You’ve all heard what happened to Unirea Urziceni. The 17 million Euros received from the club’s surprising appearance & results in the Champions League’s group stage couldn’t prevent the club from being dissolved a year later. What happened with the money? The kind of money that could have offered Unirea the budget of a contender for a place in Europe for at least three more years without another cent being invested from another source, yet the club ceased to exist shortly after cashing in on UEFA’s prize money…
How come the Romanian law representatives had to sell the goods found at the stadium, like the scoreboard or the team’s massage table, once the club went into administration for failing to pay its debt towards the state money? Ok, I know how things work over here and that the state acts stupid when there’s a political interest at stake, but, really, isn’t this something UEFA should be worried about? Where does the money go? Because in Unirea’s case, it didn’t look like they’ve ever entered the club’s account – the first place the authorities block and withdraw the sums one owes to the state budget.
Another, fresher, example: Otelul Galati. Made it into the group stage of the CL, after winning the title, and collected way over 10 million Euros for being sparring-partner for the likes of Benfica, Basel and Manchester United. The millions kept on coming, but throughout this season the club failed to pay the players on time (with the average yearly wage of maybe 60-70.000 Euros / player). They went on vacation with delayed payments for the last two months, although according to Marius Stan, the club’s long serving president, the club has the money to cover a lot more than that. “We have millions in our account, but the board of administration has blocked it. They await a few more millions, as UEFA will soon complete the transfer of the CL prize money. The board is looking for a way to take part of it and they want me out of their way”, cries Stan in today’s press, which speculates that he’s been already sacked in a meeting that took place this morning…
The good thing is that, in this case, UEFA sent the cash to the right account. The bad thing is that the money isn’t used in footballing purposes. Like paying the guys that got you in the Champions League, developing the club or at least – like in Unirea’s case – keeping it alive…
As you probably know by now, Otelul Galati has won the Romanian championship. What you probably don’t know is who in Unirea Urziceni’s name is Otelul Galati. Prepare for a shorter walk than the 200 kilometers the club’s president promised to go on foot, back in November 2010, when all this was just a joke, as I will present you the club every Champions League participant will want to meet in autumn, in the group stage.
In the summer of 2009, Marius Stan, Otelul’s president, was offering a two years long deal to the most capped Romanian player in the national team’s history, Dorinel Munteanu. The man who represented his country 134 times had returned home, to Cologne, angered by accusations of match-fixing launched by former employers. Trying to clear his name in court was the right thing to do, but the wisest thing was to do it on the pitch. And, two years later, “Munti” was winning, against all odds, a league that had no less than six contenders at the beginning of the season, who tried everything to stop him. They came across a stubborn, determined, workaholic team, that multiplied by 11 Munteanu’s approach to the game he never cheated as a professional, and failed.
Meet “Galati Steelers”!
You might have heard of a certain Lakshmi Mittal. Yes, the wealthy owner of QPR, who will face the likes of Roman Abramovich in the Premier League, but, at the same time, might challenge the Russian’s club in the Champions League. And that thanks to Otelul Galati, the club that dreamed to become the Eastern Europe’s Chelsea, when the city’s immense steel factory was bought by the Indian’s company, but rarely received more than survival money, in Liga I.
It was disappointing for those at the club, but not for the old fox Marius Stan, who had made an attempt to become the city’s mayor in 2007, one that might have more success if repeated after this incredible performance. Just like most of his players, the president doesn’t lack tempting offers ;-)
This is the first title in the club’s history, which starts in 1964 and records the first promotion in the top flight in 1986! Two years later, Otelul was playing in the UEFA Cup against the mighty Juventus, recording a memorable 1-0 at home, before losing 0-5 in the second leg. “La Vecchia Signora” was counting on names like Stefano Tacconi, Alessandro Altobelli or Michael Laudrup, while Otelul’s midfield was built around a certain Marius Stan. With him at the helm, the red and white club from Galati was going to win the Intertoto Cup in 2007, a feat followed by a quick exit from the UEFA Cup.
Munteanu’s work and Otelul’s honest workers
In his first days as a coach, Munteanu tried to implement a 4-2-1-3 setup that was used on a large scale in the 1.Bundesliga, a formation he kept on tweaking in the creative – finishing department, after he moved away from CFR Cluj and gained more and more experience at Steaua, FC Arges and FC Vaslui, but constantly improved the functionality of the back four, in combination with the two defensive midfielders. His tactics and the strict approach found the perfect group of players in Galati, where a bunch of youngsters raised by Otelul in the third and second tier was completed by some bargain buys from second division clubs from both Romania and nearby countries. The president’s eye for talents and ability to sign them for some tens of thousands of Euros was going to pay dividends.
These players, desperate to make a name for themselves and move on, in search of better wages, added muscle and energy to an experienced back-bone formed by Sergiu Costin, Gabriel Giurgiu and Gabriel Paraschiv, who offered inspiration (you can find here Paraschiv’s incredible request to get a wage cut!) and ensured that Munteanu’s requests are fulfilled both during the very demanding training sessions and during the matches.
Rapa versus Messi, Neagu tackling Cesc, Ilie racing past Lahm?
There are no standout players in this team. Can’t find a lot of flair and the skill lost its importance with the 11 bees spending more time off than on the ball and this team could get slaughtered in the Champions League.
We thought the same in September, in November, Marius Stan was promising that he’ll walk from Galati to Slanic Moldova (that’s 200 kilometers, Forrest!), if his team wins the league, and we were sure in March that Otelul will drop from the top of the table so bad, that the team won’t even be able to secure a place in Europa League. The players were buzzing though and just managed to hang on, taking advantage of the fight between the other title contenders and some game-winning mistakes in their favor, committed by the refs. They were used to fight for survival and, this season, they did it. Just that they were defending the 1st place, not the 14th!
Who is Cornel Rapa? A 21 years old right back, who didn’t stay long in the U21, before moving into the senior national team. Ok, that’s not very hard, judging by the current level of Romania’s squad, but it’s still something that doesn’t happen too often.
Ionut Neagu has an interesting story too. He was playing for CSM Ramnicu Sarat in 2009, simply the worst team in the Romanian second division, when he was called back to Otelul during the winter break. Offered the chance to start in central midfield, he was going to lose that place only when injured or suspended.
Liviu Antal, Laurentiu Bus or Adrian Salagean are Marius Stan’s findings in the second tier, while Branko Grahovac and Milan Perendija are the winning bets placed by the same guy on the foreign market, somewhere he didn’t do very well, in the past.
All these guys, with no pedigree or experience, earning around 50.000 Euros per season – and still willing to accept wage cuts! – proved that serious, hard and professional work can pay off. Get ready to see some scared young faces on the biggest European stage in autumn, but try to accept that the Romanians who will fight for every ball and every inch, killing the show, are no longer gifted like Hagi, but determined and hard-working like Munteanu. Those ready to write them off should keep in mind though that Unirea Urziceni, who has now relegated to the second division and could even disappear as a club, collected a record tally of eight points, in a group formed by Rangers, Stuttgart and Seville…
The league leaders have been making their usual business, once the experienced president Marius Stan decided to correct some mistakes done in the past, with the release of some poor buys made from abroad last season and the return to what he does best: spotting young players in the lower leagues. Read more…
Otelul’s promising start of the season has just become magnificent. If Arles-Avignon had gained promotion in Ligue I last season, motivated by an article that tipped them for a quick return in the French third division pinned to the dressing-room wall, then Dorinel Munteanu should find useful this Top 5, even Steaua has one game in hand and will probably use it tonight, to top the standings.
Now that you’ve seen this and have been busy watching real professional football since 2006, when the club’s new ownership, Mittal Steel, was announcing its’ intent to build “a Romanian Chelsea” (a project Dan Petrescu was going to implement, in the meantime, with Unirea Urziceni, using though just a couple of million Euros), you might look at the standings and say “Now that’s an example of money well spent!”. Well, keep those words and use them even if the wealthy Lakshmi Mittal has invested in Otelul Galati less than a tenth of the fortune spent when his daughter got married. The club that was going to buy the cream of the crop in Romania and maybe even land several big names from abroad was left on a survival budget on the hands of the experienced Marius Stan. And the president did a wonderful job, proving his outstanding ability to spot and recruit players from the lower leagues, who went on to become regulars not just at club level, but also solutions for the youth national teams. Ok, he did worse when it came to signing players from abroad, his search for a top goalkeeper, for example, bringing in Liga I top “entertainers”, but even this ended last season, when Otelul landed for peanuts the consistent Branko Grahovac. Read more…
Otelul Galati announced today the signing of Branko Grahovac (26) from Borac Cacak. The goalkeeper from Montenegro agreed to a five years long contract and the transfer fee was 50.000 according to Marius Stan, the club’s president. This means that the Bulgarian Stoyan Kolev (33) will be either transferred or released in the near future, after two solid years spent at the Romanian club. Kolev and the other Bulgarian player, Zhelev, probably became too expensive for this small and financially troubled club, as I cannot see any other reason for giving up two of the team’s most consistent performers.