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The curious case of Masal Bugduv

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On Monday, The Times published a list of ‘Football’s 50 rising stars’. Tucked away in the rundown was this:

30. Masal Bugduv (Olimpia Balti)

Moldova’s finest, the 16-year-old attacker has been strongly linked with a move to Arsenal, work permit permitting. And he’s been linked with plenty of other top clubs as well.

This sounded vaguely familiar. Sure enough, Bugduv was mentioned in an article in the January 2009 issue of When Saturday Comes magazine. A piece by Mark Gilbey on the effects of the Transdniestria separatist movement on the Moldovan football scene concludes:

Amid nationalist strife in Moldovan football there is one bright spot on the horizon, in 16-year-old midfield prodigy Masal Bugduv, whom many predict will soon be playing his football in a major European league. Best of all, he has no connection to any breakaway regions.

The Offside linked to the Times‘ list in their Daily Dose. Underneath was a comment by a reader called makki, who said that there was a mistake in the Times‘ feature:

30. Masal Bugduv (Olimpia Balti)…

Such player doesnt exist, it is fake

Hmmm.

The squad list in the Wikipedia entry for Olimpia Bălţi certainly shows no such player:

 The curious case of Masal Bugduv

So, to Google, which threw up a blog comment by someone called gheno, dated August 22nd 2008, seemingly a reprinting of a wire story:

BUGDUV COULD GO STRAIGHT INTO ARSENAL TEAM SAYS AGENT

TIROL, MOLDOVA (AP) THE player described as the finest young player to come out of Eastern European football since Gheorge Hagi is good enough to go straight in to the Arsenal first team, according to his agent.
Massi Bugduv, the 16-year-old hotshot of Moldovan football has been linked with a host of top clubs around Europe for most of the summer.
Bugduv was left out of his country’s friendly with Lithuania this week because of his complicated transfer negotiations that have seen him based in London since Monday with conflicting news reports having him signing for Arsenal, Chelsea, Zenit St Petersburg, and bizarrely, a move to Reading that involved a loan stint in Ireland in order to secure a work permit.
Last night in London, his agent Sergei Yulikov said that he is sure that the demands of the Premiership will not phase his protege.
“I have no doubt that he has the ability of Fabregas and Nasri, but he needs a stage to perform and prove this. He can be as strong as Obi Mikel of Chelsea, but remember that he is still just a 16 year old boy.
“I cannot talk about the talks with Arsenal, but Masal is happy that he is even being linked with this great football club.
“It plays football the beautiful way, always moving, always passing, always running. It is like the football he played as a child, which is not too long ago, so he cannot believe that this type of football can be played at the top level in Europe,” he said.
Mr Yulikov was seen leaving Highbury House yesterday, the offices of Arsenal near the Emirates Stadium where twenty four hours previously, the club revealed Man Utd player Mikhael Silvestre as their latest summer signing.
Masal Bugduv has been described as one of the most exciting young footballers to come out of Moldocan football.
Born on April 14, 1992, he shot to fame playing for his native FC Olimpia B?l?i for whom he scored a hattrick on his competitive debut in an Adzi Cup match in December 2007.
Bagduv became the youngest player capped at that level by his country and he went on to make his senior international debut aged just 16 years and 44 days when he came on for the national team in their 2-2 draw with Armenia in a friendly international in Tiraspol on May 28.
Trailing 2-1 with just ten minutes left, Moldova seemed set to lose until Bagduv lost his marker on the left wing, shimmied inside two defenders and fired in a shot that could only be parried by Armenian keeper Racif into the path of onrushing Igor Bugaev who equalised. (AP)

Arsenal interested in a 16-year-old wunderkind no-one else has heard of? Sounds plausible. And what an impressive international debut!

Oddly, however, the Wikipedia entry for the Moldovan national team fails to list him. An oversight, surely. Though if that’s the case, it’s an oversight also made by the Moldovan FA. Their report on the match doesn’t even mention Bugduv.

Below the AP story was another comment, left four days later, this time by one Tommy Kelly. Yet again, the AP were on the case:

BUDGUV MOVE TO ARSENAL HELD UP BY RED TAPE

PARIS (AP) Top-rated Moldovan teenager Masal Bugduv has said that diplomatic issues are holding up his drawn out transfer to Arsenal as the clock ticks down to the end of the transfer window.
THE player described as the finest young player to come out of Eastern European football since Gheorge Hagi has given his first full interview which will appear in this week’s Stars of Tomorrow feature in L’Equipe.
Speaking through an interpreter, the 16-year-old said that his move has been held up by the Foreign Office and concerns regarding his international clearance.
“For many month I have dreamt of coming to play for an English football club and the interest has been shown from Arsenal…

And so it continues.

Two days later 606 user igorpetrov delivers a twist in the tale:

BENITEZ TO STEAL WONDERKID BUGDUV FROM UNDER ARSENAL’S NOSE

TIROL, MOLDOVA (AP) Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is said to be close to signing Moldovan wonderkid Masal Bugduv for a cut-price fee of £5million.

The player described as the finest young player to come out of Eastern European football since Gheorge Hagi has been on the radar of the top European clubs all summer, although his preferred club of choice was Arsenal.

However, following Liverpool’s flirtation with elimination from the Champions League, Rafa Benitez has instructed the club to snap up the Moldovan hotshot who made his international debut last May aged just 16…

The more eagle-eyed and geographically-aware reader will have spotted something amiss in two of these stories:

TIROL, MOLDOVA (AP)

Mm-hmm. Thing is, there is no such place as Tirol in Moldova. This error has infected the Bugduv-to-Liverpool story further down the page:

“It just is a matter of making what is the best deal for him and for his club Olimpia Tirol who have nurtured him from eight years of age to what he is now, a full international.

So now, Olimpia Bălţi have become Olimpia Tirol.

By the way, a search for “Bugduv” on the AP‘s website comes up with nothing.

Mind you, goal.com did mention him in their preview of a World Cup qualifier in September.

Time to dig into Wikipedia’s history bins. The entry for the Moldovan national team used to contain this–

The great hope of Moldovan football is the teenage sensation Masal Bugduv who has been watched by a host of top clubs around Europe. At just 16 years of age, he has already been named in the country’s provisional squad for the forthcoming World Cup campaign.

–added on July 19th 2008 by a user called…Masalbugduv.

I emailed the author of the comment on The Offside which originally sparked my curiosity. He turns out to be a man called Ivan Makarov, and he’s the sports editor for the Russian newspaper SovietSport. His contacts in Moldova had never heard of a Masal Bugduv. In fact, neither his forename nor surname are typically Moldovan.

Ivan put me in touch with Lavrentii Aniscenco. Lavrentii is the editor-in-chief of moldfootball.com, and he said (email quoted with permission):

This person doesn’t exist…He never played agaist Armenia (I was at this match)…I learned about him today, and discovered a lot of fake information about him in the Net…

Indeed, many blogs and message boards have had supposed stories about this Moldovan hotshot posted in their comments sections, under a variety of usernames: here, here, here and here are some examples. A recent incidence on the Independent‘s site had our Masal lashing out at Harry Redknapp for his apparently dismissive attitude towards Moldovan football.

Lavrentii pointed out another blog post which mentions a report in a Moldovan newspaper called Diario Mo Thon. Such a publication, Lavrentii said, does not exist.

And it’s here that we may have hit the nub of the issue. It seems certain that “Masal Bugduv” is the invention of a prankster, likely from Ireland. Mo Thón, you see, is the Irish for “my arse”.

As practical jokes go, this one has been quite successful, taking in goal.com and When Saturday Comes, and now, the biggest scalp yet, The Times.

So, if you see an article linking your team with Masal Bugduv this month, don’t get too excited, okay?

Many thanks to Ivan Makarov and Lavrentii Aniscenco for their assistance.

Fredorrarci attended an Irish-language school for eight years and now writes a blog called Sport Is A TV Show.

Comments (48)

  1. Hilarious! Sadly I fear this article will be Mr Bugduv’s undoing…

  2. hahahahahahahahahahaha just shows u haha

  3. HAHAHA the writers deserve it for the bs they put in their papers week after week. Great job by the irish boy.

  4. and this is why you should be watching the people / matches you are writing about. Not just a lesson for the Times but for journalists everywhere.

    Oh, and shame on the big media!

  5. I reckon Arsenal should still try to buy him. Even a fictional Moldovan teenager would be better than Emmanuel Eboué.

  6. Daniel Pasoti Highly rated AC Milan youngster Move to plymouth argyle held up due daniel not agreeing personal terms

  7. This is not the first time UK papers have latched onto a story like this. About eight years ago – before the advent of the transfer window – the Liverpool Echo ran an April joke piece about Houllier being linked with a former French international called Didier Baptiste.

    Baptiste was a fictional player who had been linked with a move to Harchester United in Sky One’s (awful) soap opera Dream Team. Baptiste ended up moving to HU for £5 million but not before a number of the tabloids had printed the news of Liverpool’s move for the player. Some papers, presumably not wishing to print a retraction, actually had the audacity to claim that it was Houllier (a former French international manager) who had failed to check his facts and had attempted to sign Baptiste.

  8. I’m confused. The Times article you link to doesn’t feature Masal Bugduv. Jay Simpson is at #30. Who’s conning who?

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/european_football/article5502827.ece?token=null&offset=36&page=4

  9. I looked at that list from the Times a couple of days ago. I’ve just looked at it again, after reading this article, and found a British player from Arsenal at number 30.
    So what is the truth?
    Did the Times messed it up and came with a solution?
    Is this article all a hoax?
    Does Masal Bugduv exist?

    All of this reminds me of that great book called “1984″.

  10. Pablo is right — not about this article being a hoax, but about the Times having quietly changed No. 30 on their list…

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/european_football/article5502827.ece?token=null&offset=36&page=4

    Unfortunately, many websites and forums have featured the Times list in the last few days – like this one, this one, this one, this one, this one and many, many more.

    The Times are bang to rights, I’m afraid…

  11. you have to give the guy credit for getting it that far

  12. This just in – I’ve just read that a delegation led by Gary Cook heard the whispers about this wunderkid and are on their way to Moldova as we speak.

    Ah made you look.

  13. It’s a fake information Masal Bugduv doesn’t exist, but we in Moldova have other talent players, like Antoniuc from Zimbru or Dedov from Ventspils(Latvia)

  14. Wow! It’s great to see someone can still pull an Ivan Renko or Sidd Finch even in this informed day and age. But I guess they can’t be #1 stars, or people would research it too quickly.

  15. By the way, here’s a Masal Bugduv story I wish I had included in the article. How could you resist something that begins:

    I WILL DESTROY LUXEMBOURG AND JOIN ARSENAL SAYS BUGDUV

  16. Good job, you re being quoted my newspapers as well.. Well done

  17. Wow…how could anybody fall for this.

  18. Maximum respect for the research that went into this post by the way.

  19. Excellent article, you’re research is mentioned here by the way:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2009/jan/15/masal-bugduv-moldova-hoax-player

  20. 30. Jay Simpson (Arsenal)

    Prolific and pacy Gunners youth team striker who scored twice on his senior debut against Wigan in the Carling Cup in November and has looked in impressive since joining West Bromwich Albion on loan until the end of the 2008-09 season.

    is this article a prank.
    or what :S
    this is confusing
    is there such player as Masal Bugduv ?

  21. You mean to say that not everything i read on the interwebz is true?

    Nice work. Sixty Minutes give this man a call.

  22. Notice he didn’t get onto the Soccerlens Top 20 Most Promising List!

    But then I’m Irish! :)

  23. also, the letters in Masal Bugduv can be rearranged to form the words “mulduva bags.” almost like moldova, no?

  24. you actually wasted your time working that out?

  25. I read the article with football manager loaded up the other day and remember typing in Bugduv to search for him. I think the Times must have edited the article

  26. Taking the Irish theme a bit further you could break down the name “Masal Bugduv” into an Irish phrases “M’asal bog (pronounced bug) dubh (pronounced duv)” meaning “my weak/soft black donkey”!

    Potential racist connotations aside, I do like the idea of a donkey lining up in an Arsenal midfield :-)

  27. Apparently this article was also mentioned in the Guardian paper, although they changed ‘Soccerlens’ to just ‘blogger’. Anyone seen today’s paper?

  28. I just wrote a comment in The Times saying I remembered finding a Moldovan player but not finding now, and asking for help because I wanted to search for clips in youtube.

    Christian from Southampton also made a comment about Masal Bugduv, the next Zidane but with more hair.

    Let’s see what The Times do now. Will they show my comment? Will they delete Christian’s?

  29. BD,what part of ireland are you from,if you dont mind me asking?

  30. This is amazing, well done. You are all over the media, including the Guardian Sports blog! http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2009/jan/15/masal-bugduv-moldova-hoax-player

    Ex

  31. so this Moldovan player is exist or not?

  32. hehehhee :D

  33. Haha that’s really good. I might make up a player soon…

  34. Absolutely fantastic and captivating article.

    Great work!

  35. @Duffman: Don’t mind you asking at all. I’m from Dublin but living in Perth, Australia for the past 7 years.

  36. Fantastic Article. Great research. Just search Mr.Bogdov on Google and see how many links come up…this guy (if he exists) has become famous…hehehe…

  37. Any human being who does much reading should have been able to detect that those were fake AP stories. The rhythm, grammar and syntax are completely amiss.

    AP copy doesn’t contain phrases such as “aged just 16.” The AP would never write “twenty four hours previously”; they’d name the actual day. (And anyway, AP style dictates that numbers from 10 and up are always written as numerals. So it would be “24 hours.”) There are run-on sentences and missing commas and a ton of other such clues throughout these stories.

    For most journalists, this stuff is as instinctive as breathing. Anybody who thought these were real AP reports is an idiot.

  38. What’s more disturbing for the Times: (1) they fall for this fictitous player or (2) They remove him and put Simpson in as number 30.

    Here’s the problem w/ Simpson being number 30, at first glance by the Times #s 31 through 50 were considered better prospects.
    How did Simpson move up from off the radar to #30?

  39. When Saturday Comes have been making stuff up for years. No surprise that they’ve been caught out at their own game.

  40. After reading this article Arsenal immediately lowered its offer to 2 million BP.

  41. 1) A+ to the guy who created the prank. Love the “My Little Black Donkey” reference. How appropriate in these times of over-inflated transfer prices.
    2) A+++ to Fredorrarci and Brian Phillips for a brilliant piece of investigative journalism.

  42. This Ireland guy, that inventor this story, have a brazilian teacher: Mr Manson (www.cocadaboa.com)!

    P.S. Sorry for my bad english!

  43. If you want to hear your hero (go on, admit it) discuss the story of Masal Bugduv in audio form, then listen to CBC Radio One’s As It Happens some time between 2330 and 0100 GMT tonight.

  44. Masal Bugduv is pronounced the same way as “M’asal beag dubh” which is Irish for “My little black donkey”

  45. Fredorrarci interviews the possible creator behind the Masal Bugduv hoax