Forget the football monster that is Manchester City, Turkmenistan’s Arkadag has blitzed the country’s top league in the team’s debut season, winning every single one of their matches.
This is not, however, a story of pure sporting heart and prowess. While City face accusations of “financial doping” and bending the rules to get ahead of all other English Premier League challengers, Arkadag—founded by Gurbanguly “Arkadag” Berdimuhamedov, the dictator president of Turkmenistan from 2007 to 2022 and still officially “Leader of the Nation”— took a rather more direct route to piling up trophies by signing most of their rivals’ best players before the start of the season.
Fans of other Turkmen teams have complained that Arkadag, despite putting together a squad that boasts most of the national team, nevertheless took no chances in the victory stakes—Europe-based Chronicles of Turkmenistan quoted one fan of a rival club as saying that referees openly helped Arkadag to win their matches in their unstoppable charge for the title, and as remarking that the suspect rise of Arkadag was killing interest in the country’s football scene. In a match against Shagadam, the fan said, the referee unfairly gave Arkadag a penalty in the 91st minute, from which they nabbed victory.
The league was won with four games to spare.
The only blemish on Arkadag’s record is a 1-1 draw in a friendly match with North Macedonian second division side Besa Doberdoll.
Next up is the double, with the Turkmen Cup Final around the corner.
"This [league win] encourages us to win more victories, we will try to win the Turkmenistan Cup," AFP quoted Arkadag striker Didar Durdyev as saying on December 5.
Arkadag FC can be seen as the latest manifestation of the peculiar cult of personality pursued by Berdimuhamedov—who even designed the team's logo and kit—and now also by his son, Serdar, who succeeded his father as president. Sporting heroics are part of that cult. While president, Berdimuhamedov senior, 66, was constantly winning various sports competitions, including in cycling and horse and motor racing. Videos showcasing his victories were often posted, while Berdimuhamedov put a lot of time into promoting mass runs, walks and cycle rides for citizens as he pursued an odd penchant for winning meaningless entries in the Guinness Book of Records.
Arkadag, an honorific that means “Protector” or “Guardian”, is also the name of a new showcase futuristic city built within five years and inaugurated in June. The difficulty with any proposal for the team to parade around the city with their trophies on an open-top bus is that while the core of the metropolis has been constructed, most of its inhabitants, according to Turkmen exiled media reports, are yet to arrive. But it’s pretty sure that if the order goes out, thousands of “fans” can be bussed in.