Fraud runs deep in the veins of professional Bulgarian soccer club, CSKA (Central Sports Club of the Army) Sofia. In 2009, former club president Alexander Tomov and former chief executive Alexander Garibov, were arrested and charged with embezzlement and document fraud. The pair had allegedly been misappropriating funds from the club and “siphoning off cash from the Kremikovtzi steel-making plant on the outskirts of Sofia.”
You’d think an organization of such esteem as CSKA would be very cautious after enduring such a betrayal. However, just a few months afterwards, the club fell victim to another, arguably greater fraud. They were bamboozled, made a fool of, deceived, hoodwinked, duped, swindled, and outright tricked by an average joe, who managed to convince the club that he was not only a real professional footballer, but one of the best in the world.
When Gregoire Akcelrod was a young boy, he aspired to be a professional soccer player as many children do. Problem was, as is this case with most, Akcelrod wasn’t any good. He played his first game in front of his father at ten years old. His team lost 4-0, and on the car ride home, his father told him “You are very bad. You are lazy. I don’t want to see you on the soccer field anymore.” That’s going to hurt any kid’s ego, but neither that harsh lecture nor his lack of talent would stop Akcelrod from signing with a professional club. Despite continually being cut from programs due to a lack of talent, Akcelrod continued to dream.
Fast-forward a few years and Akcelrod had a real ‘Eureka!’ moment. He decided to create a fake website that would portray himself as a professional player on the reserve team for Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), one of the most elite football clubs in all of Europe. He modeled his website after several of the top European players’ sites. And he even copied and pasted articles from prestigious French sports journalism sites, changed the names around, and shipped them off to prospective teams.
It wasn’t all a lie. Akcelrod was on PSG’s reserve team...their fifth team, in the lowest French soccer league. Akcelrod himself described the league as the “worst” in France.
Now 19 years old, Akcelrod’s plan saw its full potential after the Frenchman snuck into PSG’s home field, Le Parc des Princes. On a trip to Paris, Akcelrod met up with an old friend who happened to work at the team’s shop at their stadium. She had access to the field and even offered Akcelrod an opportunity to walk on the field, perhaps even take some pictures. The quick-thinking Akcelrod saw this opportunity and knew what to do, the piece de resistance, if you will. Since only PSG’s first-teamers ever got to go onto the field when games weren’t being played, Akcelrod accepted the offer, but with a caveat. He first wanted to purchase a PSG jersey for his brother. Like most of his life, this too wasn’t true. Akcelrod wanted the jersey for himself, but by claiming it was going to be a gift for his brother, zero suspicions were raised, and it gave him an excuse to show up on the field in a PSG jersey that had his name on the back.
That sneaky son of a gun had it all planned out. Not even Batman or Littlefinger could display this level of cunning. Akcelrod showed up to the field and posed for a couple pictures in full PSG attire. He made sure to take a couple headshots as well. When he got home later that night, he posted the pictures to his website and all of a sudden, the con was complete.
He sent his website and resumé to several of Europe’s best clubs. Many ignored him, but the perfect offer came in the summer of 2009. Akcelrod was given an opportunity to try out for CSKA Sofia. After just two training sessions, the team’s coach told Akcelrod’s agent that he wanted to sign him. The club offered him a three-year contract with a monthly salary of £15,00 (about $18,900).
It worked. He’d fooled a professional soccer club into believing he was a legit soccer player. Screw you, dad!
It worked until his little ruse was found out by a fan of the team. The fan contacted every journalist in the area and let them know of Akcelrod’s deceit. When Akcelrod showed up for team breakfast the next Monday, he was asked to return to France.
This happened in 2009, and I’m shocked that not more people have heard of this story. He’s a living epitome of “fake it ‘til you make it,” and he would’ve made it if not for a superfan taking matters into their own hands. He lived many Americans’ dream of signing a massive sports contract. He didn’t have the talent. He didn’t have the connections, but what he did have was an insane amount of determination and enough guile and willpower to make Hal Jordan gasp (yes, I’m aware how nerdy that was).
Akcelrod released his autobiography about his scheme in 2021. Before then, his devious scheme went more or less unnoticed outside of Bulgaria. Hell! I didn’t know about this until last night. This is a movie waiting to be written. I don’t know what the resolution will be, probably some love story shoehorned in by the big wigs at whatever production company buys the script, but I know I’d see it regardless.
Nowadays, Akcelrod still works in soccer, but as an agent for up-and-coming stars. He uses his experience trying to break into professional soccer to help his clients land that contract he was so close to getting himself. His methods have obviously changed, but I think any soccer player looking to go pro would be hard pressed to find an agent who’s willing to go further than Akcelrod in order to play professionally.