Exclusive: Leo Percovich opens up on heartbreaking story and Middlesbrough return
He may have been born over 6,000 miles away Leo Percovich says Middlesbrough is where he calls home.
The Uruguayan coach has been a popular figure at Middlesbrough since joining the club’s coaching staff in 2013, while his heartbreaking story has touched many on Teesside.
Nearly two years have passed since Percovich and his family were involved in a tragic car accident in Brazil which killed his two daughters (aged five and ten at the time), left his son in a coma and seriously injured him and his wife.
Percovich was working with Brazilian club Fluminense at the time following Boro’s coaching reshuffle in the summer of 2017, yet his bond with supporters on Teesside, people he now calls his ‘family’, has remained strong throughout.
That connection was rejuvenated in the summer when the Uruguayan re-joined Boro’s backroom staff alongside new head coach Jonathan Woodgate.
Percovich’s match-day enthusiasm has always proved popular with the fans, and the 51-year-old feels it’s important to give something back.
“For me it’s impossible for me to go and represent Middlesbrough Football Club in a game if I don’t feel that passion and this love for this club,” Percovich tells the Mail during an interview at Rockliffe Training Ground.
“I know sometimes people think ‘oh Leo, full passion’ but I keep calm inside of my brain and my heart to take decisions and think about what is going on in the game.
“I bring this passion back to them because it’s reciprocal, I will be very thankful for the rest of my life, they deserve for me to be at my best every time.
“It’s something that is natural and it’s a really true feeling.”
In the build-up to kick-off, Percovich can often be seen leading parts of the pre-match warm-up sessions, while passionately revving up the Boro fans who respond with chants of ‘Leo, Leo, Leo’.
The Boro coach usually remains on his feet when the game begins, often barking encouragement and instructions to Boro’s players alongside Woodgate and fellow coach Robbie Keane from the technical area.
Percovich has already been involved in a couple of touchline altercations this season, most memorably with then-Millwall manager Neil Harris when the former Lions boss was shown a red card during August’s 1-1 draw at the Riverside.
Yet Percovich believes his actions are necessary, especially when the going gets tough for those on the pitch.
“We have very intense training sessions every day and we try to be very intense with them,” explains Percovich when asked about his match-day role.
“We always talk, Robbie (Keane) talks, I talk, the manager talks so we always encourage them and give them instructions. Some parts I take charge during the games so I try to make this work in the right way.
“I also try in the tough moments when they’re tired, feeling pain, you have to give your support for them to keep going through the pain through the pressure in the last minutes.
“It’s always helpful when you have somebody who can give you a boost from outside.”
It’s clear Percovich feels indebted to his Teesside family who helped him during the darkest days two years ago.
The Uruguayan has previously talked about his emotions when Boro fans shone “lights for Leo” during their 2017 Boxing Day fixture with Bolton and chanted the coach’s name.
And while his wife and son Pietro, aged 10, have recovered from their injuries, the memories are still raw.
“My family is still recovering, especially at this stage,” says an emotional Percovich, who willingly opens up on his painful story.
“All the memories coming back but it’s something you can’t avoid in your sleep and all the memories come into your brain. From your heart you want your girls back to you.
“But honestly it’s been very important how the people take care of us in this club, how people take care of us in this town, how the people around the world, our friends, try to keep taking care of us.
“That’s a very important role for me and my family, we can stay together, my wife was a big pillar, solid base, to keep the family together and strong, especially my son Pietro. Every place we go we feel the love from the people and that is amazing and we are really thankful.”
Percovich and his family are now based at Rockliffe which makes it easier to carry out his duties at the club.
“It’s so easy to come to training, 400 metres away from work so you don’t need to rush going out,” he adds. “Anything you need here from the club or to do something from the office it’s right there.”
That sense of belonging made it a straightforward decision for the Uruguayan to return to Teesside back in June, when Woodgate, who was a player during Percovich’s first spell at the club, put together his new coaching team.
“Oh that was incredible,” recalls Percovich. “When I get the phone call I didn’t even think, I just feel. To be a part of this project and this community, this big family, I feel like I belong here.”