It’s nearly 30 years since Alex Ferguson started his own Russian Revolution at Manchester United by signing a young winger from deepest Ukraine in March 1991.
There were very few foreign-born footballers in the English game – only 13 in the Premier League in 1992 – so bringing in a player from then obscure Shakhtar Donetsk was a bold move indeed.
But the gamble paid off. The 22-year-old from Kirovohrad in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic went on to make 145 appearances for United, scoring 48 goals along the way.
His name, of course, was Andrei Kanchelskis.
Born in January 1969 to a Russian mother and Lithuanian father, Kanchelskis began his senior career with Dynamo Kiev in 1988 before moving to Shakhtar Donetsk in 1990.
But it was his exploits for the Soviet Union side that helped bring him to the attention of the world’s football press and one or two leading European club managers.
Kanchelskis played 17 times for the national team from 1981, scoring three goals, before momentous events brought about the end of the Soviet Union.
In fact, Kanchelskis made history by becoming the last player to score for the Soviet Union during the last official game in Cyprus in November 1991.
The national team then played under the banner of the transitional Commonwealth of Individual States (CIS) from December 1991 until August 1992. Kanchelskis made six appearances.
He then won 36 caps for the FIFA-recognised Russian national team from 1992 to 1998, scoring four goals.
Although Kanchelskis played in the Euro 92 tournament in Sweden and Euro 96 in England, he missed out on the 1994 World Cup after leading a player boycott against Russian head coach Pavel Sadyrin in 1993.
Kanchelskis, along with 13 other players including Igor Shalimov, wanted Anatoliy Byshovets as their coach. The boycott failed and Kanchelskis was dropped, but Sadyrin did not last long. He was replaced by Oleg Romantsev after the World Cup finals.
Back in Britain, Kanchelskis had signed for United for a fee of £650,000 on March 26th 1991. He made his debut in the 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace on May 11th – the penultimate match of the season.
Also signed for the 1991-2 season were full back Paul Parker and Danish international goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel.
Kanchelskis quickly became a team regular, playing 34 out of 42 league games in his first full season. He scored his first goal for the Red Devils in the 2-0 league win over Sheffield United at Old Trafford on November 2nd.
The flying Russian winger also helped the Red Devils win their first League Cup by defeating Nottingham Forest 1-0 at Wembley and featured in the 1-0 European Super Cup victory over Red Star Belgrade at Old Trafford.
With the emergence of Ryan Giggs and the return of Lee Sharpe from injury, Kanchelskis got fewer first team starts in the 1992-3 season. He still, however, made 27 league appearances helping United secure the first ever Premier League title with 84 points.
Kanchelskis was in brilliant form for the 1993-4 season, reclaiming his first team place as United won both the Premier League and FA Cup.
The only downside was being sent off for handball in the League Cup final against Aston Villa, giving away a penalty. United lost the match 3-1 – and with it the chance of a unique English treble.
Kanchelskis bounced back to become United’s leading scorer in the 1994-5 season with 15 goals in all competitions. A highlight was the hat-trick he notched up in the 5-0 home win against local rivals Manchester City.
The early days of the 1995-6 season saw Kanchelskis put on the transfer list at Old Trafford. Everton manager Joe Royle then signed him for the Toffees for a club record transfer fee of £5 million.
Kanchelskis became something of a cult hero at Everton, scoring 16 goals that season. But what really endeared him to the Everton faithful were the two goals he netted in the 2-1 away victory over Liverpool in November.
After Everton, Kanchelskis played at Fiorentina and Glasgow Rangers before joining Manchester City on loan in 2001. He made 10 league appearances for the Blues, scoring once.
Spells at Southampton, Saudi club Al Hilal and Saturn Moscow Oblast followed until he retired from playing at Russian side Krylia Sovetov in2006.
Kanchelskis’ career includes a unique British achievement which may never be equalled.
He remains the only player to have scored in each of the Manchester, Merseyside and Glasgow local derbies.
*Many more sporting legends from the North West are recalled in Clive Hardy’s three Around Manchester books covering the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
Each book is packed with around 300 past images of Manchester along with fascinating insights and commentary from the author. The price is £14.99 per book, with all postage and packing paid.
Just go to inostalgia.co.uk to place your order or telephone the order hotline on 01928 503777.