Renowned rather severe, Yuriy Vernydub did the unimaginable with this small club from Transdniestria – a Moldovan separatist territory -, defeating the Chakhtior Donestk at home and then, against all odds, in Bernabeu Real Madrid, with its 13 championships in the Champions League. “I am grateful to my guys for what they did,” commented modest Yuriy Vernydub after the iconic 2-1 win at the end of September. Those close to 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 player during the USSR era in his hometown in 1983. He moved on. from clubs to low budget clubs in Ukraine, far removed from the spotlight of great European football. He did not finally get close until the twilight of his career in the field, playing at the end of the 1990s with Zénith Saint-Pétersbourg in two UEFA Cup matches. , 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 first division club. In 2011, he became the main coach of Zorya Lougansk, a modest club in eastern Ukraine, giving the national giants Chakhtior Donestk and Dynamo Kiev a hard time.

He even led this team, which was forced to move by war and the capture of the city by pro-Russian separatists, until the group stage of the Europa League. This turbulent history leaves traces. Today for him, it is unimaginable to work in Russia, widely regarded as the instigator of the conflict.

“If I had any offers in Russia, I wouldn’t go,” he asserts. Footballers who have played under his leadership 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’s a very good person and a very good coach,” said international Oleksandr Karavayev, another former player from Vernydub school. “The dream and the confidence of Yuriy Vernydub (…) helped me to reach a certain level, to integrate the national selection”, 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 at neighboring BÃ © larus, before joining FC Sheriff in Tiraspol.

“There was a chance to play in the Champions League,” he said, explaining his decision to integrate 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 said to AFP. On the ground, it is the foreign legion: Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Ghana, Mali, Greece and even Luxembourg are represented on Tuesday, the Sheriff will travel to Italy to face Inter Milan. “It is clear that it will be very hard. But you have to not be afraid, you have to go there and play,” said Yuriy Vernydub.