Small thumb of Group D in the Champions League, Sheriff Tiraspol addresses the first C1 in its history. Dive behind the scenes.
Among the great stories told by the Champions League, there are those of the first. For Sheriff Tiraspol, it is. The Moldovan champion, winner of Dinamo Zagreb (3-0.0-0) in the C1 play-offs, is taking part this season in his first group stage of the Champions League. If the club was, until then, a sporadic extra in the Europa League (4 participations), it remains a juggernaut of the Moldovan championship with 19 titles gleaned in 22 seasons.
This hegemony, the Tiraspol club has made of it a leitmotif. Founded in 1997 by the Sheriff, a conglomerate created by Viktor Gushan, a former member of the Russian secret service, the club aims to be a European showcase for Transnistria, a pro-Russian secessionist region of Moldova. To serve this purpose, the Sheriff does not hesitate to inject the means of his ambitions. “We have infrastructures there that no Ligue 1 club has, I had 19 grass pitches, three match fields at my disposal. These are infrastructures that are out of the ordinary compared to the Moldovan league in which this team is evolving “, told, at the microphone of France Inter, Bruno Irles, former coach of the club (2016) and now coach of US Quevilly-Rouen (Ligue 2).
Within the team heading into this season, there is even a familiar name from Ligue 1. Only the name. Sébastien Thill, brother of the former resident of FC Metz, Vincent Thill, plays at the Sheriff on loan for a season. The 27-year-old Luxembourger, who has spent most of his career in the Grand Duchy, measures the gap. “We have the facilities of a great European team”, abounds the midfielder. The club would have even built “a hospital for its players”, according to Thill.
In recruiting too, Sheriff Tiraspol has always put the package. In the hall of fame of the club, we thus find names passed by the biggest European championships. Mixture: the former Spanish international hope Melli (Betis, Tenerife), the two former Nigerian internationals Chidi Odiah (CSKA Moscow) and Isaac Okoronkwo (Shakhtar Donetsk, Wolverhampton, Rostov) or the Brazilian Wallace (La Gantoise).
The club is also finding a way to attract players from large European training centers. Franco-Senegalese defender Ousmane N’Diaye, trained at Olympique Lyonnais, left Tiraspol last March to join Kaysar Kyzylorda in Kazakhstan. Du Sheriff, he remembers a club that “made a lot of effort” to bring him from Turkey where he had just finished his fourth season (Samsunspor, Genclerbirligi then Osmanlispor). For him, as for Irles, the club are far above the rest in Moldova. “The Sheriff is PSG in France, he insists. The facilities, everything that goes on around the club… It’s very professional. They also have foreign coaches who know football better “.
With so many resources invested to promote the Sheriff, its city and its region, the failure becomes intolerable for its leaders, especially when it is faced with the clubs of the capital, Chisinau. Bruno Irles had a bitter experience in 2016 after 8 days of the championship, 6 wins and 2 losses, the last of which (3-0) against Dacia Chisinau. “It is necessary that, through this club, Transnistria dominates the Moldovan league in order to try to exist on the European scene”, explained the coach to France Inter.
N’Diaye confirms the visceral rivalry between the club and those of the capital. “In Tiraspol, the capital is not very popular. These are the matches the president expects and it is on these matches that we are judged”, comments the former Lyonnais. Not sure then, Viktor Gushan holds his players rigorously if they suffer defeats against Real Madrid, Inter or Shakhtar in this group D of the Champions League. And after all, the essential is done for the Sheriff: to appear in the biggest European competitions.
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