While this series will often bring you tales of footballing derring-do and moments of high romance, occasionally things will be more prosaic. This week’s offering is a prime example – it’s all about goals, goals, goals, plain and simple. Specifically, the goals of one man: Oleg Veretennikov, the man they crowned King of RPL scorers.
In just 246 Premier League games for Rotor Volgograd, “Verya” notched an incredible 141 times – one goal every 1.7 matches.
And it’s not just the amount that’s staggering either. Veretennikov had scored them all by the age of just 29 – Dmitry Kirichenko, the closest to Veretennikov’s tally with 119, is already 33 and has played 329 RPL games and counting.
During his eight season (1992-99) RPL career with Rotor Volgograd, Verya finished as the league’s top marksman on three separate occasions, bagging 25 in 1995 and 22 in 1996 and 1997, a record that still stands to this day. His haul of 25 is a record total that is yet to be beaten.
And still, that’s not all: Veretennikov was not even an out-and-out striker. Though tall and powerful, Verya was actually an attacking midfielder/support striker (more a swashbuckling Predrag Mijatovic than an Alan Shearer), a fact that makes his record all the more staggering. He was voted the best attacking midfielder four times by venerable Russian sports newspaper, Sport Express.
Blessed with an incredibly powerful left-foot, Verya became famed for launching absolute stonkers from distance, and regularly rattling-in howitzer-like free kicks and penalties. With great instincts inside the box too, Veretennikov was formidable from all areas and any angle.
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However, like Alan Shearer, despite all his goals Veretennikov failed to seize the silverware his talents merited. Indeed, he would have eyed Shearer’s single title champions medal covetously.
With Rotor, Verya finished second in the league on two occasions and was a beaten Cup finalist once (Veretennikov, ironically, missed a penalty in extra time before Rotor lost in a shootout).
Rotor actually came closest to being champions the year they finished third. After losing their penultimate game they saw Alania Vladivostok and Spartak Moscow (with whom Rotor had sparred with all season), leapfrog them for the last time.
“DON’T SHIT YOUR PANTS!”
But that’s not to say Veretennikov’s career went without incredible moments. The pinnacle of those, undoubtedly, came on 26 September 1995 when Rotor dumped the mighty Manchester United out of the UEFA Cup – at Old Trafford.
After a 0-0 draw infront of 40,000 at Rotor’s Central Stadium, Veretennikov and his team-mates shocked Manchester, England, indeed, Europe, by storming into a two-nil lead in a display of fantastically uninhibited football.
Despite their confidence in the face of such illustrious opponents, their manager at the time, Viktor Prokopenko, later revealed that his charges had been overcome with nerves moments before kick-off.
Sensing his team was in danger of losing before they’d even started, the wily Prokopenko told them: “You know what’s most important about driving a tank? Not to shit your pants!”
The joke worked and, predictably, it was the becalmed Veretennikov who struck his side’s second goal, after just 25mins.
It was typical Verya: charging onto a loose ball on the halfway line, he ran directly at the Utd defence before arrowing a 25-yarder in off the post. Peter Schmeichel stood no chance.
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Despite United getting back to 2-2, Verya’s goal was the one that proved decisive and Rotor won the pulsating tie, clinching the greatest result in their history to date.
BACK FOR SECONDS (AND THIRDS)
After the golden years, Veretennikov left Rotor, and Russia, in 2000 but at the age of 30 he was unable to adapt to foreign football with much success.
But after five seasons playing in Greece, Belgium and then back to Russia’s lower divisions, the 35 year-old Veretennikov made a remarkable return to Rotor (by then in the Russian third-tier) and crashed in another 29 goals in 66 appearances.
Finally, in 2009, after another two seasons abroad, Verya played another 33 times for his beloved Rotor, notching a further 7 times.
In all, Veretennikov netted 177 times in 345 league games for Volgograd, plus 20 Russian Cup goals and 17 European goals from just four campaigns, easily becoming their leading scorer of all-time and their greatest ever player.
LOVE BLOSSOMS AMID EVEN THE STONIEST GROUND
His career with Rotor, especially the RPL days, was a love-affair – passionate, devoted, white-hot. So it seems strange that it was nearly spoiled almost as soon as it had begun.
In the summer of 1992, at the very beginning of his Volgograd career, Veretennikov was attacked by an unknown assailant while walking his two-year-old daughter, Tanya.
Acid was thrown at him and while he only suffered minor burns to his hands, Tanya’s face was badly harmed despite her father’s desperate, selfless, efforts to shield her.
It’s thought the assault was due to either his decision to quit SKA Rostov (for whom he’d scored 27 in 57), or his refusal to throw matches for the mafia – or a combination of both.
But, like so many defenders, Verya managed to shrug off that horrendous incident, becoming the best player Rotor has ever had, with the club winning a special place in his heart in return.
Along the way, Verya astounded RPL followers and despite a decade having passed since leaving others to break his records, they still go untouched. Then again, all those that have tried have been mere mortals.Tags: Oleg Veretennikov, Russian Icons, Russian Premier League