Boro coach Leo Percovich opens up for first time about tragic accident which killed his daughters

LEO PERCOVICH wants to have this conversation, however much it hurts him.

“It is like therapy,” admits the Middlesbrough coach, who has been brought back to the club by new boss Jonathan Woodgate.

 Percovich is now back at Boro under Woodgate


Percovich is now back at Boro under WoodgateCredit: North News and Pictures

“It helps because if you put out what is inside of you, then you release your pain.”

The pain Percovich describes has been there for 19 months since the car accident which killed his two daughters, left his son in a coma and badly injured him and his wife.

And while he is back in the familiar surroundings of Boro’s training ground, the Uruguayan is still coming to terms with how his world has been turned upside down since he was last on Teesside two years ago.

Percovich, 51, says: “I will tell you a secret. I always get up 30 minutes before the time I have to.

“If I have to be up at 7am, I will get up at 6.30am because I need 30 minutes to get the courage to get out of bed.

“There was a very tough moment for me after the accident when I wanted to kill myself.

“I said to my wife, ‘I want to jump, I want to finish my life, I can’t keep going’.

“She looked at me very serious, she did not even move one hair.

“And she said, ‘Before you do any cowardly act, go and tell your son that you are not the man he believes you are’.

“That was shock therapy for me. I was really depressed at that time but that conversation is what allowed me to stay here talking with you now.”

 The wreckage that was left by the crash


The wreckage that was left by the crashCredit: Rede Mais
 The Percovich family on a trip to Venice


The Percovich family on a trip to Venice
 Pietro and Juliana with Leo on the football pitch


Pietro and Juliana with Leo on the football pitch

This is the first time Percovich has done an interview about the events of December 17, 2017 — and it is heartbreaking.

At the time, he was working as the Under-20s coach of Brazilian club Fluminense, having left his role as goalkeeper coach at Boro six months earlier.

Percovich was driving his wife Juliana and their children Valentina, Pietro and Antonella, the 300 miles from Rio de Janeiro to Belo Horizonte to spend Christmas with Juliana’s family.

He explains: “We were all together, going to meet all the family for Christmas after ten years of working away — but we never arrived.

“We fell down from a high bridge, 20 to 25 metres, and there wasn’t water there, it was a village, so we hit concrete.

“There was no other car involved, we were alone. My speed was 42kmph, which was normal, the limit was 60.

“I don’t know if I slipped, I don’t know what happened, I don’t remember.

“I have since walked over the bridge eight times to try and remember what happened.

“But it was on a bend and there were no guardrails, no protection, it was very dangerous.

“I don’t drink, I sleep well. But I was driving the car and that is another thing I have to carry with me in my life.”


Percovich’s youngest girl, Antonella, then five, died before she reached hospital.

A week later, on Christmas Eve, his eldest, ten-year-old Valentina, also passed away.

His son Pietro, eight at the time, was in a coma for three weeks, while Juliana fractured her pelvis and he broke his ribs — the three of them all in different hospitals.

Percovich says: “I couldn’t see Antonella because she passed away right after the accident.

“But I asked for permission to leave the hospital and see Valentina and Pietro.

“It was a big risk to leave the hospital, I could have been in danger. But I pleaded to the head of the hospital.

“I said, ‘I can’t keep going here if I don’t see my kids’ — and he took the risk under his name.

“He took me in the ambulance, carried the wheelchair, carried the oxygen — and I got to say goodbye to Valentina. That was very important.

“It’s a different feeling when you can talk, she is still breathing, you can breathe with her, you touch the skin, you can give a kiss.

“It is totally different from waking up and saying, ‘Where is she?’ and they say, ‘She is in heaven now’.

“Then I go to see Pietro to say, ‘Keep on going — stay strong, Daddy is here’.

“I was very worried about him because even though he was talking, he had damaged his brain, legs, ribs and lungs.

“It was a very delicate situation for him. But seeing Pietro gave me a lot of energy — because if he is still going, you have to keep going.”

 Percovich talking to Sun Sport in his first interview after the tragedy


Percovich talking to Sun Sport in his first interview after the tragedyCredit: North News and Pictures

Pietro has thankfully now made a full recovery, as have Percovich and Juliana.

But the Boro coach will never forget the harrowing moment he returned home alone for the first time, having been the first of the three discharged from hospital.

He recalls: “You open the house and you see the beds where the girls left early to go to visit their grandparents.

“Their pyjamas inside out, their teddy bears, the sheets on the bed like they have slept. This is a very painful picture.

“You then try to grab whatever you have in the house to feel them but nothing you touch is going to give you them.

“I even slept on one of the girls’ beds. I felt like I was a kid.

“I slept in the fetal position — very scary, very weak. I didn’t want to get out of bed but the next morning, the phone rang and it was the driver to take me to work at Fluminense.

“I had to go but leaving that bed, walking out of the apartment, that was tough.

“That first day back at work, I had nine broken ribs, I couldn’t breathe very well, my shoulder was in a brace, I couldn’t speak very loudly because of the pain.

“But the football was like therapy — and we used all my pain to win the league.”


In his darkest days, Percovich will always be grateful for the support he received from Teesside.

The local primary school in Croft — where Pietro will return in September — have named two benches in memory of the girls.

And two families from Croft travelled all the way to Brazil with 200 letters and cards from pupils.

Then there are the Boro fans, who shone “lights for Leo” during their Boxing Day game against Bolton in 2017 and chanted Percovich’s name.

Percovich says: “I was still in intensive care then, I was really bad. They showed me the video of what the Boro fans did — that was a tremendous moment. I started crying. I was so thankful.

“You are finding it difficult to breathe, your heart is so broken, and then that. It gave me more power, more energy, more life.

“It showed to me those fans were family, there was a true connection, that we were brothers. I feel a son of this town.”

That is why Percovich is so happy that Woodgate — who played under him as a coach when Boro won promotion in 2016 — has asked him to come back “home” as one of his assistants.

He adds: “Sometimes you are born in a place and you have to say you are from there. 

“But life gives you the opportunity to choose where is your place and I am so proud to say I am from here. 

“Middlesbrough is my home now, no question. 

“When I am here, I feel alive. I thank God I am here again.”


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.