Handed a reputed £10million transfer kitty following Everton’s 1995 FA Cup win, that summer Joe Royle spent a good chunk of it on Manchester United’s Russian international winger, Andrei Kanchelskis. United’s leading goalscorer during the 1994/95 season and a key member of the double-winning side a year earlier, he was a player of impeccable pedigree, but had become available after a public spat with Alex Ferguson.
BORN IN January 1969 in Kirovograd, a Ukrainian mining city 600 miles south-west of Moscow, Kanchelskis began his career with Dynamo Kiev in the Soviet League, where he became known for his blistering pace and deadly finishing that would become his hallmarks in England. Ironically he was once told as a teenager that he wasn’t quick enough to become a footballer – news he reacted to by undergoing a daily ritual of bizarre jumping exercises, which reputedly aided his pace. He joined Shakhtar Donetsk in 1990, and a year later, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Manchester United paid £650,000 to export him from the Ukrainian mining belt, where Kanchelskis earned 1000 roubles per month – approximately £10. At Old Trafford he won back-to-back Premier League titles and the 1994 FA Cup, but fell out with Ferguson after becoming frustrated with his squad rotation policy.
Kanchelskis’s first days at Goodison were beset by frustration. His £5.5million record transfer was protracted by haggling, causing Kanchelskis to miss the start of the 1995/96 season and registration for Everton’s European campaign. Following his belated debut, in only his third game – against his former club – he was carried off with a shoulder injury. A further month on the sidelines followed and although it took the Ukrainian a few more weeks to bed into the Everton team, when he was settled he announced his arrival in grand style: both goals – a header and a trademark low shot – in a 2-1 derby victory at Anfield. It was Everton’s first win there in a decade.
Confidence restored, a Kanchelskis-inspired Everton overcame a sluggish start to soar up the table. The Ukrainian was at his best when playing alongside Anders Limpar or Andy Hinchcliffe, who would play him into space with searching diagonal balls from the left. Equally confident shooting with his left or right foot, the strength and accuracy of his shots, which were usually hit low and at high velocity, were frightening. His acceleration and close control were remarkable; few defenders could keep up with him. Often the only way he could be stopped was to double-mark him, a tactic which only gave the other forward players more space. When Duncan Ferguson overcame disciplinary and injury problems to partner him in attack, the effect was devastating: one or other player made the score sheet in all but one of the 14 matches they played together.
Kanchelskis finished the 1995/96 season top scorer with 16 goals in 32 league appearances, including a hat-trick against Sheffield Wednesday and another derby goal. Many expected Kanchelskis’s end of season form (which earned him the April Premier League Player of the Month award) to carry over into the European Championships, but Kanchelskis and Russia were disappointing. Rumours linking him with moves to Italy forced the player to issue a public rebuttal on the eve of the 1996/97 season. ‘I am a loyal person,’ he said, ‘and Everton have been loyal to me. I have another three years of my contract to run and I am very happy here.’
Yet the transfer talk was clearly unsettling and Kanchelskis’s form dipped. Initially this was attributed to post Euro-96 fatigue, but as the season progressed and Kanchelskis began to miss chances or take shots from impossible angles when a simple pass would have set up a team-mate, it became increasingly evident that he was not the same player to have previously set Goodison alight. Antagonism with his team-mates also became noticeable: after scoring against Sheffield Wednesday in September no one congratulated him.
The sense among many fans was that Kanchelskis was playing for a move. As an injury-decimated Everton team embarked upon their worst run of results in 25 years over December and January, Kanchelskis cut an anonymous figure on the Everton wing. The nadir came in an FA Cup fourth round tie with Bradford City when he was pressured into making a stray pass near the halfway line and Chris Waddle let fly with a 40-yard lob shot that dipped into the net.
Just days later, Kanchelskis joined Fiorentina in an £8million deal. His spell in Italy was short-lived and he returned to Britain 18 months later in a £5.5million switch to Glasgow Rangers. Injuries overshadowed his later career, and brief spells in England – with Manchester City, where he was reunited with Royle, and Southampton – were fruitless. After a lucrative sojourn in Saudi Arabia, he returned to the Russian Premier League, retiring in February 2007.
Kanchelskis said on the day he signed for Everton, ‘My aim is to give the people who pay to watch our matches pleasure. I hope I achieve that.’ Few will disagree that in his first season at Goodison he did just that.