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London – He is the man at the centre of match-fixing allegations that have rocked English football. The man, according to reports that emerged on Monday night, who is alleged to have thrown a game when in goal for Debrecen against Liverpool in the Champions League in 2009.
But Vukasin Poleksic did not go into hiding when he discovered on Tuesday he was the protagonist in another major scandal only seven months after serving a two-year suspension for such an offence. No, he answered his telephone and agreed to this interview with Daily Mail.
His employers at Debrecen were keen to co-operate too, passing on Poleksic’s mobile telephone number in the first place in the hope that their 30-year-old Montenegro keeper would front up these very serious accusations. At least that was their stance until an official statement was issued on Tuesday afternoon saying neither the club nor their player would be making any comment.
To Daily Mail, however, Poleksic was keen to give his version of events and responded to the allegation that he was paid by an illegal betting syndicate in Singapore to let in more than two goals in the opening group game of Liverpool’s Champions League campaign that season.
The match ended in a 1-0 victory for the English hosts at Anfield. Rafa Benitez, Liverpool’s manager that night, said his side would have won by a greater margin had it not been for a fine defensive performance from the Hungarian side.
“Anyone who watched the match would know that what people are saying is bull,” said Poleksic. “We lost 1-0 at Liverpool and I played a good game. I made lots of saves: a one-on-one against Albert Riera, one from Fernando Torres, one from Steven Gerrard. I remember it all. How can anyone say I threw the game?
“The match did not seem at all odd that night. There was nothing. I was just delighted to be playing at Anfield. It was a great night for me and my club and we played well.”
Last June, Poleksic finished a two-year ban for failing to tell the authorities about an approach from fixers before a game with Fiorentina in the same Champions League group a month after that match at Anfield.
A look through the highlights suggests Poleksic might have a point. Although none of the saves were world class, they were more than competent and the opportunity was definitely there to have conceded more without raising suspicion.
The goal he conceded came after a decent save from a Torres shot, the parry falling to Dirk Kuyt to tap in. Liverpool won but they were frustrated by their opponents, who defended well. Poleksic says there is a reason for that. The game represented the pinnacle of their careers.
“It was the biggest match of my career,” he said. “Liverpool have always been my favourite club. I love them and can’t believe what people have said about me. But I know I am clean.
“At the end of the game, I swapped shirts with Pepe Reina, as I did in the return game. I still have Reina’s shirt on my wall at home. I’m such a big fan of his.”
While Poleksic was happy at first to tell his story, he did then inform Daily Mail he would be switching off his phone. Not that he was surprised to find himself at the centre of a new storm. His past, he knows, will always be held against him.
“It’s always the keeper who is blamed because if they make a mistake it often leads to a goal,” said Poleksic, who has 23 caps and could be involved when England play Montenegro in a World Cup qualifier next month.
“I just worry that people will believe what is being said.”
The scandal surrounding the 4-3 home defeat by Fiorentina a month after the Liverpool game was far more damaging for the goalkeeper. Fixers tried to bribe him ahead of the match. He refused, he says, but paid the price for failing to inform the authorities, even though they did make it clear the game was not fixed.
“They called me a week or 10 days before the game and it made it difficult for me to play,” he said. “I was so scared of making a mistake in case I was accused of something.
“I don’t know who the people were who called me. I told them, ‘I don’t do this, I’d never do this, please don’t call me’.
“I don’t know where they were from but I made the mistake of not saying anything. I wasn’t sure it was so serious and I had no information about the people so I didn’t say anything.”
The failure to pass on the information about the criminal gang’s intentions meant a two-year ban and a £8,500 fine from Uefa, which was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport despite an appeal. His team-mate, Norbert Meszaros, was handed a fine and a six-month ban but both were overturned due to a lack of evidence.
Poleksic has since returned from his ban, playing seven games this season and returning to the Montenegro squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Ukraine, San Marino and Poland. He will likely be on the bench when Roy Hodgson’s side visit Podgorica next month.
“Every goalkeeper in the world makes mistakes but my big one was that I didn’t call the police,’ he said. ‘I didn’t play for two years because of this but it’s my fault because I didn’t report it.
“But I didn’t fix anything. I came back in June and the club have been behind me the whole time.
“They know that I have done nothing wrong. I’ve been training, I’ve played some matches and I’ve been in the national team.
“I trained hard in those two years but it’s been difficult. I didn’t go to see any matches because it was too difficult for me.
“Nobody understands what I’ve been through. It’s been very difficult for my family too and I couldn’t have got through this without them.
“Players get injured for six months and it’s difficult for them. But I was in perfect health for two years but unable to play. It was harder than having an injury but I’m a strong person.”
With the world now watching him, he will need to continue to be strong in the next few weeks. – Daily Mail