Dare To Be Different with Andrei Kanchelskis: My story
It takes a special kind of player to become a cult hero at more than one club. Doing so at three major British clubs, all while initially having to overcome major language and cultural barriers, is even more impressive.
“I scored goals in all three of the major derbies I played in the UK,” Andrei Kanchelskis tells Casumo. “The Manchester, Merseyside and Old Firm derbies! I’m very honoured to have done so, it was a great time.”
Indeed, over 20 years on from achieving the feat, Kanchelskis is still the only player ever to have scored in each of the Manchester, Merseyside, and Old Firm derbies – with his goals for Manchester United, Everton and Rangers helping to earn his eternal place in the hearts of the supporters of the three great clubs.
It was at Manchester United where the winger first made a name for himself on UK shores, with Alex Ferguson signing Kanchelskis from Shakhtar Donetsk in 1991 for £650,000 off the back of seeing him on video playing for Russia’s under-21s.
After beginning his career with hometown team Zirka Kropyvnytskyi, a big move to Dynamo Kyiv followed – where Kanchelskis worked under legendary Ukrainian coach Valeriy Lobanovskyi – before then moving on to Shakhtar Donetsk.
Impressing for two of Ukraine’s biggest clubs is one thing, but then doing so at Manchester United, where a new culture and language awaited, and at a time when there were still relatively few foreign players in England, was another challenge altogether.
“Moving to England was difficult,” Kanchelskis recalls. “Having to deal with a new country, a new language, a new culture – even driving on the different side of the road! There were a few problems when I first arrived, which I eventually overcame. Thankfully I had a translator who played a big role in helping me and my family to settle.”
But settle he soon did. Kanchelskis went on to make 32 league appearances during his first full campaign at United in 1991/92 as they won the League Cup, before he then helped the club win the inaugural Premier League the following season – the Red Devils’ first league title in 26 years.
“It was a dream to sign for Manchester United,” Kanchelskis says. “I remember signing my contract with the club, signing together with Paul Parker and Peter Schmeichel in 1991. After our first season we lost the league title to Leeds, but Sir Alex Ferguson went straight into the dressing room and said ‘OK guys, no worries. Next season we will win the title.’ And next season we did win the title after 26 years!
“It was an excellent team and I am so pleased to have experienced and been involved with that. Everyone at the club was like a family to me and helped me along the way with my initial problems. I was lucky to play with some big names and with some excellent people.”
The good times at Old Trafford continued the following season as the Russia international played a key role as United won another Premier League title, as well as the FA Cup, to seal the double for the first time in the club’s history, with the winger by now a firm fan favourite.
“Winning the double in 1994 was an amazing moment and for me this was the best Manchester United team I played in,” Kanchelskis says. “Thank you very much to Sir Alex Ferguson and to all the people who worked at Manchester United that helped me. It was an excellent time, I won too many titles. Two times I won the Premier League, and the FA Cup and League Cup…
“I was very lucky to play for Sir Alex Ferugson, he was an excellent coach. Thank you for the trophies! And for helping me and for taking a chance on me. I’m waiting to come to Manchester United to see him again and to take him some black caviar as he loves black caviar!”
The following season was less successful for Ferguson’s side as Blackburn pipped United to the 1994/95 Premier League title on the final day of the season.
Kanchelskis’ impressive form continued into that campaign as he finished the season as United’s top scorer with 15 goals, including a hat-trick in the 5-0 derby win over rivals Manchester City, yet a reported falling out with Ferguson led to his departure to Everton for a club record £5 million.
“I was disappointed to leave United, of course,” Kanchelskis says. “But I had a great time at Everton, they’re a great club.”
Everton Cult Status
Just a few months into his time at Everton and Kanchelskis had already earnt cult status with the club’s supporters after scoring two goals against Merseyside rivals Liverpool at Anfield to secure a 2-1 victory – the Toffees’ first win away in the league at their enemies since 1986.
By the end of his first season at Goodison Park, Kanchelskis had scored 16 goals, including 10 in the last 10 matches, to finish up as the club’s top scorer and match Tony Cottee’s then club record for most goals in a campaign.
“Everton fans really got behind the team, even though most seasons they hadn’t won trophies or weren’t in Europe,” Kanchelskis says. “When I signed there was a lot of pressure on me, especially from the media, as it was a lot of money for the club to pay. But the fans helped me overcome that and so did Joe Royle, a great coach and a great help for me. I was very happy to play for Everton.”
Kanchelskis’ performances at Everton attracted interest from abroad, with Fiorentina splashing out £8 million on the winger in 1997. A injury-hit spell in Italy soon followed, before Rangers broke the Scottish transfer record by paying £5.5 million to bring Kanchelskis to Ibrox in 1998.
Treble at Rangers
By the end of his first season in Scotland, Kanchelskis had helped Rangers win a first domestic treble of the league, Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup since 1993, while the next season he netted in the Old Firm derby against Celtic to secure his place in Ibrox folklore.
Yet by the following campaign, Kanchelskis had fallen out with manager Dick Advocaat and found himself being shipped out on loan back to Manchester – but this time, of all places, to United’s rivals Manchester City.
“I had an excellent time in Scotland playing for such a big club like Rangers,” Kanchelskis says. “In my Old Firm derby, I broke my arm – welcome to Scotland! The derbies against Celtic were great occasions.
“I then went on loan to Manchester City because I needed somewhere to practice as I wasn’t playing too many games at Rangers. I had some problems with Advocaat, so Joe Royle took me to City. If I’d have moved to City directly, of course this would not be great given my time at United, but everyone understands why I moved to City – I needed somewhere to practice and somewhere to play some big games. And I knew Joe Royle from my time at Everton.
“I only played 12 games, not too many. And Man City aren’t like they are now, we dropped down to the Championship. Man City now and Man City then are very different. But of course, if I go to Manchester, Man United supporters will still remind me of the move! But this is life, this is football.”
Kanchelskis soon moved on to Southampton after returning to Rangers, before winding down his career with Saudi club Al Hilal and Russian sides Dynamo Moscow, Saturn Ramenskoye and Krylia Sovetov, finally hanging up his boots in 2006.
Kanchelskis has since moved into management with spells at clubs in Russia, Uzbekistan and Latvia, yet for fans of Manchester United, Everton and Rangers, it will be his work on the pitch – his rapid pace, an eye for goal and impressive work rate – that he will always be remembered for.
“I’m very lucky and very glad I had the chance to play for some great teams – especially Manchester United as they’re such a great club, and Everton as well,” Kanchelskis says. “I say to the fans, thank you very much. I played with my heart 100%. Thank you to everyone that worked at the clubs and helped me along the way. From the chairman to the players, to the secretary, thank you all very much.”
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