Andrei Kanchelskis: Soviet Speedster

Andrei Kanchelskis: Soviet Speedster

Player Profile: Andrei Kanchelskis

Date of Birth: 23/01/1969

Height: 1.83 m

Position: Winger

National Team: USSR, CIS, Russia

International Caps: 59

International Goals: 7

Club Career

There are talented footballers, and then there are pathbreakers. These days, the Premier League is a platform for players from all over the world but there was a time when it was almost exclusively contested by footballers from the British Isles. Andrei Kanchelskis was one of the first to change that.

When he arrived at Manchester United in 1991, he was a virtual unknown and a somewhat of novelty act. Pretty soon though, he became Alex Ferguson’s first successful signing from outside the United Kingdom. The likes of Eric Cantona and Peter Schmeichel soon followed Kanchelskis through the gates at Old Trafford forming the nucleus of the first of Alex Ferguson’s truly great sides.

Kanchelskis’s was born to Lithuanian parents in the Soviet Union, and his self-belief was strong from an early age. So much so that the winger left home at 14 to join a sports boarding school located more than 200km away from his family. It paid off when in 1988 he signed his first professional contract with Dynamo Kyiv. 

One of the benefits of the move was that it helped him avoid the mandatory army service that all Soviet citizens above the age of 18 had to undergo due to the fact that Dynamo was an army club. His exploits for Dynamo led to a move to Shakhtar Donetsk and after 21 league appearances for the club, he was ready for his big move.

Manchester United were looking for a pacy winger and after Ferguson saw videos of Kanchelskis turning out for Russia, the player was invited to Old Trafford for a trial. The story goes that Kanchelskis did not even know which Manchester club was interested in signing him and arrived totally unprepared. However, his trial was good enough to convince the club to spend £650,000 on him.

Before his arrival, Ferguson had stuck almost entirely to British or Irish signings with Aussie youngster Mark Bosnich being the only exception. In fact, this was true of nearly all of England’s first division sides – on the Premier League’s opening weekend in 1992, Kanchelskis was one of only 13 foreigners in the entire league.

Kanchelskis made a good start to life at Old Trafford, winning the European Super Cup. However, he also tasted disappointment, after United finished second to Leeds in the title race after leading for a good part of the season. Kanchelskis was a regular member of the squad, playing 34 games in the league and scoring five times.

However, the disappointment of the season prior would be erased during 1992-93 as United won the newly-formed Premier League. Kanchelskis was a regular in the side for most of the first half of the season before Ferguson started preferring young homegrown wingers Lee Sharpe and Ryan Giggs. He did play some part in 27 league games, although 13 of them were from the bench.

The Russian hit back the following season, reclaiming his place in the starting line-up as United won a historic league and FA Cup double. Kanchelskis did have one bad moment that season though – in the League Cup final against Aston Villa, he conceded a penalty and was sent off as United lost 3-1.

The 1994-95 season was perhaps Kanchelskis’ best in a red shirt even though it was anything but memorable for United. The Red Devils lost their title to Blackburn Rovers, but Kanchelskis finished top scorer for his club with 15 goals. A hat-trick against derby rivals Manchester City cemented his place in the hearts of the Old Trafford faithful.

Despite his stellar season, United fans were shocked when Ferguson placed Kanchelskis on the transfer list. Numerous reasons were listed for his departure. One was that Kanchelskis himself had fallen out with Ferguson after he missed the final weeks of the season with a hernia. Other stories circulated of his agent pushing for a move since the last contract that Kanchelskis signed entitled him to a good portion of the transfer fee. 

Bryan Robson at Middlesbrough made a bid to sign him and was initially Kanchelskis’ preferred destination. However, he ended up going to Merseyside to play for Everton. His transfer arguably turned up to be a good thing for United – his replacement on the right wing was a certain youngster by the name of David Beckham.

Kanchelskis continued his fine form for the Blues, scoring 16 goals for the club but that turned out to be his only season at Everton. Despite the club finishing sixth – their best in quite some time – and Kanchelskis becoming a fan-favourite after scoring twice against arch-rivals Liverpool, Everton elected to move the Russian on when Fiorentina came calling in the summer.

It was in Italy that Kanchelskis’ career started unravelling. A succession of injuries meant that he never really made an impact at Fiorentina. Within a couple of years, he was in Scotland, playing in Rangers colours. While in Glasgow he helped the Gers to two league titles and several domestic cup trophies.

After leaving the Scottish giants, he became something of a journeyman player, representing the Manchester City, Southampton and Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia. At the conclusion of his stint in the middle-east, he returned home to play for FC Saturn Moscow and then Krylia Sovetov, before hanging up his boots in 2007.

International Career

Andrei Kanchelskis has the unique distinction of playing for three distinct national teams. He started his career playing for the Soviet Union and made 17 appearances for them between 1989 and 1991. He is credited with scoring the last-ever goal in the Soviet national team’s history, against Cyprus in 1991.

Then, following the break-up of the Soviet Union, he played for the national team of the transitionary entity the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). From 1992, he started representing Russia for whom he played 36 times and scored 4 goals. Kanchelskis missed out on playing in the 1994 World Cup after leading a player revolt against then-Russian head coach Pavel Sadyrin. 

He did, however, represent his country in the 1992 and 1996 European Championships and those remain the only major international tournaments that he played in.

Russia did come within two games of qualifying for the 1998 World Cup, but in the first leg of the playoffs against Italy, Kanchelskis was injured. As a result, he missed the second leg as Italy won 2-1 on aggregate and qualified for the World Cup in France at the expense of the Russian side.

Where is Andrei Kanchelskis now?

After retiring as a player, Andrei Kanchelskis took some time away from football before turning to administration in 2007. His first assignment, as FC Nosta Novotroitsk’s sporting director, did not go too well. The club was relegated just a couple of seasons into Kanchelskis’ appointment.

After that, he turned to management, becoming the coach of FC Torpedo-Zil. In 2011, he took over the reins of FC Ufa but did not last long, being replaced by Andrei Malay midway through the season.

Three years later, his managerial journey took him out of Russia for the first time, after being appointed as manager of FC Jurmala in the Latvian Higher League. The team were relegated in his first season in charge, and he left the club shortly after. In 2018, he took over Navbahor Namangan in the Uzbek top-flight where he was still in charge at the time of writing.

From time to time Kanchelskis also appears in legends games for his former club Manchester United.

Did you know? Interesting facts about Andrei Kanchelskis

– Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson alleged in his autobiography that he was offered a bribe by Kanchelskis’ agent to sell the Russian.

– Apart from football, Kanchelskis also excelled in gymnastics while at school. 

– When Kanchelskis joined Manchester United, he spoke no English. He was tricked by his colleagues into addressing his manager as a ‘Scottish b*****d’ despite not knowing what it meant.