Edmund Add sank into a child’s pose in the middle of the field, his forehead touching the grass, his arms extended forward, and a plea and gratitude gesture. About 60 yards away, happiness overwhelmed his teammate Giorgos Asanaciadis and his legs were bent as he tried to help his two colleagues stand up. Their coach, Yuri Bernidab, danced on the touchline.
They all arrived in Sheriff Tiraspol relatively recently. Ghanaian midfielder Add and Greek goalkeeper Asana Ciadis joined this summer. Bernidab came out only a year before them. Still, they knew what this meant for the team that had been waiting for this moment for 20 years.
And they knew what that meant to them. They move to non-technical countries, play in conflict-based teams, join state-representative clubs in the state, and grayscale locations freed from other areas. Changed my life to participate in. world. Well, after seeing off Croatian champion Dinamo Zagreb, they got paid. Add, Asanaciadis, and the rest of the sheriffs will join the Champions League.
The next day, they learn the identity of their opponents. Shakhtar Donetsk, Inter Milan, and above all, Real Madrid all came to Moldova, Europe’s poorest country, to see the most respected, wealthiest and most-club football games.
At first glance, the sheriff’s story may seem like a fairy tale, but the details are-just-rendered in shades of gray. Tiraspol, the home of the team, could be in Moldova as far as UEFA of the European Football Federation is concerned. The sheriff may be the current and essentially permanent Moldovan champion.
However, Tiraspol does not consider itself part of Moldova. Instead, it is the self-proclaimed capital of Transnistria, and to its proper name, a separate republic on the left bank of the Dniester River, with its own currency (Transnistrian Ruble), its own flag (red and green, sickle). With a mallet), its own government (Supreme Council).
Sheriffs do not easily fit into the role of the vulnerable. This century has won all but two Moldovan titles. In front of just dozens of fans, play in a state-of-the-art stadium complex built at a cost of $ 200 million in a league where many opponents play in a desolate field surrounded by wasteland.
The team is full of imports from Africa, South America, and much of Eastern Europe, but rivals can only afford locals. Leonid Istrati, a prominent agent in Chişinău, the capital of Moldova, said: “But only sheriffs can afford a good level of players. Previously, there were several other teams. Now they can’t.”
The source of the team’s financial strength lies in its name. The KGB is a civilian economy in Transnistria, a conglomerate founded by two former KGB agents in the chaotic times of the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the War of Independence from Moldova in Transnistria. Is the centerpiece of.
Its roots are reportedly in the historic smuggling of the region. Transnistria’s marginal states, its porous boundaries, and its opaque history (which has one of Europe’s largest weapons dumps) are a paradise for all sorts of illegal activities, from shooting to drug trafficking to counterfeiting cigarettes. It has become.
In 2006, European Union border surveillance forces estimated that everyone in Transnistria ate over 200 pounds of frozen chicken feet each year, given accurate territorial import statistics. Even Sheriff founder Viktor Gushan admits that his company had to run “between things.”
But now sheriffs-conglomerates and clubs-are everywhere. It runs a chain of supermarkets. We operate a gas station. There are wineries, TV channels and a telephone network. Aeon Jarba, a journalist and commentator in Moldova, said: “In Tiraspol, everything is managed by this company. There are sheriff stores and sheriff fuel stations. A football club is like a child fed from the entire separatist region.”
It allows sheriffs to pay players as much as $ 15,000 a month to play against domestic opponents who earn only a few hundred dollars if paid on time. Zimbru Chişinău, the largest team in Moldova’s history, survives only on the rent paid by the national team for the use of the stadium.
It, in turn, gave the sheriff considerable power. Despite the political differences between Moldova and Transnistria, the relationship between sheriffs and the national football federation FMF is considered to be very close. “Football here has complete control over the sheriff,” said Christian Jardin, a football journalist in Moldova.
Authorities not only postponed the game to sheriffs in preparation for the Champions League qualifiers this season, but also amended the rules regarding the number of foreign players the team can play in order to allow the club to strengthen the team. bottom. Said the former Vice President of Moldova’s International and Former Football Federation. “No other team in Moldova can compete,” he said.
Therefore, many do not even try. Last year, Moldova’s anti-corruption investigators claimed that 20 games were fixed in the national football league and players paid hundreds of dollars by gambling syndicates to guarantee results. One whistleblower told the newspaper Ziarul da Garda that players were instructed that “earning, not winning” was their job.
Corruption is so prevalent that even Testemitanu was approached in 2015 by a fixer representing Singapore’s syndicate. At the time, he was not only the FMF, Vice President of the All-Union, but also the Assistant Manager of the Moldova National Team.
“They took me to a nice restaurant. They said they wanted information and told me 30 minutes later what they were proposing,” he said. “They wanted to fix the national team match: youth team, women’s team, everything. I didn’t say anything, I just had to think about it. Then immediately I called the police I told them what happened. “
Testemitanu has agreed to wear a recording device and follow the surveillance team to help the detective collect evidence. His wife instructed him not to sleep at home so as not to endanger his family. “Of course I was scared,” he said. “I knew it was a risk, but I want to play regular football in Moldova.” Two weeks later, Testemitanu said the conspirator was arrested.
It didn’t stop the problem. Last year alone, Moldovan officials claim that Fixer made as much as $ 700,000 by bribeing players and throwing games. According to Testemitanu, it is evidence of endemic corruption in Moldova’s football, with journalists and investigators recording as high as the FMF itself. For example, a study by Ziarul da Garda found that while working for an organization, some high-ranking executives had accumulated a huge portfolio of assets.
“FMF has not invested in football in Moldova,” said Testemitanu. “We will invest in itself. We will build training camps and futsal halls, but we will not distribute money from FIFA and UEFA to the teams that need it.”
The presence of sheriffs on the Champions League group stage should be an opportunity to deal with it. The club itself receives about $ 20 million just by passing the qualifiers. FMF will also benefit from distributions from UEFA. This is a reward for having a representative at this stage of the tournament.
However, there is little hope that money will affect Moldova’s football. The national academy is underfunded and the facilities are poor. Everywhere except the sheriff, it is. “It has an incredible academy,” Jardan said. “But that doesn’t encourage anyone. The team has few Moldovan players to play in the Champions League. It’s not a Moldovan team. It’s not even Transnistria’s in reality.”
Still, there is real excitement in the prospect that Champions League football can even compete for Moldova’s soil. Testemitanu considers it “a dream come true.” He has a ticket for the sheriff’s opening game against Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday and wants to get a ticket for his visit to Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
He gladly receives the resentment of a trip to Tiraspol — forced to present his passport at a border not recognized by his country and the international community, by authorities still worshiping Soviet-era figures. Register — Chance to see those teams. The same is true for Jarba. Seeing the Moldovan National Division team on this stage is “a source of pride and surprise,” he said.
They know it will be sacrificed, but there is also fatalism: it’s easy to wonder how it can make a feasible difference. “Money from the Champions League counts as sheriffs, but without it, it would have been the wealthiest team in Moldova anyway,” Jarba said.
“The people who run the club don’t care about money,” said Testemitanu. “They already have money. They don’t need $ 20 million. They dominate the whole country. It’s about reputation and about being in that top league in the Champions League.”
Since the sheriff is there, but it finally accomplished it, everything that happens is that the difference is settled. The last whisp of the last shade of gray disappears and everything is black and white.
This is what the sheriff has been waiting for. That’s what the rest of Moldova’s football might have been afraid of. It permanently crystallizes the inevitability of sheriffs to win the league over and over again. From Moldova’s point of view, it’s not a fairy tale about a lucky hero, but the exact opposite. The last victory of the giant. “For Moldova football, that’s it,” said Jardin.