. We were never sure if Chelsea's Portuguese coach, Jose Mourinho, wanted Shevchenko or was involved in discussions.
We're still not sure.
Day after day, since Shevchenko and the German Michael Ballack arrived at Chelsea after the World Cup last summer, there has been a struggle to integrate them. Their quality is not in question; their adaptability, their thirst to run as hard as the English league demands, their language skills and their desire for change would surely require time.
Time and the goal scorer are eternal enemies.
Even last season with Milan, Shevchenko looked slower than his best as injuries began to take a toll. In particular, there was a horrific broken cheek bone and a seemingly permanent left knee ligament injury.
The wear and tear on a man who, shortly after making his debut for Chelsea struck his 300th career goal, was inevitable. The questions that hardened pros in the Premier League asked wouldn't go away.
Early on in the transition to the ferocious physical extremes of England's league, another foreigner, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, a striker of Chelsea's past, suggested that everybody knew Shevchenko had the class to score in any league, but did he have the courage?
It is, in retrospect, an interesting question.
We never before queried Shevchenko's heart: You simply do not grow up in Ukraine, in the shadow of Chernobyl and in the spotlight of world soccer as successfully as he has done and lack heart.
I suspect that Hasselbaink meant a different kind of bravery. The courage to want to go on and prove yourself, from scratch, in a league where the bigger the reputation, the more suffocating the marking.
This is physical and mental, and relentless.
More than that, when foreigners come into a team that already has won the league's first prize two seasons running, the knowledge that their salaries are higher than the established players has an insidious effect.
John Terry, the English defender who is the personification of Chelsea's toughness, said last weekend that the team would object if the cooled relationships between Abramovich and Mourinho in part over the coach's refusal to use the nonscoring Shevchenko were to force Mourinho to leave.
By coincidence, or because that is how Abramovich responds to problems, Terry's weekly wage was promptly nudged above Shevchenko's in the past few days.
Shevchenko's three goals from 20 matches is not the return anyone expected.
Money cannot buy what he needs, which is time, understanding, physical well-being. Above all, it cannot buy love and respect. IHT