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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spartak Rhythm Moves to an African Beat

The name of Jerry-Christian Tchuisse is increasingly becoming known among soccer fans across the country — not merely for his impressive performances in defense for Spartak Moscow, but also because he's the first black African to play for the reigning Premier League champion.

"It's all like an unbelievable dream every game," says Tchuisse, 25, who is even being talked of as a future Russian international after receiving citizenship last November.

Tchuisse has a further chance to shine on the big stage Tuesday as the Champions League second phase resumes after the winter break, with Spartak traveling to Bayern Munich.

Tchuisse's background before arriving in Russia reveals nothing remarkable. He never played professional soccer in his native Cameroon, but instead began his career in the amateur leagues while still at college in the mid-1990s. His coach at the time told him he wasn't naturally gifted, but Tchuisse took the criticism in stride and devoted more time to improving his game.

In 1997 at the age of 22, Tchuisse opted to leave the poverty of his politically troubled homeland for the relative riches of Russia, where he had heard that prospects were better.

His parents and close friends were skeptical. "They tried to scare me about the place," he says. "They'd say, ‘It's very cold up there, and you'll probably be the only black guy there. You might get killed; you'll be all alone' — those kind of frightening tales."

Tchuisse managed to secure a visa and landed in Moscow in the spring of 1997, and he says his main enemies during those early days were the harsh climate and the language barrier.

He admits that he felt lonely and uncertain about his future back then, but he was given a golden opportunity to pursue his professional dream when Chernomorets Novorossiisk, a Premier League team from the Krasnodar region, offered him a contract following a trial.

In July last year, after a brief but successful four-month stint with Chernomorets, Tchuisse was approached by Spartak, Russia's richest club, and was offered better conditions and a three-year contract, though he declined to discuss the details.

"Money is the reason why I am here now, but I really don't think about it so much," he says. "What's more important, I think, is to improve my skills."

Tchuisse's progress from the amateur ranks to the Premier League has been so rapid that there has even been talk of him earning a cap for Russia.

Spartak and Russia coach Oleg Romantsev has said on several occasions that he would like to see Tchuisse — whom he has described as Spartak's best man-to-man marker — in the national team.

"The most remarkable thing about Tchuisse is his desire for the game," Romantsev has said of him. "He has a guaranteed spot in the field and he combines well with his teammates."

But beyond the stadium and despite being a naturalized Russian, Tchuisse has encountered one predictable problem — racism.

He says there have been a few occasions when he has been harassed and verbally abused by the city's hooligans — and even by police — and the 26-year-old attributes this widespread social problem to gross ignorance and outright stupidity.

"Some Russians simply find it difficult to understand the way we are and why we aren't white," he remarks.

But Tchuisse says racism doesn't afflict his teammates since there are two other black players in the squad, Brazilian strikers Antonio Marcao and Luis Robson.

Tchuisse, who is married with a child, plans to stay in Russia to develop his career, adding that the potential here is almost limitless.

"I can't afford to miss all these opportunities," he said.