In the early part of the 21st century, Ukrainian football was in its pomp. Dynamo Kiev had reached the Champions League semi-finals in 1999 and that team boasted outstanding talents like Andriy Shevchenko and Sergei Rebrov. Both of those would later play in the Premier League but didn’t come to replicating their best form on these shores. The same can be said for their compatriot Andriy Voronin, the ponytailed striker who still felt like a rip-off for Liverpool even though he arrived on a free transfer.
Voronin spent the first decade of his professional club career in Germany, taking in Borussia Mönchengladbach, Mainz, Köln and Bayer Leverkusen. It was with the latter that he had his first taste of Anfield, playing in a 3-1 defeat to Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League. His best years came in a Leverkusen shirt and he was a man in form when he represented Ukraine at their first World Cup in 2006, impressing for the debutants as they reached the quarter-finals.
Voronin stunned Leverkusen the following season by refusing to sign a contract extension and the Bundesliga side were left with little option but to let him go for a Bosman free in 2007, with Rafael Benitez bringing him to Liverpool. The Ukrainian made a positive start for the Reds, scoring a cracker in the Champions League playoff win in Toulouse and netting in two of their first four league games. However, his form began to desert him later in the season and his progress was not helped by a lengthy ankle injury.
With Benitez often playing with just one striker, Fernando Torres at his unstoppable best and Robbie Keane arriving in the summer of 2008, Voronin went back to Germany for a year, signing for Hertha Berlin on loan. A more fruitful season in the German capital, and the surprising brevity of Keane’s stay at Anfield, meant that he was given another chance at Liverpool in 2009/10. His days in red were numbered, though, after he fluffed several opportunities as the Reds conceded a late equaliser to Lyon in an ill-fated Champions League campaign.
Two months later, Dynamo Moscow took Voronin off Liverpool’s hands for £4 million, a development that very few Kopites mourned. His scoring record in Russia wasn’t awful, a ratio of one per four games played, but he was far from the player who drew admiring glances from several leading European clubs during his Leverkusen days. His playing career finished in 2014 and earlier this year he stepped into his first managerial role, taking the reins at FC Büderich, who play in the Bezirksliga that forms Germany’s seventh tier.
Liverpool fans will remember the Ukrainian as a player who showed flashes of ability but sorely lacked in confidence, was pitifully slow and did precious little outside the penalty area. This, unfortunately, was a case of a free transfer where the Reds got what they paid for.