How the Mighty Have Fallen
An Insight Into How and Why Romanian Football Is in A Dire Situation
Photo : Wiki Commons / Michael Maggs
Romania currently lies in 28th in the world football rankings, just 8 places behind England (although that’s not saying much…). Although this may not seem that bad to the casual football enthusiast, having once been ranked as high as 4th in July 1997, and yet in 2012 have fallen all the way down to 52nd , something has gone seriously wrong for Romanian National football. It is highly probable that there are few national teams that have ever dropped quite so far quite so quickly. Therefore, it will come as no real surprise that they have failed to qualify for a world cup since 1998 and since 2000 have qualified for just 1 European championship in 2008 where they made little impact.
Statistics aside, the situation at club level is even shoddier. Since the European Cup transformed into the Champions League in the 1990s, no Romanian team has ever even progressed out of the group stages. The state of its football is hardly going to improve now that the country’s UEFA coefficient no longer guarantees it a place in the group stages of the competition. It is highly likely that it will be quite some while before we see a Romanian team competing with the giants of European football like Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. However , going back to 1986 Steaua Bucharest in fact won the European Cup, and followed this feat up by reaching the semi-final in 1988 and the final in 1989.
One might expect there to be some form of hope in some of the individual talents in Romania. This is not so. Once again referring back to the ‘golden era’ of Romanian football, you would find that in the 1994 team (that manage to get to the quarter finals of the world cup) nearly every single player was playing for a large European club at that time – for instance Hagi was at Barcelona and Popescu was at PSV. However today there are few famous and even fewer up-and-coming players. Costel Pantilimon was gifted a good run of games at Manchester City when Joe Hart’s no.1 slot as goalkeeper at City came under great scrutiny from the press, but this, like all good things ,came to an end. Unfortunately, the big ‘stars’ of Romanian football have a knack for failing abroad over the past few years. Most famous of them all is Adrian Mutu, an undoubtedly talented player who has thrown away numerous chances of footballing glory due to failed drug tests. He currently plays for the relatively small Romanian side of FC Petrolul Ploie%u0219ti having once been regarded as one of the best Serie A’s ( the Italian first division) strikers of his era.
Though, failed talent abroad is no excuse for the predicament which Romanian football at home faces. The Liga 1 is widely understood to be a somewhat tainted division. The battle for relegation and promotion over the past few years has been poisoned by various regulations and fines set by the Romanian FA. Although there is always inevitably going to be controversy rife in the beautiful game, in Romanian football it is beyond a joke. It is hardly unsurprising that the Liga 1 doesn’t attract big names and therefore doesn’t generate the money and publicity when compared to the English Premier League for instance. Home-grown talent is crucial to building a Romanian national team with the ability to compete with the real powerhouses of international football like Germany and at the moment the Romanians are simply falling short of this.
The passion from the team and supporters alike seems to have decreased as their performances dropped. For Romanians generally football is not seen as big of a deal as it once used to be. Once again referring to the recent World Cup winners Germany, one can clearly see how much football means to their country and what a large following the national team therefore has. This might not be the sole reason as to their success, but it certainly is an important factor. Having scoured the internet I came across some pitches in the lower Romanian leagues and they are simply atrocious -a symbol of Romanian football nationally – people have simply stopped caring.
However, fear not Romanian football fanatics. The legendary Hagi himself has set up a youth project which aims to foster young talent. This Academy has now almost 30 players getting regular call-ups to Romania’s youth national teams and indeed even plays in the top division of Romanian football at this moment in time. Although this in itself may not be able to save the plight which Romanian football faces, it is certainly steps in the right direction to restoring their former glory.