Three years ago, on a flight bound from Santiago to Madrid, a young Russian was caught attempting to smuggle large quantities of cocaine inside children’s books. Caught red-handed and with little in the way of defence, Maxim Molokoedov was sentenced to three year’s imprisonment in the Chilean capital, three long years in a country as far from his homeland, both geographically and culturally, as one can imagine.
Without a word of Spanish to his name, no friends or family in the Western Hemisphere, and no idea of how he would adapt to prison life, Molokoedov quietly resigned himself to his new lifestyle, sharing a cramped cell with four other prisoners. According to the man himself, he was carried through partly by sheer determination, but also by faith in an icon – perhaps one of the few similarities to be found between the stereotypical Catholicism of Latin America and the pious ritualistic Orthodoxy of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Perhaps a second similarity is to be found in their sporting priorities. Whilst you are highly unlikely to ever find a Chilean in attendance at a world hockey final or scouring the internet for the results of a recent biathlon event, it would take a surrealist to place the same citizen alongside his Russian counterpart at the forthcoming FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Chile, lack much of South America, is passionate about the beautiful game, and whilst there is much in the Russian which could hardly be described as such, those who follow their side’s footballing fortunes can be equally vociferous in their support.
That fact proved to be something of a lifeline for Molokoedov. Born in St Petersburg and a keen footballer, as a youngster he earned a place in the squad of Zenit’s reserves with his potential, but it was never fully realised. Playing down in the fourth tier of the game he failed to break into the top flight squad, and was released to try his hand elsewhere. Not particularly keen on leaving his home city and without a reputation to attract attention from much further afield, the youngster made the next logical step – joining the newly-reformed Dinamo St Petersburg for their regional campaigns in 2006 and 2007 as they attempted to escape the perilous regional leagues.
Dinamo failed to break through into national competition until after his departure, at which point they were swiftly relegated and rebranded as Petrotrest – today a new Dinamo exists in the lower reaches of the amateur game. Molokoedov was not around to witness that particular transformation however, leaving the side at the end of his contract before eventually winding up back in the Second Division, again in the western sub-league, this time with Pskov-747.
Today Pskov is a typical regional city within the Russian Federation. Caught up in the German advances during World War Two, its standard issue Soviet architecture does little to inspire the visitor, nor to remind them that it is in fact one of Russia’s oldest settlements, dating back comfortably over 1,000 years and becoming not only a major centre within Russia but also a key player in pushing the Teutonic Knights out of the young country.
Nevertheless, regardless of their cultural and historical significance, Pskov has been largely passed by the footballing world. A handful of famous faces may once have passed through their doors, but their contributions to the development to the Russian game are minimal at best. Having left both of the major football teams in his home city, Pskov is the place that young Molokoedov found to ply his trade.
Whether the nature of life in a largely non-description, Soviet-style city contributed to his criminal path is unknown – the player himself referring only to a bad time in his life and a ‘bad memory.’ All that we do know is that, with little linking him to his life in Pskov, Petersburg or indeed anywhere east of Peru, Molokoedov turned to the one thing he knew he shared with his Latin cousins – football. As a professional, albeit a million miles from the glitz and glamour of Spartak, Zenit and CSKA, his abilities with a ball became known throughout the prison, both his fellow inmates and those in charge of physical recreation.
Two years into his three year sentence, the forward was granted a special license to train with local club Santiago Morning. One-time Chilean champions back in 1942, the club now compete in the Primera B, the second level of the game, after relegation from the top flight in the last campaign. Despite two years of imprisonment and the obvious lack of a physical regime more suited to a professional sportsman, Molokoedov caught the eye of the managerial team, who encouraged the prison service to grant him his release license.
Earlier this week, Molokoedov found himself making the headlines both in Chile and in his native country. Santiago Morning found their training session to have a larger than usual press attendance, as their overseas forward took part in his first practice since release. Once scheduled for deportation back to Russia, ‘El Ruso,’ according to Chile’s acting justice minister, had provided a shining example of how criminals could be reformed, rehabilitated and reintegrated, providing that they themselves are willing to put in the effort. Now registered for the remainder of the Primera B season, and could line up against Desportes Copiaco on Sunday.
Molokoedov is a footballer who will most likely never receive a call from Fabio Capello inviting him to the national cquad, nor will he attract the attention of Anzhi or Zenit for a multi-million pound transfer. However, despite his past misdemeanours, he has apparently earned the right to a second chance through repentance and perseverance. Whilst his personal life may be a less than perfect example for any would-be footballer, to come out of prison and play at a higher level than before demands a certain level of determination. Many of Russia’s young, often pampered stars could potentially learn something from Maxim Molokoedov.