Great novelty for the Moldovan championship. For the first time in its history (it was created in 1992, a year after Moldova’s independence), a D1 club will participate in the group stage of the Champions League. Sheriff Tiraspol, defending champion, managed to eliminate Dinamo Zagreb in the play-offs last night (3-0, 0-0 on both matches). A great achievement for this club founded in 1997, which had to pass four rounds to reach the group stage.

But if Tiraspol is playing in the Moldovan league, it is not in Moldova. Or, at least, not in a territory that considers itself part of this country. “This club is based in Transnistria [on the border with Ukraine], a secessionist region of Moldova which wishes either to be independent or to be attached to Russia,” said Kévin Veyssière, founder of Football Club Geopolitics.

Location of Transnistria in Europe, located between Moldova and Ukraine. (Screen capture: Arte)

In the eyes of the international community, Transnistria is part of Moldova, as an autonomous region. But the population (between 500,000 and 555,000 inhabitants) of this territory of approximately 4,000 km² (the equivalent of the Pyrénées-Orientales) feels closer to Russia.

“Transnistria remains a region far from Moldavia,” continues Kévin Veyssière. We speak mainly Russian [while Romanian is spoken in Moldova]. There is a lot of infrastructure that makes you think of the former Soviet republics. “

A statue of Lenin (here in April 2014), placed in front of the Parliament of Transnistria in Tiraspol, is there to recall the Soviet past of the city. (Photo: AFP archives)

To understand this exceptional situation, we have to go back to the 1990s. When the USSR fell, Moldova declared its independence in August 1991. It wanted to absorb Transnistria, which was part of the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic, into its territory. which produces 90% of Moldovan electricity. But in December 1991, Transnistria declared its independence, under the name of the Moldavian Republic of the Dniester.

A war between the two nations ensued, Transnistria being aided militarily by Russia. The conflict ended in 1992 with a ceasefire which maintained the independence of Transnistria, even though it was not recognized by any country. Since then, little has changed regarding this state, which struggles to exist but supports itself through its arms trafficking, Russian support and heavy industry, a legacy of the USSR.

To be seen, Transnistria therefore relies heavily on the football club of its capital, Sheriff Tiraspol. “There is nothing Moldovan about his configuration. The club is supported by the community of Transnistria, which wishes to have official status. To no longer be that famous “country that does not exist” [taken from the title of the book Transnistria: a country that does not exist, by Nicolas Righetti], this phantom state. “

In fact, as Transnistria is not recognized by UEFA, the Moldovan league is the only league where Sheriff Tiraspol can play. Large investments are made there by the company at the origin of its creation, Sheriff, “a conglomerate of companies which runs almost everything in Transnistria” and which was founded in 1993 by former members of the Russian secret service. .

At the local level, Transnistria can count on its large company, Sheriff Founded in 1993 by V. Gushan, a former member of the Russian secret service, Sheriff now controls the majority of companies in the region (gas station, supermarket, media, spirits)

“Due to its financial base, the Sheriff group has been able to make Tiraspol an important club in Moldova, which has won the various titles for years [19 championships and 10 cups]. It can buy foreign players, while most other Moldovan clubs are only made up of local players. It can also have a great stadium and great sports facilities. It dominates the competition and this gives it more resources to play on the European scene. “

The Bolshaya Sportivnaya Arena can accommodate exactly 13,300 people. Tiraspol Stadium was established in July 2002, two clubs occupy the Arena, Sheriff and FC Tiraspol. This modern stadium has been designed and built in accordance with UEFA’s technical recommendations.

Like a PSG in France, the Sheriff Tiraspol therefore crushes everything on his domestic scene. But the parallel is rather to be established with Ludogorets, this Bulgarian club which had reached the hens of the Champions League twice, in 2014 and 2016. With the same penalty, namely to evolve in a very minor championship (Moldova is 34th in the UEFA ranking).

This makes it very difficult to reach the group stages of European competitions. “The problem with these leagues is that there is only one club that takes the championship to the top. And to progress to the European coefficient, you need several clubs that perform regularly. “

Sheriff Tiraspol had a good performance in the Champions League play-offs, eliminating Dinamo Zagreb from Kévin Théophile-Catherine (n ° 28). (Photo: Antonio Bat / EPA)

It is therefore difficult to predict that Sheriff Tiraspol will become a regular C1 customer. Reason enough to benefit even more from the exposure offered by the Champions League this season? “At the level of the supporters, we should see the flags of Transnistria. Afterwards, for the leaders, there is still more the idea of ​​doing business with the club. “

Clearly, if the yellow and black team is the best way to be seen by Transnistria, the formation remains above all the property of a group, Sheriff. “If the idea with this club had been to show Transnistria, there would have already been a change of colors and shirts. This is not the case. The aim is to show internationally that this club is that of the Sheriff group. There is more an economic interest than a political one. “

However, the subject will inevitably be mentioned by the European media during Sheriff Tiraspol’s C1 meetings. Especially since its place in hat 4 guarantees it will fall on European leaders, offering a larger resonance chamber.

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In France, for example, a duel with PSG would generate a lot of ink. Already, in 2012, the Europa League play-off between Tiraspol and OM (1-2, 0-0) made the French press talk about Transnistria, and not just sports. There is no doubt that in the event of PSG – Tiraspol in C1, the echo should be even greater.