My Footballing Hero is an odd choice, in a team that dominated from the mid nineties full of stars Andrei Kanchelskis was a hard working winger who was often eclipsed by the man on the other wing Ryan Giggs.
Joining Manchester United for £650,000 from Shakhtar Donetsk in March of the 1990/91 season Kanchelskis did not making his debut until the penultimate game in the same season. The following season he became a first team regular playing 34 out of 42 league games in the last season before The Premier League came into being, A season where local rivals Leeds claimed the title. The following year he played a lesser role in the team due to injury and the emergence on Lee Sharpe but his contributions every chance he got Kanchelskis showed his potential.
A winger who defied the modern convention of a winger, Kanchelskis was a broad shouldered power machine who with the drop of his shoulder would leave his man for dead before either centering balls in to the on coming strikers or converting the chance himself. Also possessing a decent aerial ability he would draw his man under the ball before overpowering him in an aerial tussle. The equivalent in the current team has to be Antonio Valencia although Kanchelskis possessed more composure in front of goal.
What stuck me first about Kanchelskis was his pace, here was this stocky winger who looked like he would flatten a man rather than outpace him who all of a sudden went like someone shoved a rocket up him! The acceleration was frightening to watch so god knows what it was like to play against it, couple that with his sheer desire to have possession of the ball for the entire 90 minutes which sometimes entailed him running the length of the pitch to regain possession of the ball was something that excited the young me watching him. When United were playing he was always the first name I looked for on the team sheet next to what later became his trademark number 14 (which didn’t become his until 1993/94), a number that still adorns my United shirts now even though its my name and not Andrei’s that is above it. I always used to demand the number 14 when I used to play even though I was a forward, people used to say “ahh Cruyff” nope KANCHELSKIS! I am also not ashamed to say I copied his raised arm celebration as I thought it was ever so cool and modest!
I was shocked and upset when United sold him to Everton after reportedly having a fallout with Sir Alex and even more disappointed when he turned up in a City shirt 6 years later. But he still remains my hero and the only player to score in the Merseyside, Manchester & Glasgow derbys as well as represent 3 international teams.