The son of a Ukrainian soldier, Pietro Vierchowod was born in Calcinate, Italy, on the 6th April 1959 and developed into one of the finest centre backs of his generation and most notable was a member of the 1982 Italian World Cup winning squad. He was nicknamed “lo Zar” (“The Tsar”), due to his Ukrainian descent and his ability and physicality.
Vierchowod’s father was Ivan Luchianovic Vierchowod, he was a Ukrainian soldier in the Soviet Red Army and was taken prisoner during the Second World War. He was interred at Bolzano, Pisa and Modena. After the war, Ivan Luchianovic, understandably, refused to return to the Soviet Union and instead settled in Italy. Ivan put his son to work from an early age. After establishing himself as a mechanic, he made Pietro work as a labourer and football was just a hobby. A hobby, which would become his life.
A 16, Vierchowod had trials with AC Milan, but it was not to so his youth career began at Romaese, where he spent three years starting in 1973. He began his professional career at Como whom he joined in 1976. Over a five year period, he established himself into the first team and made over 100 appearances in his spell with the club. He was signed by Paolo Mantovani when he began his revolution at Sampdoria, but as they were not in the top flight, Vierchowod made a temporary move to Fiorentina with whom he spent the 1981/82. Following 28 appearances and two goals for the Viola, he made another temporary move, this time to Roma, signiging for I Giallorossi for the 1982/83 season.
In the meantime, he had already made his debut for the Italian national side in a friendly against The Netherlands in 1981, at the age of just 21. His impressive form for Como and Fiorentina earned him call up to the 1982 Italian World Cup squad for the championship in Spain. Although he did not make an appearance at the competition, Italy went on to win the competition and thus, Vierchowod got himself a World Cup Winners medal.
It was an inspired move to Roma as more glory followed in the form of the 1983 Serie A title, giving Vierchowod his first domestic silverware. This was his first taste of domestic silverware and more would follow. It was Roma’s first title in 41 years, but he did not stay with La Maggica to build on the success, as in the following season he finally began his time at Sampdoria. At this stage, Vierchowod’s reputation was growing and he was growing into one of the best defenders in the division. He was renowned for his toughness, strength, aggression, tight marking and hard tackling. He was also blessed with great speed and anticipation, which helped him break down opposition moves and win back possession.
More glory followed while at Sampdoria as in a twelve year spell at the club he added four Coppa Italia’s, three Supercoppa Italia’s, the 1989/90 Cup Winners Cup and the 1990-91 Serie A title. This Serie A title was one of his greatest achievements. The forward pairing of Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli understandably get great credit for their creative telepathy. However, it is worth noting that Sampdoria kept 17 clean sheets in that season, and Vierchowod’s role in stopping the opposition, as well as guiding the youthful Marco Lanna, were both pivotal and inspirational. His ability to grab a game by the scruff of the neck stretched to the opposition penalty area, with rapid surges forward in his peak years which created overlaps and a spare man in the final third. He always posed a threat at set-plays too, as some of the powerful headed goals in the video demonstrate. The ’91 Serie A title also featured Gianluca Pagliuca, Gianluca Vialli, Roberto Mancini, and even Olexiy Mykhaylychenko, who had moved to Sampdoria in the middle of a sequence which saw him win seven consecutive titles for three different sides (1x Dynamo, 1x Sampdoria & 5x Rangers). The title success was the completion of a “blood pact”, the talented squad pulled together by Mantovani, all agreeing to stay at the club, until a title was won. The following year, there was nearly European Glory for Sampdoria, as they reached the final of the European Cup, but they could not secure the title. This wound was deep for Sampdoria, but Vierchowod and Viali would heal the wound later in their careers.
In 1995, at the age of 36, Vierchowod’s time at Sampdoria came to an end after years of glory and over 350 appearances. It was not however, the end of Vierchowod’s career as he made another move, this time joining the Old Lady, Juventus. He was signed as Juventus sought an experienced defender. More European glory followed for Vierchowod as he amazingly helped Juventus win the 1996 UEFA Champions League. Vierchowod’s work in shackling Kluivert in particular was a large part of the reason that the game went to a shootout, which Juventus won. He only stayed at Juve for that one season, but still had life in him as he moved to AC Milan. It was again only a one year stay at Milan as another move beckoned, this time to Piacenza, where he did finish his career in 2000 at the age of 41.
Over his career, he made 562 appearances in Serie, leaving him 5th on the all-time appearance list, behind the likes of Paulo Maldini, Dino Zoff, Gianluca Pagliuca and Javier Zanetti. He made 45 international caps, scoring two goals. He made the Italy squads for the 1986 and 1990 World Cups, and scored in the qualification campaign for the 1994 World Cup, which Italy won, becoming the oldest player to score for Italy. He was also part of the 1984 Olympic side, where Italy finished fourth.
Vierchowod received immense praise at the end of his career from some of the greatest strikers who have played the game. Argentine legend Diego Maradonna tol d El Grafico magazine that Vierchowod “ was an animal, he had muscles to the eyelashes. It was easy to pass by him, but then when I raised my head, he was in front of me again. I would have to pass him two or three more times and then I would pass the ball because I couldn’t stand him anymore”. This is not the end of the praise as English striker Gary Lineker told FourFourTwo that Vierchowod was “the hardest defender he ever faced” adding “he was absolutely brutal and lightning quick. He gave me one or two digs.”
After his playing career, Vierchowod coached Catania of Serie C1, Florentia Viola (now Fiorentina) of Serie C2 and Triestina of Serie B. In all of the circumstances, he was fired before the end of the season. On 13 June 2014, Vierchowod was announced as the new coach of the Hungarian club, Budapest Honvéd, but after the team’s poor performance on 6 October he was fired.
To finish in his own words – “Me, Vialli, Mancini, Cerezo. It was a team of friends and a wonderful, unique group. There I won, it was great. Before, with Como, my first family, Fiorentina, great football, Roman, my first title, Juve, The European Cup. Milan was the wrong time, I had to go in 1990, but Mantovani stopped me. At Piacenza, a revival, in my 40’s – great memories”.
Pietro Vierchowod, the Ukrainian/Italian World Cup winner. Legend of Italian football and one of the greatest centre backs in football, welcome to the Viktor Leonenko Hall of Fame.
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