FOR one fictional teenager to be swept up in the transfer speculation maelstrom could be considered unfortunate. For a second to follow is just careless. First there was Masal Bugduv. Now we have Rajko Purovic. Or rather, we don’t, because neither of them exist.
Back in April, I wrote on this blog about the curious case of Bugduv, a Moldovan who had somehow managed to find his way into The Times’ list of football’s top 50 rising stars. It turned out that Bugduv was no more than the figment of a mischievous Cork City supporter’s imagination.
Bugduv’s anonymous creator, a newspaperman from Galway, created Bugduv to see if, via the internet’s I-have-it-on-a-reliable-source-that-Lionel-Messi-is-in-the-car-park-at-Turf-Moor transfer hysteria flatulator, he could get the made-up Moldovan mentioned by a reputable news outlet.
And it worked. (If you want to read the full story of how it worked, you should read Brian Phillips’ excellent article for the online magazine Slate.)
Anyway, 11 days after I published my blog entry on the subject, I received a comment from a chap stating that he was Bugduv’s creator. He left me an e-mail address (featuring a false name), some very kind words about my article, and a warning to watch out for a future Bugduv-style hoax.
He wrote: “I’m the remarkably still anonymous creator of Massi Bugduv. Yes, it’s still doing the rounds. The twin brother has been launched as well but as yet, he’s a sleeper. I’m a newspaper man in Galway in the west of Ireland.”
I can’t prove that the chap contacting me was the real creator (it is kind of tricky when people don’t want you to find out who they are), but I’ve no reason to doubt him.
Even so, I didn’t think anyone could pull off such a trick again: I figured that the law of diminishing returns would surely work against them. And anyway, journalists would be on alert for a similar scam.
And then somebody – I’m not sure who – invented Purovic.
Eight days ago, the Teesside Evening Gazette, the Daily Mirror and the Press Association (followed by various websites that subscribe to the Press Association’s feed) carried stories linking Middlesbrough with Purovic, an 18-year-old wonderkid from Serbia complete with a pushy agent.
He seems remarkably similar to Bugduv, a 16-year-old wonderkid from Moldova with a pushy agent.
And like Bugduv, who played (or rather didn’t play) for Moldovan mediocrities Olimpia Balti, Purovic was associated with a club struggling in their domestic league.
FK Banat Zrenjanin were relegated from their domestic top flight last season, a feeling Middlesbrough will know only too well. (Boro, though, at least managed to finish second from bottom. Banat were bottom of the Serbian Superliga. Presumably the idea of linking Purovic with West Brom was just too silly.)
At the time of writing, the English language version of Banat’s Wikipedia page lists Purovic as one of the club’s notable former players. He’s not notable enough to have his own entry, though, despite the link with Boro.
And that’s because, like Bugduv, he is not real. (As you’ll be able to tell from reading the article attached to this link from the website of Serbian broadcaster B92. Even if your Serbian isn’t that hot, you should still be able to work out what the phrase ‘banatskog fantoma’ means.)
No one seems exactly sure who has invented him, either. Was it the same chap who created Bugduv? Not according to one fan on a Middlesbrough message board, who combed through the history of Banat’s Wikipedia page, found the IP address of the person who added Purovic to their squad list and deduced that said prankster is based in… Hartlepool.
The same message board suggests that the Evening Gazette were taken in by someone who sent a very detailed e-mail to the paper claiming to be a representative of Purovic. No one has yet discovered who sent this. Could it have been the man who gave us Masal Bugduv?
I’d like to think the rogue e-mailer was Bugduv’s creator, pulling off a second hoax against the odds. Today, I tried to e-mail him at the address he gave me two months ago to ask him. The address wasn’t valid.
It’s just as possible, though, that our man in Galway wasn’t responsible this time, and that we have a copycat in our midst. Either way, if the same trick can be pulled off twice, we have to accept that Purovic may not be the last made-up European starlet to find his way into print before the summer is out.