The whole thing was part of a social experiment to see just how far it could go. Whether or not I could go as far as having him mentioned in any reputable outlet. I suppose getting your fake player into the world's top 30 can be deemed success. My only regret is that I didn't sell him to [the club Cork] City on that fateful last night of the transfer window.
I came up with the thought during the summer transfer window. Each window is filled with endless rubbish to the point that your granny could be linked with Barcelona if only she could get a work permit. So that got me thinking. What if I created a virtual player who was full of promise. I would drop him into the feeding frenzy that is summer transfer window time and see if he would be noticed on the radar.
Without getting into the exact details of how I did it, we had to create a history for the player, a sort of background. The name Masal Bugduv as you have suggested came from the short story M'Asal Beag Dubh (My Little Black Ass) written by Pádraic Ó Conaire, whose statue used to sit here in Galway. The story as you have rightly explained the folly of buying someone unsuitable in an illogical market and can be applied to the window—all our clubs have bought useless donkeys. We all have had a Veron, a Jeffers, a Cygan.
The speculation linking him to top clubs was easy given the feeding frenzy was made up of the same auld clichéd bullshit you hear from all transfers. "It has always been my dream to play for ... (fill the gap)." Having created a life story for Bugduv and placed him in games that would be uncontradictable by fans outside Moldova, I knew that Masal had a window in which to live. And within days of being dangled in supporter blogs and having had his name lashed across the bottom of the Setanta TV Sports news screen, he became a real person. Soon he was being mentioned on football radio programmes, his Google mentions went from 20 to 30 to 100 to 500 to 2,000. I heard him mentioned in the pubs. The fact that I described him as being "built like Rooney and Mikel" meant that he was not considered a skinny Moldovan hopeful, but a player of real promise.
The dynamic of being an attractive target soon set in and many fans wished they had him. For Arsenal fans, he was just another promising teenager. With his agent Sergei Yelikov at his side and his "long-time Arsenal fan father" behind him, Masal became a sort of footballing Borat, with the agent reminiscent of Borat's fat sidekick.
However, Masal Bugduv was more Forrest Gump in that he was a fictitious character reacting to real events and in the process becoming a personality of his own. Through the placing of just seven stories, he became a superstar without a club. As the end of August approached, it seemed inconceivable that he would be clubless, but obviously, as he didn't exist, that was the case.
I knew then that Masal's news value was limited out of transfer window time, so his only activity at that time would be the use of the World Cup qualifiers to put himself back in the shop window. Hence his "I will destroy Luxembourg" remarks and his relative silence after the historic 0-0 draw.
A stroke of good fortune ensued in the November games when a Bugaev scored for Moldova. Enough of a coincidence to ensure that his legend lived on.
I never set out to directly fool any news outlet into believing that Masal existed. It was put across as "Did you hear what I heard" and then quote an obscure Moldovan newspaper. It was the equivalent of pub-talk, and placed in blogs that would make sure that he lived a sub-news existence. It was then interesting to see how this talk became part of football news.
At Christmas, he was quiet until Harry Redknapp made some remark about the folly of buying "someone from Moldova or wherever," sparking Masal into life, lashing Harry for dissing Moldovan footballers.
In Irish despatches, I always referred to him as Massi (short for Masal) in order to prolong the joke, as all Paddies would quickly guess what was going on, as happened when I tried to flog him to Reading who were then to loan him on to Cork City in order to get a work permit. At the time, Reading were negotiating with Cork over top striker Dave Mooney. Cork fans were less than impressed that they were losing a top striker for an untried 16-year-old.
So what now for the boy wonder? Being deemed nonexistent has devastated his football career. He has been dropped by Moldova and even Sergei Yelikov has probably moved on to his next protégé.
There is nought left for him but a career in sheep-herding. "I'd even play for City," he said, before penning another letter of application to the local sheep-farmer. "It has always been my dream to mind sheep ..."
Will I do it again? Maybe, just maybe, out there under the radar lie my sleepers. Just waiting for something to bring them back into life and into the news. Sleep, my little beauties.