An NCA investigation into shady betting patterns around Granit Xhaka’s booking for Arsenal has uncovered alleged links to the Albanian mafia and offshore crypto betting operations. [Image: Shutterstock.com]
While betting on Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka to get booked during an English Premier League (EPL) game is like wagering on it to rain in Manchester, his super-bizarre yellow card in the 2021-22 season is now being investigated for alleged links to the Albanian mafia.
alleged criminal conspiracy involving the Albanian mafia
A Thursday Daily Mail exclusive revealed that the UK’s National Crime Association (NCA) is now investigating Xhaka’s booking through the prism of an alleged criminal conspiracy involving the Albanian mafia and cryptocurrency.
The UK daily reports NCA investigators told its sports arm Sportsmail that they have unearthed evidence of significant figures getting wagered in crypto in unregulated offshore markets, with “much of the activity understood to have taken place in Albania.”
The Mail cites the UK national law enforcement agency as saying it is also probing claims that Alban Jusufi — an ex-Albanian-Swedish soccer pro hit with a five-year ban for match-rigging in 2017 — “made huge sums by betting on Xhaka to be booked.”
In January, The Athletic reported that Arsenal FC was the subject of a Football Association (FA) investigation into a potential case of match-fixing following a yellow card. Soccer-following Twitter users speculated who the offending Arsenal player could be, with this shocking Granit Xhaka card against Leeds United a leading contender:
Xhaka, who plays for Switzerland but is vocal and demonstrative about his Albanian heritage, was the player named at the center of the FA’s yellow card probe. The soccer governing body discovered shady wagering patterns towards the end of Arsenal’s 4-1 win at Leeds, with £52,000 ($63,142) bet on Xhaka receiving a booking in the remaining ten minutes of the game.
What made the booking look so off-kilter was that Xhaka appeared to deliberately trying to wind the clock down by taking ages to dispatch a free kick — a common tactic in tight games — but an inexplicable action by a team three goals to the good.
In June, the FA passed its inquiry onto the NCA.
Likely to play Friday
While the Mail stated that there’s “no suggestion of wrongdoing on [Xhaka’s] part, nor is it clear who may be implicated in any conspiracy,” the NCA’s newly announced scrutiny of Albanian-mafia linked offshore betting markets and Jusufi adds a fresh angle to the case.
Xhaka is an almost certain starter in left midfield for Arsenal against Crystal Palace in the opening match of the 2022-23 EPL on Friday.