Shevchenko hangs up boots for politics

Ukraine's star striker Andriy Shevchenko on Saturday revealed he was joining a pro-business political party after announcing that he was quitting football for politics.

The talismanic player, who turned out for his final appearance for Ukraine when it hosted Euro 2012 last month, told his fans he was quitting all football after watching his side Dynamo Kiev's domestic clash with Goverla.

"Probably, I will shock all of you. My future will not be linked to football in any way... It will be linked to politics. I hope for your support," he said in a statement on the Dynamo Kiev website.

"It is certain, Dynamo Kiev is now my former club. This club, which I love with all my heart and I will always support," he added.

Shevchenko added later Saturday he had decided to join a pro-business party called Ukraine Forward! whose leader, Nataliya Korolevska, has broken away from the opposition party of jailed ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

"I want to fulfil myself in politics and share the experience I gained in Europe, do something for my country," Shevchenko said while visiting a children's summer school with Korolevska, according to a statement released by the party.

"I decided to join the team of Nataliya Korolevska because Ukraine Forward! is a party of the future, it is a party of young leaders," he said.

"In politics, I plan to support the social sector and sport. After all, my main slogan is a healthy mind in a healthy body," he said.

Korolevska thanked Shevchenko for his backing, saying he "made his choice for the politics of the future, politics of a new quality."

"I believe, together as a one team, a single force, we will make Ukraine move forward," she said.

Shevchenko first emerged in the 1990s at Dynamo Kiev under the great Ukrainian coach Valeriy Lobanovskiy. He collected the European footballer of the year award in 2004 during a seven-year spell with AC Milan.

After an often frustrating stint at Chelsea, he returned to Kiev for the last years of his career.

Ukraine Forward! is a new political force seen as a pro-business party. Korolevska is its only member of parliament and still formally represents Tymoshenko's bloc, but the party is hoping to win its first seats in October's parliamentary elections.

A hugely popular figure in Ukraine, Shevchenko's decision is a major coup for the nascent party.

The party has campaigned for Tymoshenko's release from jail, where she is serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of power despite Western outrage at what the EU says are politically motivated charges.

By going into politics, Shevchenko will be following in the footsteps of another Ukrainian sports star, the heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko.

Klitschko has founded his own political party with the aptly-chosen acronym UDAR (punch) and will be a serious contender in October's parliamentary elections in opposition to the Regions Party of President Viktor Yanukovych.

The trend is also being seen elsewhere in the former USSR. In Georgia, ex-football star Kakha Kaladze will run for parliament this autumn with the opposition coalition led by billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Shevchenko himself has previously flirted with politics although he has at times shown fluctuating political loyalties.

In the late 1990s, he and other teammates at Dynamo Kiev publicly backed the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine of then-president Leonid Kuchma, who ruled Ukraine from 1994 to 2005.

Later in 2005 Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-European leader who swept to power through the Orange Revolution that cancelled rigged polls, named him as an unsalaried advisor.

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