This article originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.
"I was angry, I was enraged. I wanted to cry."
In the first week of January 2017, Rohan Ricketts received the phone call he had been dreading.
"When the lawyer called me – I think her name was Carol – I decided I didn't want to play football anymore. I just felt cheated. The thing that I love so much, which is playing football, but then you've got people in there who are criminals."
Former Arsenal and Tottenham player Ricketts is one of a rare handful of English footballers to have taken a chance on moving overseas. He has become a cult figure, a heroic nomad pitching up in some of the world's most obscure football leagues, refusing to let his career drift away.
His advice to anyone considering following his lead, though, would be to think twice.
"It gets me furious just thinking about it. People say: 'Rohan Ricketts, he's had a great career, he's an example for English players who should look to play abroad'. Well, yes and no. Because why would they go and play abroad if they're going to be robbed?"
In the summer of 2010 the Clapham-born midfielder, once a regular in the Spurs side managed by David Pleat, agreed terms with an up-and-coming outfit in the Moldovan capital Chisinau.
FC Dacia, founded in 2000 by a consortium of local property investors and former players, had moved rapidly through the leagues in the former Soviet republic and, by the time they offered a three-year contract to Ricketts, were within reach of a first Moldovan national title. In this under-developed backwater of eastern European football, the signing of an English player with more than 30 Premier League appearances to his name was a significant coup. Ricketts, for his part, was optimistic.
"The agent who sorted it was called Leonid. He was a guy based out of New York with a Russian background, I think. He was a good guy. He always backed me up, even when everything started to go wrong. I don't believe he knew that this was going to happen. There was another agent involved too. I never knew who that other agent was."
Once in Chisinau, things went sour fast. Somebody – Ricketts suspects one of the two agents who had been responsible for brokering the move – had falsely led the club to believe their new acquisition was a striker. After netting a hat-trick in a pre-season friendly, the former Spurs man explained that his position was not up-front but in the centre of midfield. This is when the atmosphere changed. When, at the end of the first month, no wages were paid, Dacia tried to re-negotiate the terms of the deal on a reduced salary. "I hadn't even been paid, so what were they trying to re-negotiate? Zero was getting paid at that time."
The club offered to release Ricketts with a pay-off of one month's salary, drawing up a document to effect the arrangements. "That was a good document for me to have, because it proved that it was them, the club, who wanted to get rid of me.
"Then after about 20 minutes they walked back in the room and said: 'Rohan, we've made a mistake, we just need to go and correct it', and they took the document from me. But it wasn't a mistake – they just didn't want me to have the document, because they knew it would have let them off. They wanted to make it look like I had just left. They were pissed off that I wasn't willing to re-negotiate on something that had already been agreed."
In total, Ricketts spent three and a half months in Chisinau, even training on his days off, but made only a handful of appearances for the club. He received no payment during that time. At the end of three months without a wage, and in accordance with FIFA legislation, he began the process of severing ties.
The case went before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and Ricketts, backed by the PFA, was awarded $100,000 in damages, to be paid by the club within 21 days. But Dacia weren't finished.
"The club never paid. Instead, they appealed the decision on the grounds that I had been fraudulent."
Tax regulations in parts of eastern Europe mean it is common practice for clubs to sign up players on two contracts simultaneously. In Ricketts' case, this meant one document under which he was to be paid $7,000 across three years, and another that entitled him to the bulk of his salary.
"They said that I had faked the second contract. That means I would have had to have agreed to be paid only $7,000, split over three years. You can't live anywhere on that. It's the most ridiculous story ever. They also said I had drawn up this contract myself, in English and Romanian, and got hold of the club's official stamp and faked the signatures. They said I did all that, just to have a club in Moldova.
"Next thing, they've brought in a handwriting expert to examine the contracts, and the expert's verdict was that the second contract could possibly have been signed by someone else, other than the club. So the court found in favour of the club. I lost. They didn't have to pay me a penny, and I've now got to pay the appeal fee.
"[Dacia] must have got to someone who had influence in the case, because the case doesn't even make sense. I agreed to go somewhere for $7,000, broken down over 36 months? How has someone come to that understanding? The whole thing is just too fishy. It should have been impossible to lose that case."
Ricketts isn't the only victim of what has gone on at Dacia. Macedonian forward Dejan Stankovic arrived at the club around the same time in 2010, but by the end of his second month in Chisinau had received no wages. Club staff became aggressive towards him, an attempt, thinks Ricketts, to force him out of the country. Stankovic subsequently filmed a number of the altercations that took place between him and Dacia's hierarchy and eventually won his case, receiving $250,000 in damages.
Ricketts doesn't know why his friend's case was looked on favourably by CAS while his own was rejected.
"We made a mistake in choosing to go for only one judge in the appeal," he thinks. "We could have chosen to have three. The problem is that one judge is easer to influence than three. The guy they used was from Greece. Now I'm not saying that there's a precedent for people from Greece to be fraudulent, but anyone can be paid off. The risk is there when it's one person and not three."
Ricketts has the right to appeal January's decision, but lawyers working on behalf of the PFA think that could cost as much as £20,000 and have advised against it. Instead it is likely that he will never recoup the money owed to him by Dacia, and that he will not be compensated for the emotional suffering inflicted in the intervening six years.
That period included not just the three-month spell when he was training with Dacia without being selected, but spilled over into what should have been a new chapter and a fresh start.
Ingolstadt, then of the second tier in Germany, came in with an offer in 2011, but Dacia were still holding Ricketts' registration and, in the time it took for FIFA to intervene and make an emergency decision on the case, the offer lapsed. He signed instead with fourth-tier outfit SV Wilhelmshaven in Lower Saxony, but Ricketts considers it an opportunity lost.
"There needs to be laws put in place against this happening again. You shouldn't be allowed to have two contracts like that, because whilst they have this system in place these people will be able to do this again and again and again. But if they're not allowed two contracts then it's going to cost them money in taxes, so it's not in their interests."
In spite of what happened, Ricketts continued to travel the world for his career, signing on for spells in Ecuador, Bangladesh, India, Hong Kong, Thailand and Ireland. After January's verdict though, he has no plans to continue playing, hoping instead to return to South America to work as a coach.
"Right now I'm doing some coaching in Toronto. I'd like to end up maybe in Colombia or Mexico. I speak fluent Spanish and I've got my UEFA A-license, so we'll see."