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Dirty Tackle

A Russian drug smuggler still imprisoned in Chile is playing professional football

Brooks Peck
Dirty Tackle

Maksim Molokoedov trains with Santiago Morning under the watch of a prison guard. (AP)

In 2010, Russian footballer Maksim Molokoedov was arrested in Santiago, Chile, for attempting to smuggle six kilos of cocaine inside children's books. He was sentenced to three years and one day in prison and though he still has about a year to go on his sentence, he's been granted permission to play for Chilean second-division club Santiago Morning.

Under the watch of a prison guard, the 24-year-old Molokoedov plays with his teammates during the day and returns to his cell at night. Prior to his arrest, he played for Pskov-74 in the Russian second division. Though that was years ago and most people would assume that a prison term for drug smuggling would instantly end any chances at a career as a footballer, Molokoedov's skill and love for the game got him some special attention in the prison yard and prompted an unusual experiment in prisoner rehabilitation and re-assimilation into society.

From the AP:

The miracle came at the rocky prison yard's pickup games. Inmates began offering him deodorant and a bar of soap to be treated to a few minutes of his dribbling skills and brutal right-footed shot.

Word got around about "El Ruso." It reached Chilean national coach Claudio Borghi, who said Molokoedov was good enough to go pro. It also reached Franklin Lobos, a former Chilean professional player who volunteers at prisons and who vouched for the Russian.

With almost a year still to go on his sentence, Molokoedov does not yet qualify for Sunday passes or the daily passes many inmates get after they complete most of their term. But starting in late July, the warden began letting him leave the prison grounds to play soccer as long he was accompanied by a guard.

Molokoedov scored twice in his first match against first-division club CD Palestino. On Tuesday, his transfer from Pskov-747 went through, allowing him to play in all competitions for his new club. Given this development, Molokoedov has turned down the chance to go back to Russia in order to stay in Chile as the country's only professional footballer and prisoner.

Molokoedov could have returned to Russia this month. An amnesty law recently took effect to free up overcrowded prisons by sending prisoners to their home countries on the condition they don't return to Chile for at least a decade.

Molokoedov regrets his attempt at drug smuggling and calls it "stupid," but other young footballers with stalling careers just might start going through Chilean airports with Dr. Seuss books stuffed with dope to get themselves in front of those talent-spotting prison scouts after this. A professional contract, praise from a national team manager and free room and board? You can't top that.

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