He was meant to be the next big thing. After Hagi, obviously, and following the recent on-the-pitch footsteps of Adrian Mutu. He was not, failing badly in Italy and looking completely lost after the return from Serie A, where he was too poor to play, to Liga I, where he thought that he was way too good. Well, at 27, he’s the leading goalscorer, with 16 goals, and the man who keeps FC Timisoara in the title race. Still promising, right?
Born in Constanta, where Hagi, The King, had stepped into this world with his magical left foot, with the same ethnical roots (luckily, we don’t have only gypsies over here), Zicu was immediately spotted by the same guys that stood beside Gica in his playing career: the Becali brothers.
Ioan “Giovani” Becali had moved Adrian Mutu to Italy, back in 2000, convincing Massimo Moratti to invest heavily in a forward that was a goalscoring machine for Dinamo – the opposition was usually very kind with the Red Dogs’ forwards back then, as always! – and had enough influence to present Zicu to Inter’s owner at a very young age and with no real background.
In 2003, Ianis went to Milano, but left the impression that he was there to protect his valuable ankles, an attitude he simply failed to shake-off since then, no matter the name of his club, the importance of a game or the fans’ abuse, who, after his latest return to Dinamo, turned against the talented attacking midfielder.
Zicu looked again like a football player only at his third consecutive loan spell, in Rapid’s shirt, but Dinamo was the club he signed for in 2007, after Inter lost enough money and an incredible amount of patience. Three years of torment followed and he fell completely out of favor with Dinamo’s dismayed fans, who had every reason, at that time, to ask for a change of approach. He went asking for a move away and Timisoara (who’s a bitter rival, in the stands, but a good partner when it comes to transfers) stepped up and invested half of million euros, winning the race for his signature with Rapid.
Money very well spent by the Viola, who are now leading the standings, with eight rounds to go, and have in Zicu the player that makes the difference. With 16 goals in 21 appearances, he’s the best goalscorer in a league that was at risk to award the golden boot award to Bogdan Stancu, the striker who left to Galatasaray in the winter break. He is also responsible for Timisoara’s fantastic ability to come from behind: Dusan Uhrin’s men have done it an amazing 15 times this season and are currently undefeated, after 26 matches, with 13 wins and 13 draws in their account.
What’s interesting and also quite hard to explain is that Zicu’s attitude on the pitch hasn’t changed. He’s the same creative player looking for the fancy touch and desperate to avoid contact, plays in the same favorite role, on the left side of the attack, with absolutely no interest to help in defense, and for a team that feels the pressure to deliver results, given the fantastic support this club has when playing at home. Not to mention that, on a personal level, he’s not doing great either, losing his beloved mother two months ago, a moment that he wants to remind after each goal scored.
Nobody, really, saw this coming. A player who was only used to whine is now showing the properties of a good wine. But maybe this is where Zicu lived up to the initial expectations: he’s the sort of footballer able to surprise you, after all…