Tottenham Drawn into Europa Group K

Harold Cunningham

The group stage draw was this morning. With none of our resident experts on Moldovan football and finance available, MCofA will have to do his best to lead you though the news.

Tottenham Hotspur defeated Dinamo Tblisi 3-0 yesterday for an 8-0 aggregate victory, ensuring a place in the group stages of the Europa League. The draw took place this morning, and after the traditional humiliating of the professional footballers unable to open tiny plastic balls, these were the results:

Group K

Tottenham Hotspur (ENG)
Anzhi Makhachkala (RUS)
FC Sheriff Tiraspol (MOL)
Tromsø IL (NOR)

Things I know about these clubs.

1) This is an opportunity to get a sort of sad, partial revenge for the Willian debacle. So that's something!

2) It won't be much revenge, since Anzhi owner Suleyman Kerimov has already been brought low by the ongoing "potash war," which is apparently a proxy diplomatic war between Russia and Belarus. Kerimov has massive holdings in a company called Uralkali, which had previously been working as a cartel with the Belarussian company Belaruskali to maintain fixed pricing of potash. The breakdown of the cartel has crashed the global potash market and destroyed much of Kerimov's multi-billion dollar fortune.

3) Potash is an ingredient in fertilizer. It's basically potassium salt. There are major potash mines in Belarus and in Russia, which allowed Belaruskali and Uralkali to control roughly 50% of the world market for potash and set prices as they like.

4) It is not clear why the Belarussian government backed out of the deal, but they did so in spectacular fashion by arresting Uralkali CEO Vladislav Baumgertner. Anzhi owner Kerimov may also be at risk of arrest, though he can probably avoid that by just not going to Belarus. Belarus is run by a pretty nasty autocrat named Alexander Lukashenko, so this may be an autocrat-doing-autocrat things situation. My totally uneducated opinion is that it sounds pretty dumb if it is, since Putin's Russia has been one of Lukashenko's only international allies. Russia have responded to the arrest of Baumgertner by banning the import of Belarussian pork products, saying they are afraid of a form of swine flu. There are reports that a milk war may follow the potash and pork wars.

5) I probably shouldn't find the above quite as funny as I do. I should probably go and interrogate my privilege for a few minutes.

6) Oh, right, football. Anzhi have sold off striker Samuel Eto'o and winger Willian to Chelsea, and basically the entire rest of the first XI to Dinamo Moscow. (No, seriously, they sold Yuri Zhirkov, Igor Denisov, Aleksandr Kokorin, Christopher Samba, Aleksey Ionov and Vladimir Gabulov to Dinamo, and on top of that they sold Lassana Diarra and Mbark Boussoufa to Lokomotiv Moscow.) So I have no idea who's on their team anymore, but they probably aren't all that good. They do still have striker Lacina Traore, for now, as well as some reasonably good young stars on cheapish wages. Traore is reportedly for sale.

7) Here's a mnemonic to help you remember how to spell Makhachkala. If you Kan't remember How to spell it, you have to CHecK. Eh? Not bad? Now there are no excuses for not knowing how to spell Makhachkala. I am retaining my excuses for knowing nothing about Makhachkala as a football club.

8) Sheriff Tiraspol are the biggest club in Moldova. They are sadly not named for a town sheriff department, but for a massive corporation called Sheriff, which is basically like one of those supercorporations from a cyberpunk novel. They have supermarkets, tv channels, construction companies, a security company, and they run the primary mobile phone provider, and lots of other stuff too. As befitting a cyberpunk corporation, they are heavily accused of mafia-style corruption, money laundering, and using their political influence to determine outcomes in local parliamentary elections. Sheriff dominates much of everyday economic activity, as well as politics and whatever else, in the region of Transnistria. Transnistria is a semi-independent statelet within Moldova, significantly under the protection of the Russian government. I am not even going to try to figure that out any further.

Update: Jay0 in comments linked to an absolutely fascinating New York Times article from 2012 placing the Sheriff football club in the context of Transnistrian culture and politics. You should go read it: Soccer Team of Post-Soviet Transnistria Dominates Moldovan League.

9) For football, this means that the Sheriff club has tons of money (at least relatively) and wins the Moldovan league pretty much every year. They suck up almost all the quality players in the region as well as many from outside. They're pretty good, much better than you'd think when you hear the words "Moldovan champions."

10) Tromsø is in Norway.

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