“Alexei told me it was an excellent club, the best one he ever played for in his life,”- Andrei Kanchelskis, 1998.
This Alexei Mykhaylychenko assessment of Rangers in 1998 paved the way for Andrei Kanchelsis’ move, and the Ukranian-born Russian deemed Glasgow as the perfect destination to continue his playing career; a career that had yielded trophies and success at Manchester United, combined with scintillating performances before, during and after his time at Old Trafford. Now, his adventures on the right wing were to continue in a Rangers jersey.
Growing up following Rangers in the 1990s meant having the pick of admiring some of the best footballers the country had the privilege of attracting; Paul Gascoigne, Brian Laudrup, and Arthur Numan to name but a few. Even the home-grown selection was a decent crop, with Andy Goram, Ian Durrant, and Ally McCoist etc, and upon hearing of Kanchelskis’ decision to move to Ibrox, it was perhaps understandable that Rangers fans would expect yet another star to add into the mix.
He moved to Rangers from Fiorentina in Italy’s top-flight, having already impressed immensely in the seasons before with Everton and Manchester United; in fact, Fiorentina splashed out £8m to secure his services. But his time in Italy was not as fruitful as previous projects, and he failed to win any silverware, scored only 2 goals and had injury woes for a large part of his stay there. More worrying was the lack of outstanding displays which many had come to expect, and rightly so.
He finished the 1994/1995 season as United’s top scorer, and was regarded as the finest right winger in the country. A hat-trick in the derby with Manchester City that same season only served to further confirm the accolades which were thrown his way. Impressive performances continued at Everton leading the Viola keen to put his talents on show with the likes of Gabriel Batistuta and Rui Costa to push for Serie A glory, but the injuries and dip in form never helped the Italians in any way, and UEFA Cup Qualification was the best they could accomplish.
Splashing out £5m to sign the, at that time, 29 year old seemed just part of the absurd over-spending Dick Advocaat had introduced at Ibrox. Seeing Italy as a failed experience, Andrei Kanchelskis arrived clinging onto the reputation earned in England prior to his time in Italy. Undoubtedly, the skill and technique were still there, but his time at Rangers saw him only produce the goods sporadically, notably in matches where Rangers were coasting to a win. Only glimpses of brilliance were displayed from a player who had the chance to take the whole league by the scruff of the neck, and really showcase his talents; the same way Brian Laudrup did. His twisting and turning runs were a rarity, and his ability to cut inside and shoot with any foot was far too infrequent. A big game player he was not and injuries again hampered him ever getting back to a consistent level of performance.
For Rangers fans, it’s easy to remember brilliance by Brian Laudrup in the Scottish Cup final of 1996 against Hearts, or Gazza’s inspiring hat-trick against Aberdeen the same year to secure 8 in a row. You feel Andrei Kanchelskis had the chance produce the same moments of genius at for the fans at Ibrox, but he seemed to be a shadow of the player who bombed down the Man Utd wing, created goals and scored his fair share.
Injuries, of course do not help, and perhaps confidence was a major issue as a result of a disastrous time in Italy. Fall-outs were also in his nature, explaining why he left Old Trafford for Everton previously. “Clear the air” talks were held with the Rangers management team also, which is never a sign of a happy player. It seemed the time of Kanchelskis terrifying full backs was slowly running out.
The rare glimpses of quality which were displayed were reminiscent of the ability shown in England. His “Marco van Basten-esque” goal against Dunfermline was a sensational volley, showing such technique and accuracy, and was genuinely something special. The ball seemed to take and age to arrive at his feet as it was floated across to the right hand side of the box, and with great balance and concentration, it was blasted first time to the opposite corner, leaving the ‘keeper no hope of getting anything on it. It was a rocket, and a piece of genius produced by a player showing he still had “it” somewhere in his locker.
Ever popular was the Scottish Cup semi-final against Ayr United where Kanchelskis received the ball on the usual right hand side, drifted in a little and stood on the ball with both feet, raising his hand to his head to get a better look at his options ahead. Like a small child trying to see over a crowd of adults. A fantastic piece of showboating that was completely unnecessary, useless almost, but is remembered by many fans of Rangers. It showed a confidence and trust in his own ability that hadn’t been seen often enough in a Rangers shirt. Scoring against Celtic for Rangers helped Kanchelskis to the honour of being the only player to have scored in the Manchester, Merseyside and Glasgow derbies.
There is no doubt Andrei’s impact should have been far greater-it should have been along the lines of Laudrup’s arrival; a complete game changer and match winner capable of unrivalled skill and excellence. This it was not. However, he was impactful during his time in England; such is the irritation for Rangers fans of the “what could have been”. After 4 years at Rangers, with a loan spell at Manchester City in 2001, a move to Southampton the next year failed to revive the ever weakening talent, and then subsequent moves to Saudi Arabia and Russia paved the way to a retirement announcement in 2007.
Post playing career, Kanchelskis has been involved in various coaching positions with Russian teams, eager to make a name as a manager. Having seen the treatment of several former players thrown straight into management at top sides, he is keen to learn and progress naturally, whilst still keeping in touch with players and managers from his early career. At the 2008 Champion’s League Final in Moscow, he met Sir Alex Ferguson before the match and “discussed football”, despite the rumoured falling out which led to his departure for Everton earlier in his career. With such a studious approach and level of modesty in his older days, you may well see his name on a more illustrious manager’s door soon enough.
Andrei Kanchelskis will be remembered by most as a fantastic footballer in the early 90s, contributing greatly in England. Fast, skilful and an ability to create and score goals, he became a high impact player. It may seem a little strange speaking about a 29 year old arriving at a club with potential, but that was the case, and unfortunately for Rangers, and Kanchelskis, this potential was unfulfilled at Ibrox. You feel it was an opportunity not taken by someone who had the rare chance to start over again.