Yuriy Vernydub had never, until last month, enjoyed great success in European football, training only small clubs from the former USSR. At 55, the Ukrainian has realized his dream of playing in the Champions League with the improbable Sheriff Tiraspol.
Renowned rather severe, Yuriy Vernydub did the unimaginable with this small club from Transdniestria – a Moldovan separatist territory -, defeating at home the Chakhtior Donestk then, against all expectations, at the Bernabeu the Real Madrid, strong of his 13 coronations in Champions League. « I am grateful to my guys for what they have done, » commented modest Yuriy Vernydub after this iconic 2-1 victory at the end of September. Relatives of this coach who has spent his entire career as a player and coach in the former USSR describe him as a determined person, never giving up on his dreams, even if his track record remains limited to say the least.
« It’s no use arguing with him, » testifies on Ukrainian television his son Vitaly, himself a soccer player and who played under his father’s orders. Born in Zhytomyr, northwestern Ukraine, Yuriy Vernydub began his professional career as a USSR-era player in his hometown in 1983. He went from clubs to clubs on a budget in Ukraine, far from the spotlight of great European football. He finally did not approach it until the twilight of his career in the field, playing at the end of the 1990s with Zenith Saint Petersburg two matches in the UEFA Cup, former name of the Europa League.
But Yuriy Vernydub continued to « dream » of the most prestigious of European tournaments, the Champions League. Putting an end to his playing career in 2000 with a knee injury, he embarked on that of a coach, becoming an assistant at Metalurg Zaporizhjia, a Ukrainian premier division club. In 2011, he became the head coach of Zorya Lougansk, a modest club from eastern Ukraine, giving the national giants Chakhtior Donestk and Dynamo Kiev a hard time.
He even led this team, forced to relocate by war and the capture of the city by pro-Russian separatists, to the group stage of the Europa League. This eventful history leaves traces. Today for him it is unimaginable to work in Russia, widely regarded as the instigator of the conflict.
« If I had offers in Russia, I would not go, » he asserts. The footballers who have played under his direction salute his ability to help them progress. One of them, goalkeeper Andriy Lunin, was bought by Real Madrid in 2018 for 8.5 million euros.
« He is a very good person and a very good coach, » said international Oleksandr Karavayev, another former player from the Vernydub school. « The dream and the confidence of Yuriy Vernydub (…) helped me to reach a certain level, to integrate the national team », he explained in 2019, leaving for Dynamo Kiev.
After a decade at Zorya Lougansk, Yuriy Vernydub left the club in 2019 after disagreements over the sale of top players and the lack of new purchases. He spent the following season in neighboring Belarus, before joining FC Sheriff in Tiraspol.
« There was a chance to play in the Champions League, » he said, explaining his decision to join in December 2020 this little-known club from the separatist enclave of Transdniestria but which dominates the Moldovan league. For Artiom Frankov, editor-in-chief of Ukrainian magazine Football, this new challenge has been an opportunity for Vernydub, as he has full control over transfers. « He can recruit the players he needs there, » he told AFP. On the ground, it is the foreign legion: Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Ghana, Mali, Greece and even Luxembourg are represented … Tuesday, the Sheriff will go to Italy to face Inter Milan. « It is clear that this It will be very hard, but we must not be afraid, we must go there and play, « said Yuriy Vernydub.