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Born: Monday 17 July 1939, Moscow, USSR (now Russia)
Died: Saturday 19 May 1984, Moscow, USSR (aged 44)
Position: Half Back/Defensive Midfielder
Spending his entire club career with Torpedo Moscow, Valery Voronin was one of the most accomplished defensive midfielders of the 1960s where although not as high profile as some of his colleagues, he was pivotal to the most successful era in the club's history. Like a number of Soviet players of the era, he was sadly beset by personal problems after his playing career and eventually lost his life in tragic circumstances at the age of just 44.
Born in Moscow on 17 July 1939, Voronin began his football career in the youth teams of the Kauchuk factory club when he was 13 years old. His potential was quickly noticed and a year later he joined youth football academy FShM, where many of the leading players in the Moscow area developed their skills. By 1958 he had joined Torpedo Moscow, traditionally only the fourth biggest club in Moscow, and helped to transform their standing in the game.
Voronin broke into the Torpedo side at a difficult time, with the club losing star player Eduard Streltsov midway through the 1958 season when he was convicted on a questionable charge of rape. It was Voronin who played a key role in holding the team together, initially as a half-back. He was blessed with an incredible ability to read the game and set up attacks with accurate passing, as well as having a burst of speed which enabled him to support the forwards when necessary. His hard tackling skills meant that he was also sometimes used as a central defender.
The 1960 season proved to be Voronin's real breakthrough into international class. He played a starring role as Torpedo won the Soviet league title for the first time in their history, finishing three points clear of Dynamo Kiev in the decisive second stage of the season, as well as beating Dinamo Tbilisi in the cup final to complete a sensational double. He was rewarded with a first international cap against Austria in the autumn of that year and went on to remain a regular in the national team for most of the decade.
Torpedo narrowly missed out on retaining both league and cup in 1961, losing the title to Dynamo Kiev and conceding two late goals to crash 3-1 to Shakhtar Stalino (now Shakhtar Donetsk) in the cup final. The following summer however, Voronin went to his first major international tournament when he was selected in the Soviet squad for the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile. As reigning European Champions, the Soviets were among the favourites for the competition.
They made a good start, beating Yugoslavia in their opening game, but with star goalkeeper Lev Yashin below his best they let slip a 4-1 lead in their next match to draw with Colombia. Although they won their first round group, the Soviets were eliminated by hosts Chile in the quarter-finals but Voronin was named in the tournament's All Star Team. After their World Cup disappointment, the Soviet Union turned their focus to the defence of their European crown, and Voronin played an important role in the run to the final of the 1964 competition.
Although never a regular goalscorer, he found the net late in the second leg of the quarter-final against Sweden to seal a 4-2 aggregate win, taking the Soviets through to the last four in Spain. In the semi-final, he was again on target with the opening goal in the 3-0 win over Denmark. Sadly for the Soviets, they were beaten by a late Spanish goal in the final, but Voronin's influence was recognised when later that year he was named the inaugural winner of the Soviet Footballer of the Year award.
For the 1965 season, Eduard Streltsov was back in the Torpedo team following his release from prison and the end of his ban from professional football. With their squad strengthened, Torpedo won their second league title but Voronin remained the heartbeat of the team and it was him, rather than Streltsov, who was once again named Footballer of the Year. Not only had he helped the team to compile the best defensive record in the league, but also contributed a career high seven league goals.
Although Torpedo finished a distant sixth in 1966, they did reach the cup final where they lost out to double winners Dyanmo Kiev. That summer, Voronin was selected for his second World Cup and at the finals in England, the Soviet Union had their finest ever tournament. Having won all three group games, they edged out Hungary in the last eight to reach the semi-finals for the first time. Narrow 2-1 defeats to West Germany and Portugal left them in fourth place, but that was still an achievement that no subsequent Soviet team could match.
In 1968, Voronin helped the Soviets to reach the last four of the European Championship again, but did not appear in the final tournament in Italy. Without him the team lost in the semi-finals again, the game against the Italians astonishingly being decided on the toss of a coin. The Olympic Games qualifier against Czechoslovakia shortly before the European finals turned out to be the last of his 66 international appearances.
Later in 1968, another major trophy came along as Torpedo beat Pakhtakor Tashkent to win the Soviet Cup again, but Voronin was beginning to suffer from problems in his personal life. Overshadowed by Streltsov at club level and with his international career over, he began drinking more heavily. In the summer of 1969, he was involved in a serious accident having fallen asleep at the wheel of his car, suffering life-threatening injuries. Remarkably he survived, but Voronin was never the same again. Eventually he returned to full training but despite his physical recovery, was still deeply traumatised by the experience.
His alcohol problems worsened and he gave up going to training, before retiring from the game completely after the 1969 season. With nothing except alcohol to replace football in his life, he became increasingly withdrawn and depressed and was largely forgotten by the public. Many years later, in May 1984, Voronin was spotted in the centre of Moscow, in the company of three men. It was the last time he was seen alive, as the next day his body was found on a roadside several miles away. A murder investigation found no suspects and the truth about Voronin's tragic early death remains a mystery.
References (all accessed 22 November 2012):
- Published on Thursday, 22 November 2012 17:19