Russia Sport Football Albert Shesternyov

Albert Shesternyov

Albert Shesternyov (1941–1994)
Born: 1941, Moscow
Died: 1994, Moscow

Albert Shesternyov is widely regarded as the finest defender in Soviet footballing history. A legendary figure both for his country and his club CSKA Moscow, he was nicknamed “Ivan the Terrible” for his imposing presence on the pitch and commanding leadership skills.

Shesternyov was born in Moscow in 1941. He was a natural athlete, endowed with strength and blistering pace. He started off his youth career at Yaroslavl, before being snapped up by Russian giants CSKA Moscow.

He made his debut for the club at the age of seventeen, making him the youngest ever CSKA player at the time. Within a few years, he had become a first team stalwart.

Shesternyov was one of the early innovators of the libero role, along with the likes of Franz Beckenbauer. His athletic ability allowed him to be a commanding presence at the back. He also had an excellent reading of the game and was able to pass the ball with ease.  

Shesternyov was soon made the captain of CSKA Moscow and his exploits led to interest from teams across Europe. However, he was a loyal one-club man.

Shesternyov was instrumental in CSKA’s rise back to the elite of Soviet football. After several seasons in and around the top, he led the club to the league title in 1970. It was the team’s first league championship in nineteen years. It would remain arguably the crowning achievement of his career.

In contrast to his club career, Shesternyov’s international career would see no silverware. Rather, it would be characterised by several near-misses.

He made his debut for the Soviet Union in 1961 in a match against Austria. His class was apparent and he soon became a rock in the Soviet defence.

Shesternyov’s major tournament debut came in the 1964 European Championships. The Soviets were defending the title they had won four years earlier and looked imperious throughout. They reached the final, facing hosts Spain at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. In a tight match, Shesternyov could not prevent his team from succumbing to a 2-1 defeat.

By 1966 Shesternyov had become captain of the national team. They arrived in England for the 1966 World Cup fancying their chances. Shesternyov captained a team packed with exciting talent and experience.

The Soviets started impressively, convincingly winning all of their group matches against Italy, Chile and North Korea. They then comfortably brushed off Hungary 2-1 in the quarter final. They fell just short in the semis, however, where they suffered a 2-1 defeat to the West Germans. They went on to lose their third-place play off to Portugal. Nevertheless, the Soviets had acquitted themselves well and cemented their reputation as international heavyweights.

Shesternyov’s most agonising moment would come two years later, in the semi final of the 1968 European Championships. The Soviet Union faced Italy and earned a draw after 120 hard-fought minutes. Penalties had not yet been introduced and the tie was settled by a coin toss. As captain, Shesternyov had to call. He called wrong and the Soviets were cruelly knocked out by pure bad luck. It denied them what would have been a third consecutive European final. Nevertheless, Shesternyov was named as one of the players of the tournament.

Shesternyov eventually retired at the young age of thirty. A serious knee injury had left him unable to continue playing at the same high standard.

Shesternyov finished with a total of ninety caps for his country. He went on to manage his beloved CSKA Moscow after retirement. Albert Shesternyov died in 1994 after a battle with liver cancer.

© Sathesh Alagappan

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