It could all have been so different for Vukasin Poleksic. Six years ago, the Debrecen goalkeeper was given the chance to fulfil his dream of playing in the Premier League by joining Harry RedknappÔÇÖs Portsmouth, who went on to win the FA Cup that season.
Instead, Poleksic chose to stay in Hungary and experience the Champions League. On Wednesday, at home in HungaryÔÇÖs second biggest city, he admitted he will regret that decision forever.
Poleksic has achieved notoriety as the focus of the match-fixing allegations that struck Britain this week. Uefa banned him for two years in 2010 for failing to report a telephone call in which a criminal gang offered to pay him to help fix Champions League matches in 2009 against Fiorentina and, as emerged this week, Liverpool.
The 30 year-old insisted he had nothing to hide and welcomed an unfamiliar English journalist into his home to make it clear that he did not take the money, to explain why he did not go to the authorities, and to use the experience of his ban as warning to others.
ÔÇ£In 2007-08, I had some chance to go to Portsmouth,ÔÇØ Poleksic told Telegraph Sport. ÔÇ£I had some very big offer to go but I said, ‘No, IÔÇÖll stay to play in the Champions League and maybe next summer goÔÇÖ.
ÔÇ£It was a mistake because I got this punishment. Maybe, if I had gone there, who knows?ÔÇØ
Had he gone, Poleksic would have never received that fateful phone call as Debrecen prepared for their first season in the Champions League group stage. Instead of reporting it to the authorities, he told only his wife, Kristina, to whom he has been married for 10 years. ÔÇ£She said, ‘You canÔÇÖt go to anybody with this, you donÔÇÖt have proof.ÔÇÖÔÇØ
Poleksic admitted he was naive, not only because he did nothing, but also because he was honest when Uefa called after German police accidentally uncovered the scandal. ÔÇ£I didnÔÇÖt want to lie,ÔÇØ he said. ÔÇ£Maybe if I said nobody called me, they wouldÔÇÖve given me nothing, if I said: ‘Nobody called me, you donÔÇÖt have proof, f— offÔÇÖ. But I was a little bit naive.ÔÇØ
Despite there being no evidence to suggest he took the money, PoleksicÔÇÖs admission meant that his attempts to fight his ban ÔÇô he took the case all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport ÔÇô were doomed to fail.
ÔÇ£For the first one or two months, I was in shock,ÔÇØ he said. ÔÇ£I just couldnÔÇÖt believe that this happened to me. You canÔÇÖt sleep. I lost everything.ÔÇØ
The Montenegro international added: ÔÇ£I was thinking of leaving football. Yes, because if you do nothing bad and they accuse you and they put you in every newspaper in my country, people read it and look at you strangely, like some criminal.ÔÇØ
Poleksic had to break the news of his ban to his son, Milos, who is now nine. ÔÇ£I just told him I got a punishment because I didnÔÇÖt do good,ÔÇØ he said. His family convinced Poleksic not to give up hope. ÔÇ£I trained hard every day and waited for the day that my ban finished. It was a very long period but I made it.ÔÇØ
PoleksicÔÇÖs suspension expired last summer but he has struggled to regain his place at the club and is second choice for his country.
He was not picked for MontenegroÔÇÖs World Cup qualifier against England at Wembley last year, having been banned for their European Championship qualifiers against the same opponents. ÔÇ£I wanted always to go to see Wembley,ÔÇØ he said. ÔÇ£I was very, very sad, to see my friends playing there and IÔÇÖm not there.ÔÇØ
Poleksic admitted he was lucky to be playing at all, with Debrecen having stood by the player who had signed for them barely two years earlier from FC Tatabanya.
Having been in Hungarian football since 2006, does he think it is more corrupt than the game in other countries? No player at Debrecen earns more than ┬ú41,000 a year. ÔÇ£I donÔÇÖt know,ÔÇØ said Poleksic. ÔÇ£The last two or three days, theyÔÇÖve killed me, theyÔÇÖve killed me. TheyÔÇÖve put up my pictures like some criminal.ÔÇØ
Insisting he had ÔÇ£neverÔÇØ been asked to fix a match before or since, he believed he was targeted because of his nationality. ÔÇ£IÔÇÖm from Montenegro and these people speak some of my language,ÔÇØ he said.
Poleksic admitted it was possible that the call he received was from Ante Sapina, the notorious Croatian match-fixer, who was sentenced to 5┬¢ years in prison in 2011.
ÔÇ£Everybody who is involved has to pay,ÔÇØ Poleksic added. ÔÇ£I didnÔÇÖt fix anything and I paid two years. If somebody goes to see football and you know what the result will be, itÔÇÖs not good for football.ÔÇØ
What would be his advice to a player approached to fix a match? ÔÇ£To tell the club or the police,ÔÇØ he said. ÔÇ£You have problems if you donÔÇÖt tell anybody.ÔÇØ
Those problems include convincing other clubs that he is not a cheat, including those in England, where he would still love to play.
ÔÇ£I believe in myself,ÔÇØ he said. ÔÇ£But, because of this situation, maybe people believe that I am not a clean person.ÔÇØ