This blog is now on Twitter @RomaniaBalls. (Follow me!) Which means that I haven’t been working on historical articles, because there is so much going on in Romanian football right now. Big transfers — Steaua’s existential crisis — Most entertaining of all: mind-boggling low-level corruption! Read on…
A startling story emerged last week surrounding some friendly matches played by Romanian teams during their winter training camps in Cyprus and Turkey. Some great investigative work by Costin Ștucan and colleagues at Gazeta Sporturilor (now in English at Futbolgrad) has revealed that referees from Dambovita county football association in Romania have been masquerading as Bulgarians, Slovenians and Turks and officiating at these matches. Romanian referees are perfectly entitled to work matches abroad, provided that they inform the national committee; so why were these men pretending to be other people (and in some cases radically altering their facial hair to do so)? And, come to that, why is this even a story?
Here’s why: several friendly matches attracted the attention of Federbet, an organisation which watches for unusual betting patterns with a hint of a suspicion of match-fixing. The games in question all took place in Cyprus or southern Turkey and featured Liga I sides Astra Giurgiu, CFR Cluj, FC Botosani and Pandurii Targu Jiu. You’ll have to read Costin’s excellent (and hilarious) article for the full story, but take a look at the highlights from Astra’s defeat to Polish outfit Pogon Szczecin here. The referee awards a phantom penalty to Astra, which the captain [UEFA Cup winner and Rapid legend!] Cristi Sapunaru deliberately passes gently to the goalkeeper. The referee then orders the kick to be retaken, for some other imaginary infringement, and [another Rapid legend!] Daniel Niculae hits it well wide. The incredulous guffaws of the people next to the camera are worth hearing.
A later penalty awarded to the Poles for a dive is also deliberately missed. It must be said that there is no suggestion that players or coaches are involved in the suspected match-fixing, but it turns out that large bets were placed on more than three goals being scored in the match; the final score was 3-1 to Pogon.
The game between FC Botosani and Amkar Perm was also refereed by a Romanian in disguise, and also featured a penalty mysteriously awarded and even more mysteriously ordered to be retaken after the initial kick was missed.
I can’t afford a libel lawyer, so draw your own conclusions. A new detail has emerged today, however: one of the Romanians running the line at Pandurii’s game with Russian side Krylya Sovetov in Antalya last week is not just a referee: he is a small-town mayor who turned down an EU trip to Brussels to have a “holiday” on his own in the Turkish resort. The transcripts of Ștucan’s telephone conversations with the men involved in these cases are comedy gold: if you haven’t already clicked through to his article, do so now!
Steaua winger Adi Popa has joined Reading of the English second tier, for a reported €600,000. Popa is 28 and has been a regular for Steaua since his arrival in 2012. He’s currently an automatic pick for the national team. He will earn €825,000 per year, according to DigiSport.
Denis Alibec, Steaua’s big (in every sense) signing of the Romanian winter break, from Astra, has already scored a fantastic free-kick (in a friendly) and been appointed captain. People who know much better than me think that this striker could make the difference between Steaua winning the league and not.
Table-topping Viitorul have sold very promising midfielder Razvan Marin to Standard Liege, where he has already played three Jupiler Pro league games and been named in the league’s team of the week. Dorin Rotariu, another of the league’s best young performers, has left Dinamo to join Club Brugge, the former club of Romania coach Christoph Daum. Belgium is now home to a small but high-quality Romanian football expat population, with Chipciu and Stanciu at Anderlecht and Mircea Rednic now coaching Cristi Manea at Mouscron. Meanwhile Dinamo have signed Nigerian striker Victor Obinna (once of Inter and West Ham).
The club with no name
The struggle being played out for over two years, partly in court and partly in the media, between the Ministry of Defence’s lawyers and Gigi Becali over the ownership of Steaua Bucharest’s name, badge and palmares shows no sign of ending. Various Steaua legends have given their ten bani’s worth on the issue of who is “stealing” Romania’s most popular football club, and certain official bodies have been drawn into stating how they would react in unprecedented hypothetical situations, but of course what really counts is the official, legal outcome of the case – whenever we get that. Becali has registered the name “FC Star Bucuresti” in case he loses and has to change the name of his club. The MoD has said that there is no longer a legal obstacle preventing it from forming its own football club again; the possibility of this new club taking not just Steaua’s name back but also its league place, and the forced relegation of Becali’s club, cannot yet be ruled out.