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October 2, 2022

Romanian football – whereto?

Since the UEFA semifinals played by Steaua in 2006 against Middlesbrough the Romanian football has entered a grey area. It is impossible for all the Romanian teams either to go beyond the groups of the Champions League, or to get over the preliminary stages of the UEFA Cup, which starting next year will be called Europa League. The recent derby between Steaua and Dinamo, awaited with a huge interest by the supporters, has shown once again, if it was necessary, the extremely feeble level of the Romanian football. Steaua, a team affected by the remanding by DNA in April of the financier Gigi Becali, is crossing a rather unfortunate period, even if the latter obtained the release under judicial control. On another hand, although it is at the top of the national league, Dinamo had a more than modest performance, far from what should represent a leader of the championship.

This is only an example of football’s evolution in Romania. The easy-going evolution of Unirea Urziceni – coached by the former well-known international player Dan Petrescu (a former member of the English team Chelsea) – which is just behind the leader, at a distance of two points, appears quite ironical. Although the evolution of this team is praiseworthy, we cannot refrain from wondering how it would be if Romania were represented in the Champions League by the team of a town with a population of… 17,000?

But football crosses a period at least difficult from all the points of view in Romania. The uninterrupted scandals, the disputes on TV between the club leaders – who frequently cross the line of decency – and the excess frequently shown by some of the players of the bigger or smaller teams, all these render both the image and the achievements of the teams from the first echelon almost null at European level. The recent remanding of the club leaders and referees by the National Anticorruption Department (DNA) confirms the debacle which exists in this sport. Gigi Becali and Cornel Penescu, the owners of FC Steaua and respectively FC Arges, were taken in custody in April. Becali was released under judicial control before the Easter holiday, while Penescu, although charged with arrangements and the bribing of some referees in order to favour the team headed by him, was also released by Arges tribunal on Monday. Although not any decision has been made so far, the football authorities may very well demote FC Arges into a lower league.

At the level of the national team there were and still are concerns. In his first term of office at the head of the national team, Victor Piturca came into conflict with Gheorghe Hagi and Gheorghe Popescu, the coach being replaced. The two players had too much influence at that time in order to ignore their demands. Returning a few years ago at the head of the national team, Victor Piturca took precautions in order to avoid another episode of this type. Thus, the Romanian Football Federation (FRF) was in the position to accept a contract absolutely unfavourable for the “employer.” After the painful performance of Romania’s team at Euro 2008, normally Coach Victor Piturca should have resigned. We were among those who requested at that time the resignation of the coach, mentioning at least ten reasons for this. But he did it neither then, nor later when the results from the preliminaries of the World Cup 2010 proved catastrophic. The reason? Covered by the contract accepted by FRF, Victor Piturca was counting on the fact that, if he is dismissed, he would receive compensations of several hundreds of thousands of EUR. If he resigned, he would have lost these “compensatory” payments. Piturca sacrifices Romania’s chances to qualify at the World Cup 2010 for strictly personal interests, and FRF was finally obliged to appeal to the dismissal of the coach and to negotiate with him the amount that he will receive as… financial compensation. Thus, Piturca “case” is symptomatic for the level in which the Romanian football struggles, in which the egos and the personal interests have precedence over those of the teams. The acme of insolence was registered when, still the coach, Victor Piturca declared: “Those who request my resignation are not real supporters. They do not care about Romania. Those who respect this national team appreciate the good things that I have done during my terms of office. Hagi, Petrescu and Boloni still have a lot to work to obtain my performances.”

Returning to the internal championship, let’s say that the avalanche of foreign players who have come to the clubs in the past few years seems to be rather bad than good. It is true that CFR Cluj counted on a majority of Portuguese players, managing to win last year both the championship and the Cup of Romania. Moreover, it had a decent performance in the Champions League groups. But, as a Romanian adagio says: one swallow does not make a summer. In the present season, the same players have not played as well. And in the other Romanian teams, even if they “fill the gaps,” the foreign players actually reduce the possibilities of the domestic players to distinguish themselves. The selection stock of the teams from all the echelons is increasingly smaller, fact which is reflected in the weak performances of the national representatives. Neither the youth team, nor the national team shows signs that it has the capacity of obtain notable results – and this has happened for years. The installation of Razvan Lucescu at the helm of the national team can be a ray of hope. But, it remains to be seen if he has the ability to make up a competitive team, in spite of the egos and claims of some of the players who are considered title holders “de jure,” such as Adrian Mutu, Cristi Chivu or Bogdan Lobont.

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