‘The Russian Pele’ was sent to the Gulag for 12 years instead of the World Cup

Eduard Streltsov had the world at his feet aged 20 – already part of an Olympic gold-medal winning squad, a seventh-placed Ballon d'Or finish under his belt and heading to a World Cup.

But the man since dubbed 'The Russian Pele' never reached the 1958 competition. Instead, he was sentenced to 12 years in the Gulag for rape.

An allegation was made by a Soviet Minister after Streltsov had left the USSR's training camp for the finals in Sweden to attend a party. He was arrested the following morning and his life was never the same from that moment forward.

The promising young attacker confessed to the crime, supposedly because he was told he could continue playing football if he did so. What followed was a five-year stint in the forced labour camps before he was released early in 1963.

His rape charge has been strongly disputed in the decades since with many theories surrounding a conspiracy to ruin his career. Some claim he was set up after staying loyal to his club Torpedo Moscow amid interest from Dynamo Moscow.

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But the strongest suggestion is that it came about because he had rejected Svetlana Furtseva, the young daughter of the first female Politburo member Ekaterina Furtseva.

Ekaterina had suggested the pair marry during a meeting a year prior. Streltsov had replied: "I already have a fiancée and I will not marry her", which he indeed did.

The Furtseva family were close with the general secretary of the Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev. So theorists believe a sting was subsequently arranged.

Despite his ordeal, Streltsov returned to both Torpedo and the Soviet Union national team following his release. And he scored 12 goals in 26 league games to win the title in his first season back.

In 1967 and 1968 he was named Soviet Player of the Year, a remarkable renaissance considering he had been entirely eliminated from the history books at one point.

Nothing can change the fact that he never played in a World Cup, though. Following his death in 1990, there have been campaigns to clear his name and he is widely recognised as Russia's greatest ever outfield player.

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