Champions of the 34th country in the UEFA coefficient and claiming to be from an unrecognized nation, namely Transnistria, Sheriff Tiraspol is the anomaly of this Champions League 2021/2022. The flagship club of the Divizia Nationala will experience the competition for the first time in its history after a historic qualifying campaign.
Astana in 2016, Qarabağ in 2018 or Midtjylland in 2021, the Champions League has always been able to deliver beautiful stories with its small Thumbs. Small latest, Sheriff Tiraspol is writing the most beautiful page of its history. Founded in 1997, six years after the independence of Moldova, Sheriff Tiraspol will quickly become the flagship team of its country. Since its first title in 2001, the yellow and black club will win 19 titles, only missing the 2010/2011 edition. A total supremacy on Moldovan soccer for a team that does not claim to be one.
A Russian land between Moldova and Ukraine
Based in Tiraspol in the middle of Transnistria, the Sheriff is one of the best ambassadors of this Russian-speaking region of 4,200 km2 that proclaimed its independence in 1991, but is not recognized by the UN. Having its own system with a constitution, a currency or even a president, the latest since 2016, Vadim Krasnoselsky, Transnistria has a rather dark label often attached to it. Region often credited with the status of hub of the Eastern European mafia, it sees many trafficking (alcohol, drugs, weapons, sex …). Moreover, Transnistria is also a way for Russia to ensure diplomatic control over Moldova since it has armed men on this territory where the population is divided between 1/3rd Russians, 1/3rd Moldovans and 1/3rd Ukrainians.
A regional context quite singular for the Sheriff Tiraspol whose links with the government of Transnistria are still very close. Moreover, the club belongs to the Holding “Sheriff Company” which was created on June 23, 1993 by Viktor Gushan and Ilya Kazmaly, two former KGB agents. This group is a real economic giant in the region and has a leading position in the oil industry, retail, media and various services. Viktor Gushan, who is also the president of the club, plays a central role in Transnistria and, with the Sheriff’s domination of the national scene, he is helping to strengthen the region’s “independence soft power”. To the point that he is now seen by soccer fans all over Europe.
Finally in the Champions League!
Sheriff Tiraspol reached the preliminary rounds of the Europa League for the first time in 2000 and the Champions League in 2002. Successfully passing the first round each time before losing in the second, the yellow and black club made a first big step in 2009/2010 with an accession to the play-offs after having taken out Inter Turku and Slavia Prague, but failing against Olympiakos. The following season, the story is repeated, but this time Basel is the executioner. Both times participating in the Europa League, the club will not pass the group stage. Since then, the European experiences have been numerous, but have often come to nothing. We will remember a confrontation against a French club, Olympique de Marseille with a defeat in the playoffs of the Europa League 2012/2013.
Not necessarily expected for this 2021/2022 vintage of the Champions League, Sheriff Tiraspol surprised everyone. Logically enough, the Transnistrian club defeated the Albanian club Teuta Durrës (1-0/4-0) and then Alashkert (3-1/1-0), and then caused a sensation against Red Star Belgrade by winning (1-0/1-1). Qualified for the Champions League playoffs for the third time in its history, Sheriff Tiraspol will hit hard against Dinamo Zagreb with a 3-0 victory and a 0-0 draw to ensure its presence among the 32 participants of the biggest club competition in Europe. Whatever happens next, the best has already been accomplished.
A cosmopolitan workforce
Placed in group D with Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk, the Sheriff Tiraspol will offer nice posters. Moreover, the first match against the Ukrainians is quite singular from a diplomatic point of view. Exiled from Donetsk, Shakhtar comes from the Donbass region which is divided between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists. In this case, we find ourselves in an armed conflict that has caused 13,000 deaths. Transnistria has certainly had its conflict with Moldova in 1992 on the occasion of the Dniester War during which about 3500 people lost their lives. The situation has since calmed down with the victory of Transnistria which has kept its independence from Moldova, but the region remains a place of tension.
This match between Shakhtar Donetsk and Sheriff Tiraspol will be quite symbolic of the independence movements caused by the breakup of the USSR in 1991. In the meantime, Sheriff Tiraspol will not want to be an expiatory victim and for that, the club will rely on its melting pot of talents. With a much larger budget (which also allows them to have solid structures) than any other Moldovan club, Sheriff Tiraspol has brought in players from many different backgrounds. Thus, there are only 7 Moldavians in the squad for 3 Brazilians, 2 Malians, 2 Greeks, 2 Colombians, 1 Serbian, 1 Peruvian, 1 Bosnian, 1 Trinidadian, 1 Malawian, 1 Macedonian, 1 Ghanaian, 1 Nigerian, 1 Luxembourger, 1 Ivorian, 1 Uzbek, 1 Ukrainian, 1 Guinean and 1 Slovenian. That is to say, no less than 19 different nationalities in the workforce for 76.7% of foreign players in the workforce.
A common goal
A cultural mix that has resulted in a tasty mix on the field and that will now have to be put into practice on the pitch. Goalkeeper Georgios Athanasiadis told the club’s website shortly after the draw for the group stage: “In our group, the teams are very strong and it will be difficult to play against them. Even though I liked the draw, because we are among very big teams. This will motivate us to do our best and fight in every game for a positive result.”
Former FC Metz player Adama Traoré scored twice in the first leg against Dinamo Zagreb. The Malian, who arrived at the club last February, also spoke of a group united around the same objective: “The atmosphere is excellent, everything is positive. We believe that we are capable of a lot. We have a good team and we are motivated like never before. Reaching their dream and being able to make it last, Sheriff Tiraspol will munch these moments to the fullest and this Wednesday at 18:55, the music of the Champions League will have a special resonance in the Bolshaya Sportivnaya Arena.