One of the players involved in the match-fixing scandal sweeping European soccer spoke for the first time about his involvement in Germany.
Very interesting and insightful. I highlighted the best parts for those who are lazy like me, but I think it's worth the read.
A middling player in Germany’s second-tier soccer league, Schuon had gambled away everything. He had borrowed from the bank. Built up debts with a dingy betting office. Borrowed more. Gambled more. Lost more. But Schuon, 24, had always resisted when the betting office owner offered “an easy solution” — an own goal, or a handball in Schuon’s team’s next road game. Then, in early April, a man at the betting office told him that the boss, a man identified by Schuon’s lawyer and the German news media as Nurettin G. — a stocky Turk in his 30s — had a gun. When Schuon next met the boss, on the city outskirts, he agreed to throw a game against Augsburg in return for having 20,000 euros, or about $30,000, in betting debts excused. “He threatened me,” Schuon said in a recent interview. “He said he would always find me, wherever I went.”
Schuon, who was playing for VfL Osnabrük at the time, is the first player in the match-rigging scandal now coursing through European soccer to talk publicly about a deal to fix a game. As many as 200 matches are under scrutiny, 32 in Germany, including the Osnabrük-Augsburg match on April 17. His story powerfully illustrates how soccer players can betray their teammates, fans and the game: in Europe, a culture of gambling among professional athletes can lead to heavy debts, leaving players vulnerable to blackmail from match-fixing rings. “The betting office is a place where match fixers meet players,” said one investigator who declined to be identified because the investigation is still continuing. “They monitor who is building up debts and then they have their target.” Unlike in the United States, where betting among professional athletes is frowned upon, German soccer players and coaches are barred from betting only on matches in their own league. Betting on other leagues and other sports rarely raises eyebrows. Schuon, who left Osnabrück in May to play for third-division SV Sandhausen but was fired on Nov. 30, reckons that “80 to 90 percent” of the players he has met bet at least occasionally.
Schuon is scared. In the two-hour, late-night interview, he sits rigidly, clasping a glass of water. He speaks softly and rarely smiles. In the three weeks since four police officers arrived at 6.20 a.m., searched his apartment and took him in for five hours of questioning, his boyish face has been all over the German news media. Tabloid newspapers call his grandmother repeatedly. A religion teacher told his nephew that his uncle’s behavior was un-Christian. Schuon has been in hiding, starting therapy for his gambling and consulting his lawyer.
Schuon’s story is one of childhood dreams, early success and access to money when other teenagers had none. But it is also a tale of crushing parental expectations, of friendships compromised by unrelenting competition, of growing self-doubt — and of a teenage weakness for small bets becoming a full-fledged addiction.
He was 10 when a talent spotter from VfB Stuttgart, a club in Germany’s top league, the Bundesliga, saw him and asked his parents if he could coach him. “From that day on I wanted to become a professional player,” Schuon said. A nimble defender, his rise was swift. At 16, he joined a special soccer school in Stuttgart, a year later the German national team for his age group. By 18, he was playing for Stuttgart’s second team and trained with the first. His parents were proud. For important matches, his mother would charter a bus for extended family. His father, who had first kicked a ball around with him when he was 5, advised him against learning a trade and to focus on sport. As Schuon put it, “I bet my entire youth on soccer.”
It was his dream — but also his father’s for him — to play in the Bundesliga. The more enthusiastic his father, the more unthinkable it was for Schuon to confide his growing unhappiness. Others in the second team moved up to the first. He started losing his hair at 19 and took it badly when players mocked him. When he was 17, a fellow player invited him to a betting office in Stuttgart. He bet $7 and won $1,500. Schuon had money. At 16 and still living at home, he received $1,200 for mileage. When he signed with Stuttgart’s second team, the club paid a bonus of $22,000 and a monthly salary of $5,100.
But Schuon compared himself to first-team players who earned significantly more. His bets increased to $150 apiece. When he moved to Osnabrück at age 22, on a salary of about $12,000 a month, he bet as much as $1,500 a time. Once or twice a week, then every day. He always went to the same small shop near the train station. He got lucky there once, early on. And the owner, Schuon said, let him bet on credit.
By October 2008, he had used up his savings of $22,000 and his bank overdraft of $12,000, and he owed $4,400 to the betting office. His bank loaned him another $29,000. By December, he owed the betting shop $7,300. The owner approached him, Schuon said. “I thought he would give me a deadline to pay him,” Schuon said. “When I understood what he wanted I was even more shocked. I said no, I won’t do this. I am still young, I have a career ahead of me.” He secured a second bank loan, for $44,000, and within weeks lost it. In January, the betting boss repeated his offer, and mentioned a figure: $37,000 for a successfully fixed match. Schuon refused. The betting shop let him gamble on.
In March, things changed. Schuon was given deadlines to pay. The pressure increased, he said. Schuon gave in on what he now calls Day X. On April 15, two days before Osnabrück played Augsburg, he got a coded signal in the betting shop. “You will lose this match 0-3 anyway,” the owner said casually. Nurettin G. is now in custody. Neither he nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.
Schuon said he never followed through on the field. Shortly before the match, his coach said he would play as a midfielder, rather than a defender. As a defender, it would have been easier to fix the match. Today, his coach’s decision could mean the difference between a prison sentence for actual match fixing and a fine, or suspended sentence, for mere agreement to do so. Still, Osnabrück lost, 3-0, on April 17 and Schuon’s debts were forgiven. For the rest of the season, Schuon said, the betting shop pressed on every road game. What saved Schuon, on the last day of the soccer season, was the luck he had been chasing all along: he bet $1,000 and won $29,000. He left for Sandhausen in summer with all debts paid.
Only when the police arrived did the enormity of events dawn on him, he said. He had told nobody, not even his girlfriend, Sarah, who asked that her last name not be used.
Back in Osnabrück, the manager of the team, Lothar Gans, describes Schuon as an introverted, sensitive young man who drove big cars and wore conspicuous clothes but was deeply insecure. He said he was shocked by Schuon’s confession. A string of defeats cost the club its place in the second league and $7.4 million in lost television fees, sponsorship and stadium revenues. Employees had to be fired. Asked whether he thought the Augsburg match was manipulated, Gans declined to speculate but said that for a single midfielder it was near impossible to engineer a precise score. “We played badly that day and our rivals played extremely well,” he said. “It is perfectly plausible that we just lost.” Others are not so sure. The former coach Claus-Dieter Wollitz told the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung that he believed Schuon aimed the ball toward his own goal once.
Schuon still dreams of playing professional soccer again, maybe abroad.
His girlfriend disagrees. “Just a regular everyday job would be perfect,” Sarah said