Relegation isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a Romanian first division club this season. Terrible management, caused mainly by a lack of planning, unsupported ambitions and unrealistic wages, has eventually returned with what could be a deadly bite in the ass.
The first club to raise the white flag was Rapid, at the end of last year. The first effect: a massive clear-out, with basically all the important players allowed to leave on a free transfer, including the Montenegro international Vladimir Bozovic, one of the foreign players with the most appearances in Liga 1 (The all-time leader is CFR’s skipper, Ricardo Cadu – 169 games). From a title contender, Rapid, who lies now in 9th place, 8 points above relegation zone, will rather look behind than ahead, as club owner George Copos decided to put the club into administration. Copos has been saying for years that he is willing to sell the club, but in the meantime did nothing to really work on clearing or at least reducing the level of debt that scared away any possible investor.
Gloria Bistrita followed shortly, but this call was met with less sympathy in Romania. The club that raised the likes of Viorel Moldovan and Lucian Sanmartean has a rather dark history under the reign of Jean Padureanu. Nicknamed The Lord, the 76 years old president of this small club was a key figure in a very developed scheme of fixed matches that for years played the leading role in deciding who wins the title, who goes into Europe and who relegates to the second division. Obviously, Gloria had no worries of going down, being allowed to run with very low costs and also make a profit from a plan that crippled Romanian football. That’s why the club’s level of debt is now at around 3 million Euros – a rather small sum, but still one to demand such a drastic measure.
The name of the third first division club to enter administration is already known: Universitatea Cluj. The club’s accounts are blocked since last summer, the 1,04 million Euros from TV rights that are expected in February will go directly to the state budget and there’s no owner ready to push money, as Florian Walter has moved to Petrolul (alongside a dozen of players) and is hoping to sell Universitatea – a move that will also solve a moral issue (controlling two clubs in the same league) that doesn’t seem to bother anyone else around here.
More could/should follow. Dinamo is still affected a continuous turmoil at ownership level, and among the so called top clubs is in the worst shape, while in relegation zone CSMS Iasi and CS Severin could do the same as Gloria Bistrita and Universitatea Cluj. The club from Severin is the most optimistic of all to escape financial trouble, but with the saviors coming from Greece, maybe we should take all the enthusiastic media stories with a pinch of salt…
Everything’s going great for the Bucharest side: spending the winter break with a 12 points advantage over FC Vaslui, the closest serious title contender, dreaming of a double against Chelsea in the Europa League – stupid mind games played with Ajax, their first and most likely last opponent to meet in Europe, this spring -, and playing around with their top players’ transfer fees, in deals with little chances to go through during the current mercato.
Thanks to a quality roster that once again forms the back-bone of Romania’s national team and a young coach, Laurentiu Reghecampf, that got almost everything right in an excellent 2012, Steaua has every right to feel confident of winning their 24th title and the ultimate goal: playing once again Champions League football. Of course, preliminary rounds await, but UEFA’s prize money seem again in reach and nothing can Gigi Becali happier.
Well, UEFA has also prepared a surprise for the 2013/2014 edition and it’s not a pleasant one for Steaua. The UEFA Youth League, a competition that will offer the 32 clubs qualified for the Champions League group stage the chance to line-up their U19 teams for a European competition, will force the red and blue outfit to think again about investing some money in their youth setup. Becali himself stopped financing properly this vital area of the club some years ago, thinking that he can afford to sign basically every promising Romanian player that might come through. He was right, as Steaua bought indeed most of the hot prospects that proved themselves at smaller clubs in the first division, and the recent transfer of 18 years old Gabriel Iancu – the first important name to come out of Gheorghe Hagi’s Academy – underlines Becali’s financial strength, at least by Romanian standards.
In fact, it’s the man’s problem if he wants to spend more on players raised by others rather than investing less money and developing talent at his own club, but now Steaua could be in a difficult spot, as the club’s image will be at stake in the UEFA Youth League too, not just the Champions League. Not to mention that this competition could also be used to advertise and sale young talent…
I’ve watched Steaua’s U19 and U17 teams recently, outplayed and outscored by arguably the best Romanian club at youth level, Hagi’s Academy. Viitorul Constanta won 7-2 at U19 level and 4-0 at U17 level at the end of September and I felt it made no sense taking notes on more than two players from the visiting team. The teams are a mess and on such short term Steaua has no other option than to sign some talented youngsters in the summer, at least for the U19 squad. In fact, we could see the club change again its’ strategy, but I recall the last massive campaign of signing youngsters. It happened some years ago and Steaua signed a dozen youth internationals in a very short time, hoping to raise them properly in the reserve team and promote them in the top flight. Not a single one made it, with some promising careers destroyed by poor work and lack of interest at that time. A sign that Becali might have the cash, but surely lacks something vital at this level: patience and know-how.
Hence the booing. You can hear it every time a player tries to help his team get a free kick or, if the player is really good at it, not like Tottenham’s Bale, get a penalty. There’s an entire debate about diving in the Premier League and below, with some fine players getting the stick for trying to get their clubs closer to victories. That would never happen here, in Romania, where diving will only be sanctioned with laughs and an extra replay on TV, if they’re indeed performed without talent. Yes, talent matters, but you also need other stuff too, like practice and ability to make good judgement, as a referee would definitely take into consideration the fact that, if you’d have resisted that challenge, it was only the goalie left to beat. Either you’re absolutely mad to go down or that was an obvious foul which he didn’t see. Obviously, both answers are wrong – you were simply clever to make him think like that. If you’re playing for the home team, even better. If you’re wearing Steaua’s, Dinamo’s, CFR’s or Vaslui’s shirt, you might have just helped the guy with the whistle buy a nice present for the wife!
Dear English fans, in Romania, all the players are diving and everyone understands it. The fans would boo a terrible diver and will appreciate a talented one. Take Marius Lacatus, the master. Became a legend with Steaua and his number 7 shirt should not be offered to anyone. Lay it nicely inside the box, put two defenders to guard it, add a friendly referee and only then let the new signings fight for it. Or, better said, throw themselves at it. Everybody knew Lacatus was faking it, throwing his head back (big hair helped), even screaming when going down and staying there for minutes, curing quickly with his magic hand all sorts of terrible injuries. Unfortunately for him, instead of becoming a doctor after he hung up his boots, he decided to fake a successful coaching career. Everybody knew that the Lacatus in agony is just fine, fans, team-mates, opponents, referees, yet they could do nothing about it.
And what was there to be done? In the end, Lacatus was fooling the authorities, he was taking that extra step to help himself and his people, bending the law that little bit, a sport everybody was practicing in real life. Putting something in the doctor’s pocket for extra care, going with flowers, coffee or chocolate to any other public authority that needed to realize that you’d really want them to do their job. Steaua’s number 7 was the girlfriend “about to give birth” sitting in the right seat in your speeding car, good enough to convince a policeman to keep your money and return the driving license.
I cannot imagine what would have happened if Lacatus – who did play for Fiorentina and Oviedo – would have joined a Premier League club in the 90’s… Most likely, he would have been booed off from every pitch in the UK, even from people’s lawns and public parks, every week, but what if the English fans would have seen then – and acknowledged – one of the greatest divers of all at that time? I’d say they would’ve taunted now Bale only for being terrible at it…