Italian football lost one of its greats as Vujadin Boskov passed away on the weekend, aged 82. Luca Cetta remembers the iconic figure.
“Penalty is when referee whistles.”
It’s statements such as this which made Vujadin Boskov a notable figure in Italy. The popular Coach was famous for his laconic comments in basic Italian, often in tense post-match interviews. His simplistic sound bites - “The team which makes fewer mistakes, wins...we made more mistakes. We lost” – are the stuff of legend.
Still, there was more to Boskov. He was a genius. A winner. A father figure. On Sunday it was announced Vuja had died in his native Serbia, three weeks shy of his 83rd birthday. With his passing goes a piece of calcio history. Sampdoria tweeted a picture of Boskov celebrating the Scudetto win, noting: “This is how we want to remember you. Goodbye great ‘Vuja’. Unique and inimitable Vujadin Boskov.”
In the port-city of Genoa, Boskov is a revered figure. He led Samp from 1986 to 1992, delivering the Blucerchiati’s only Scudetto triumph in 1990-91. A year later they came within a whisker of winning the European Cup, defeated in extra-time by Barcelona. Samp also lifted the Italian Cup twice under his tutelage, plus the Italian Super Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup. The affable Boskov led the club to heights it had not experienced before, or since.
The side was built around the core of goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca, veterans Pietro Vierchowod and Toninho Cerezo, plus Attilio Lombardo and ‘goal twins’ Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini. Devastating on the counter-attack, their success was a triumph for the hard-working team unit. Sampdoria forged an unbreakable bond, visible each Sunday.
“That team played football without worries. We were free,” Mancini told Gazzetta dello Sport. “Maybe we weren’t the most talented bunch, but Vujadin reminded us every day that we were nothing without the work of the group.”
Pagliuca also paid tribute: “In addition to being a great Coach, he was a great psychologist and a very intelligent person.”
From one Serbian Samp boss to another, Sinisa Mihajlovic remembered the impact Boskov had on him: “He was like a father to me. He was a teacher, an example in football and in life, one of those people you never want to leave and when they do go there is a void that cannot be filled.”
Boskov spent much of his playing career with Vojvodina. During a 14-year stint he also represented Yugoslavia 57 times and claimed Olympic silver at the 1952 Helsinki Games. The midfielder spent 1961-62 at Sampdoria, before two seasons at Young Boys in Switzerland as player-Coach.
He moved back to Vojvodina as technical director and in 1966 the club won a historic first Yugoslav Championship. Further success followed with ADO Den Haag – the Dutch Cup in 1974-75 – and Real Madrid. Boskov led Los Merengues to the League and Cup double, but lost the 1981 European Cup Final to Liverpool.
In 1984 Boskov returned to Italy. Yet it wasn’t with one of the peninsula’s giants, rather struggling Ascoli. They started 1984-85 poorly and fired Carlo Mazzone, but Boskov could not lead them to safety. He stayed on and quickly led Ascoli to the Serie B crown.
Boskov is best remembered for his successful stint at Sampdoria. The historic Scudetto was followed by the near-miss at Wembley Stadium, a controversial 112th minute Ronald Koeman free-kick sealing Barcelona’s first European crown. It was Boskov’s last game in charge.
He moved to the capital, famously giving 16-year-old Francesco Totti his Roma debut in March 1993. “I still remember the day of my debut with him on our bench... how could I forget? Thank you Mister for giving me that chance, as unique as you were,” Totti said.
Boskov moved to a Napoli side on the way down, before another stint in Switzerland. He returned to Sampdoria, then briefly took charge at Perugia. Boskov’s final coaching role was with Yugoslavia. He led the team at Euro 2000, where they were involved in some of the tournament’s most memorable matches.
He couldn’t repeat the magic in that last decade, but by then Boskov’s legacy had been forged. His name will be forever remembered in the blue half of Genoa.
“In my life I’ve won, but the Scudetto with Sampdoria was the most beautiful, the sweetest. Because I won it in the most difficult and most balanced league in the world and because it was the first for a club that had yet to celebrate in half a century of existence. It is a bit like when your first child is born. The joy is greater.”