Legend of Calcio: Pietro Vierchowod
Pietro Vierchowod made 562 Serie A appearances, was a member of the Italian squad that won the 1982 FIFA World Cup and continued playing beyond his fortieth birthday during a career spanning across almost 20 years at the top level of Italian football.
It’s very rare nowadays for a footballer to stay in one league, let alone represent a team for more than ten years. Pietro Vierchowod managed both of these feats, staying loyal to his Sampdoria side for 12 years before moving on to play for both Juventus and AC Milan.
A rugged, yet elegant central defender, Vierchowod goes down as one of the legends of Italian football, playing until the age of 41 and making the fifth highest amount of appearances in Serie A history.
Vierchowod was seen as a complete defender. Tough and intelligent with an aerial prowess but also comfortable on the ball, he often made marauding runs up the pitch and created chances for his teammates.
Born as the son of a Ukrainian soldier, Vierchowod picked up the nickname of Lo Zar for his family connection and also his style of play on the pitch. His career started off at Como, where he made over 100 appearances between the ages of 17 and 22.
A young Vierchowod inspired his Como side to back-to-back promotions between the years of 1978 and 1980. Furthermore, once they were promoted from Serie C1, the Lariani actually ended up champions of Serie B in the 1979/80 season and were promoted to Serie A.
The 1980/81 season would be his last for Como as his side narrowly missed out on relegation from Serie A by one place. The following season he moved to Fiorentina as the Viola mounted a serious title challenge with Vierchowod in defence, but they were pipped to the Scudetto by Juventus. The defender’s fine performances earned him a place in the Azzurri’s squad for the 1982 World Cup.
Despite being a valued member of the Italy squad, Vierchowod didn’t play a minute of that World Cup such was the strength in defence that the Italians had.
It’s tough to argue that the Fiorentina defender deserved a spot in that team, with the likes of Claudio Gentile, Gaetano Scirea and Fulvio Collovati operating in the Italy defence. He was unfortunate, but the Azzurri ended up winning the tournament beating West Germany in the final 3-1.
After the World Cup, Vierchowod left Fiorentina after only one season and moved to Roma. Lo Zar helped the Giallorossi claim their second Serie A title and his first in his debut season with the club. What’s more is that Roma beat Juventus to the title, the team that narrowly beat his Fiorentina side just a year earlier.
Following the success of the Scudetto, the 1983-84 season would see Vierchowod plying his trade with Sampdoria. It was initially seen as a surprising move as Samp finished 7th the year that the defender won the league with Roma, but in hindsight the transfer shaped his career.
In his second season with Samp, they won the Coppa Italia, beating Milan 3-1 on aggregate in the final. That was the first of four Coppa Italia titles that the Blucerchiati won with Vierchowod in the heart of their defence, with the other successes coming in 1987-88, 1988-89 and 1993-94. Samp also finished runners-up twice against Vierchowod’s old team Roma in 1985-86 and 1990-91.
After winning the Coppa Italia in 1988-89, Il Doria were to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup 2-0, after extra-time, thanks to two goals from Gianluca Vialli in 1989-90. Vierchowod also grabbed two goals himself in that campaign, one in the quarter-final against Grasshopper of Switzerland, and the other in the semi-final against French side Monaco.
Without a doubt Vierchowod’s best campaign was the Serie A season of 1990-91 where he was a stalwart in the Samp defence as they won their first ever league title, though the defender may not have received the plaudits he deserved.
With Roberto Mancini and Vialli leading the line and grabbing most of the limelight, Vierchowod was just as important at the rear end, helping the Genoa-based club accumulate 17 clean sheets, 11 of which came away from home.
Domestically, in the 1991-92 campaign Sampdoria had a poor outing, finishing sixth and missing out on European football. Though, it could have been the successful campaign in the European Cup that hindered their performance in Serie A.
Samp made it all the way to the final after topping the group in what was an oddly structured European Cup in its final year before it changed to the Champions League. Up against Barcelona in the final, they lost in extra time thanks to a free-kick from Ronald Koeman. It wasn’t going to be Vierchowod’s last shot at the inaugural trophy though.
In 1995, at the age of 36, Lo Zar was signed by Italian champions Juventus and although the Bianconeri didn’t win the league that season, they grabbed their second European Cup title. Vierchowod played the whole 120 mins as the Old Lady beat Ajax on penalties in the final. Not many players at that age would be able to keep their concentration or energy to play a final at that level for so long, but he could, proving his steel.
His career withered away after the high of winning the biggest club competition on offer, signing for AC Milan immediately afterwards in 1996 and playing a bit-part role for the Rossoneri as they finished 11th in Serie A. After that season, he moved to Piacenza where he stayed for three seasons, before retiring from football at the age of 41 in 2000.
Vierchowod will go down as one of the greatest defenders to hail from the peninsula and he can deem himself unlucky to have not accumulated more caps for the Azzurri. After the third-placed play-off of the 1990 World Cup, England striker Gary Lineker described Vierchowod as the hardest defender he has ever played against.
“He was absolutely brutal and lightning quick. He gave me one or two digs,” said Lineker.
It is certain that if Vierchowod played in any other generation, such as now, he would have played a bigger part in the Italian side. His leadership, tactical awareness and fitness enabled him to prolong his career to the age of 41, not to mention play a big part on the pitch, claiming various titles.
And with 562 Serie A appearances to his name, and almost 20 years at the top level, Vierchowod goes down as a legend of the Italian game, despite maybe not receiving the International accolades he merited.