Are Rapid going gently?

More crazy shenanigans in the shambles of Romanian football this week. As if it wasn’t frustrating enough watching what goes on on the pitch at Rapid Bucharest, the nightmarish close-season action is taking place in court.

Rapid escaped a six-point penalty at the end of last season for a debt owed to a former player, after the claimant apparently came to an agreement with the club’s owners. (Only follow the link if your Romanian is excellent and you want to try to unpack a bizarre and incomprehensible situation. I can’t.) The club managed to finish top of their half of the second division, securing automatic promotion back to Liga I, where, incidentally, they lie third in the all-time table.

So far, so good. However, the club has been in administration since December 2012 and it is this that has come back to bite them this summer. On 13 June a Bucharest court declared the club bankrupt, and the appeal hearing was scheduled for ealrlier this week. But the verdict has now been postponed until 20 July. The League will have to rule immediately on whether Rapid can take part in Liga I next season, because the season starts … the day after.

The club has no money to its name. It has no players and no coaches contracted for next season. Only one employee remains who is not serving out notice. Its Moldovan owners are in deep financial trouble with their other businesses, and seem highly unlikely to find €4.5 million from somewhere to service the club’s debts and overturn the bankruptcy verdict.

And yet. (Curse you, Hope.)

Before the appeal, there was talk that ACS Poli Timisoara might have its relegation overturned and regain their place ahead of a bankrupt Rapid in the top division. (ACS, a controversial MK Dons-ish entity, would themselves start the season on minus 14 points because of their own financial woes, but that’s another story…) But it now seems that there is no legal basis for the League to exclude a club from the competition once it has a licence to compete – which Rapid does – nor to instate a replacement team. So one possible scenario is that Rapid somehow win their appeal (or it is postponed again) and are thus free to participate in the first league game, at home to Botosani that same weekend. Prosport quotes an expert suggesting that either they would fail to turn up for two games, which would lead to automatic exclusion from the competition for the season, or they would have two days to contract, for example, 23 juniors and a medical and coaching staff and thus be excluded anyway for contempt of the competition.

One further fly in the ointment is that if there are only 13 teams playing in the league, there can only be six games per round, and this would probably provoke a renegotiation of the TV deal. The deal, which is worth €27.5 million overall for the season, has always been considered the only thing that could keep Rapid afloat in the coming season, even though its share would not even cover the current debt.

The one asset that Rapid still has – just about – is a sizeable quantity of fans. Yet these seem divided between those who desperately want to see their famous club continue at the highest level at any cost, and those who would rather just cast adrift the unreliable businesspeople at the helm and start afresh with an untainted organisation at county level, as several other once-great clubs have done. There seems little appetite to contribute funds to a dubious bank account in the hope of paying off the beloved club’s debt (good money after very bad). It seems obvious that, if they were allowed to compete, Rapid’s only hope of avoiding immediate relegation would involve other clubs suffering catastrophic implosions themselves.

I find it difficult to follow what the hell goes on in these cases. Rapid were denied a Liga I licence for both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, but ended up taking part in both anyway, although only for two games in the former case. It’s almost as if the people running Romanian football have absolutely no idea what they are doing.

In other news, the national team has a new foreign coach, who I’ve heard of but know nothing about. The League Cup final, after at least three changes of date, will finally take place this weekend, offering plucky little Concordia Chiajna a chance of its first ever silverware. And a former head of the football federation, Dumitru Dragomir, has been sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for his part in a massive corruption scandal. 

Enjoy the cricket season!

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