Thursday 27 October 2016

Mr Snickers fighting for his future with struggling Moldovans

Igor Dobrovolski
Igor Dobrovolski

As a footballer, Igor Dobrovolski promised an awful lot, delivered very little and finished up as a figure of ridicule.

And his career as manager of the Moldovan national side is heading the same way, to the extent that defeat to Ireland here in Chisinau tomorrow night would almost certainly be his last act in that post.

Already well out of contention, the team are playing for pride against Ireland - and there was very little pride evident in Moldova's pitiful displays against Wales and Serbia so far in this campaign - but the national team boss is playing for his job.

It was pointed out to Dobrovolski after Thursday's 3-0 loss at home to Serbia, those goals more to do with awful Moldovan defending than stunning Serbian attack-mined play, that the same fans in the 6,000 crowd who cheered on the home side at the start of the game were then booing once the final whistle came around, locals upset to see their 'heroes' have an aggregate scoreline of 0-7 and no points after two qualifying games.

"Of course they have the right to do so," said the 49-year-old Dobrovolski when asked about the boos and jeers, but this man who played international football for three teams (USSR, CIS and Russia) surely knows the game is almost up.

Facing Ireland tomorrow, he's been dealt an unfair hand with a poor squad, the majority of whom play in the struggling Moldovan league while the exports, or 'legionaries' as they like to call footballers who play abroad, play away in mediocrity.

Their most in-form export being defender Alexandru Epureanu, whose club side, Istanbul Basaksehir, are surprisingly top of the Turkish league, though Epureanu's defending in the loss to Serbia on Thursday forced him to make a public apology to the fans and the nation.

They keep things local here in Moldova: while other nations around them import foreign coaches (Georgia have had a German, a Dutchman, a Frenchman, a Croat and an Argentinian in charge before giving the job to the incumbent, a Slovak), Moldova's national team has only ever been led by a Moldovan or Romanian national, bar Dobrovolski, who has strong family ties with the country, having spent his childhood there.

When he emerged with Dinamo Moscow and the USSR's national team around 1990, the buzzing midfielder was touted as a future star of the world game and could have had his pick of clubs in western Europe. What followed was a series of underwhelming stints with mediocre clubs in Spain, France, Switzerland and Germany, while he also had a spell back home, with Dynamo Moscow.

Around the time of the ill-fated 1994 World Cup finals, Dobrovolski 'starred' in a TV ad (still available on youtube, just search for 'Snickers Dobrovolsky') for a certain peanut-based snack bar, which made him a laughing stock and to this day some still refer to him as 'Meester Snickers'.

Brought back for a second spell as Moldova boss earlier this year, no one expected him to lead Moldova to World Cup qualification, no one spoke of their side doing an Iceland or a Wales, though they did expect better than this.

Football in Moldova is sick, really sick. The country itself is divided, with a large chunk of Moldova not really in Moldova at all, the self-declared republic of Transniestria at odds with the rest of the nation and home to thousands of Russian 'peacekeepers' and one of their top clubs, Sherif, is in that cut-off region.

Their players are not good enough to get moves to clubs in the top European leagues, the domestic league is flooded with Brazilian and African imports, and their boss is facing the sack. He needs more than a Snickers bar.

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