Although perhaps less celebrated than the 1994 World Cup side that famously beat Argentina, the Euro 2000 squad contained twelve of Romania’s twenty most capped players of all time – including the top three in Munteanu, Hagi and Popescu – as well as its joint top scorers of all time, Hagi and Mutu. But the “golden generation” which had made its first major tournament appearance at Italia ’90 was very much on the way out. There were four survivors of the 1990 squad: Hagi, Popescu, Lupescu and Stelea (Petrescu had been injured in 1990). Petrescu and Hagi had both featured in Steaua’s 1989 European Cup final defeat, and Belodedici had even played in the triumphant 1986 final, fourteen years earlier. Hagi trumps this (natch) with two appearances, as a teenager, at Euro ’84…
Romania had qualified for the competition by topping their group, unbeaten, ahead of Portugal. In their first finals match, against a historically weak Germany side, they should have secured their first ever European Championship finals win, but Moldovan could not add to his early opening goal and it finished 1-1. Portugal beat them 1-0 with a late goal in the second game, in which Hagi picked up his second yellow card. With Figo’s team now through to the next round, it came down to England v Romania in the last group game to determine the second qualifier. The Hagi-less Romanians took the lead through Chivu’s cross, but went in 2-1 down at half-time. Popescu had been injured tackling Beckham. Another cross allowed Munteanu to equalise early in the second half; then, in the 87th minute Phil Neville brought down Moldovan in the area. Ganea converted the penalty to send Romania through to a quarter-final with Italy.
Hagi was back for this game, but Popescu was injured, and Petrescu, Contra and Ilie were all suspended. Totti and Inzaghi scored the goals. Hagi hit the post, then got sent off. End of story for the Generație de Aur.
So much for their past. What happened to them after the tournament? Remarkably, no fewer than four of that starting line-up have won the Romanian league title as a coach – three of them with seriously unfancied teams. Let’s start by taking them from left to right in the photograph. (And allow me to dwell on the occasional past achievement in the lives of this golden generation…)
12. Bogdan Stelea, b. 1967.
At 32, the first choice goalkeeper already had 65 caps for his country by Euro 2000, having made his debut in 1988 aged 20. He had been a non-playing squad member in the 1990 World Cup, but by USA ’94 was first choice; however, a bad performance in defeat to Switzerland in the group stage at that tournament saw his confidence shot and he was replaced by Florin Prunea for the rest of the competition. He found himself back as no. 1 for Euro ‘96 and World Cup ‘98. In 1997 he became a Salamanca player; he would have six very good seasons with the club. In 2001 he was held responsible for Romania’s failure to qualify for the 2002 World Cup because of a mistake against Slovenia in the play-off. A few years later he returned to Romania and featured for Dan Petrescu’s high-flying Unirea Urziceni side in the 2007-08 season – at the age of 40. When he finally retired in 2009, he had played over 250 games in Liga 1 and 230 in Spain, had won four Liga 1 titles, and had 91 caps for his country. Unusually, he represented all three of the capital’s major teams: Steaua, Dinamo and Rapid. After retirement Stelea had short and unsuccessful spells as coach of Astra Ploiesti and under Hagi at Viitorul.
6. Gheorghe Popescu, b. 1967.
Popescu, equally at home as a central defender, sweeper or midfielder, played his first Liga 1 game for Universitatea Craiova in 1985. He moved to PSV in 1990, to replace Ronald Koeman, and then Spurs in 1994. After one season in England Barcelona came calling, but after captaining the Catalans (Guardiola, Luis Enrique, Ronaldo, Figo…) to the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1997 (again as Koeman’s replacement) he moved on and by Euro 2000 Popescu had been a Galatasaray player for three years. His successes in Turkey included putting away the last penalty in the shootout at the end of their 2000 UEFA Cup triumph, alongside his brother-in-law Hagi. The man who had been Romanian Footballer of the Year six times, including four in a row between 1989 and 1992, won his 100th cap during Euro 2000 against Portugal, but was injured against England in the next game and missed the Italy match.
He announced his retirement from international football shortly after the tournament, denying that it was because of a dispute with the authorities over his attempt to buy a hotel in Poiana Brașov and insisting that it was because he was getting too old to play for both club and country. He was 32 at the time. Once Hagi was installed as national team coach, however, he was magically back in the side as captain, aged 33, and continued to play under Hagi’s successor Anghel Iordanescu. He left Gala in 2001 and, after short spells with Lecce, Dinamo Bucharest and Hannover, would finally retire in 2003, finishing with 115 international caps.
Popescu’s investments in property in both Spain and Romania made him a very wealthy man after retirement; although he sold his Spanish interests before the crash of 2008, one of his biggest projects, a commercial centre in Bucharest, entered insolvency in 2014. In 2011, after the Securitate archives were opened, Popescu strongly denied having worked for the secret police, in spite of documents which suggested that he had informed on team-mates at Craiova as a teenager. In 2013 his football academy in Craiova, which had produced some fairly good players, went bust, owing hundreds of thousands of euros in tax. Then in 2014, shortly before an election for president of the football federation which (finally, after several attempts thwarted by the football mafia controlled by the incumbent head) he had been expected to win, Gica was sentenced to three years in prison for his part in the “dodgy transfers dossier“, a long-running fraud case which also saw several other major figures in Romanian football banged up for tax evasion and money-laundering. He was released in late 2015 after serving twenty months, having published four books to reduce his porridge.
3. Liviu Ciobotariu, b. 1971.
Played his 32nd and last international match in 2001. On his retirement in 2005 he became a coach, his most notable success coming with an unheralded ASA Târgu Mureș team whom, in a managerial spell of just a few months, he took to within two games of an implausible league title in 2014-15. They finished second behind Gâlcă’s Steaua. He has had nine head coach jobs, none of which has lasted more than a year. In November 2016, along with agent Ioan Becali and former major shareholder of Dinamo Bucharest, Cristi Borcea, Ciobotariu received a six-month suspended prison sentence in Belgium, for tax fraud in connection with his transfer to Standard Liege right after the competition in the summer of 2000.
4. Iulian Filipescu, b. 1974.
“Felipe” played in all of Romania’s games at the tournament. After winning seven league titles in a row (5 at Steaua and 2 at Galatasaray) he left for Spain in 1999. He would stay at Real Betis for three seasons before moving to FC Zurich. In May 2006 he scored the winning goal, with the last kick of the game, in the Swiss league championship decider against Basel. Immediately Basel hooligans invaded the pitch and started attacking Zurich players and officials; Filipescu was narrowly missed by a flare thrown by one of the pitch invaders. The event is still remembered today as The Disgrace of Basel. Filipescu, by this time no longer a Romanian international, moved that summer to Duisburg in the 2. Bundesliga, where he played for two years before retiring in 2008, aged 34. Labelled a strange one because he was so quiet, Filipescu lives a suitably anonymous life with his family in northern Spain. He was fleetingly involved in training a junior team in Oviedo a couple of years ago, but now has nothing to do with football – or his homeland. Always a rebel, from his longhair rock leanings in the early ’90s, Filipescu now indulges his passion for fixing up old cars and is learning to weld.
13. Cristian Chivu, b. 1980.
Chivu had already had two good seasons in the top flight, with hometown club Școlar Reșița and then Universitatea Craiova, before Ajax snapped him up in 1999. After a couple of seasons establishing himself in Amsterdam, he was made captain by incoming manager Ronald Koeman in 2002 and led a team featuring Zlatan, Mido, van der Vaart – and later Sneijder, de Jong and Litmanen – to dominance in the Dutch league and to within a whisker of a Champions League semifinal in 2003. He won the Dutch golden boot in 2002. Later that year Chivu moved for €18m to Roma, where he spent four years, followed by a €13m transfer and seven fruitful seasons at Internazionale, where he won three Serie A titles and a Champions League. He was Romanian Footballer of the Year three times, and made it into the UEFA team of the year for 2002, the second and last Romanian to do so to date.
Although the youngest and least experienced player in the squad for Euro 2000, Chivu started all four games and scored against England. He was first appointed Romania skipper in 2002, aged just 21, and would go on to captain the national team 50 times before his international retirement, as reigning Romanian Footballer of the Year for the third time, in 2011. He suffered a fractured skull during a Serie A match in January 2010, but was back in the team within three months after undergoing surgery, wearing protective headgear. He played his last game in May 2013 but officially retired from all football in March 2014, aged 33, when it became clear that he needed further operations on his various injuries. He had made 200 appearances in Serie A and fifty in the Champions League. Chivu was last month a UEFA technical observer at the Europa League final, watching the current crop of players from his old club Ajax lose to a team featuring his old team-mate Zlatan and managed by his old boss Mourinho.
5. Constantin Gâlcă, b. 1972.
Gâlcă is another Romanian with strong links to Spain. The midfielder left Steaua in 1996 after five seasons and joined Mallorca in the Segunda Division. Having helped them to promotion, he quickly moved on to Espanyol, where we find him in 2000, enjoying his best spell. In 2001 he moves on again, to Villarreal, but before the glory days of Riquelme and Forlan our man is shipped off to Zaragoza and then Almeria, both back in the second tier. Coming into this tournament with 54 caps, and starting all four games, he would play only ten more times for Romania, the last of them in 2005. His one big coaching success to date was in his one and only season in charge of Steaua, winning the league and cup in 2014-15. Poor results as coach of Espanyol resulted in a sacking after less than six months in summer 2016, and Gâlcă now coaches in Saudi Arabia.
10. Gheorghe Hagi, b. 1965.
Captain and main creative force of the side, in 2000 the 35-year-old attacking midfielder was reigning Romanian Footballer of the Year – he would win his seventh and last award that December. He was already the national team’s record goalscorer, with 35 in his 122 matches, itself a caps record at the time. He captained his country 65 times, more than any other Romanian. His importance to his country’s football is illustrated by the fact that one of the warm-up friendlies before this tournament was played in the Gheorghe Hagi Stadium in his home city of Constanța.
Hagi had already played five seasons in Liga 1, for Farul Constanța and Sportul Studenţesc, by the time Steaua swooped for him with an emergency loan for one game only – the European Super Cup in Monaco in February 1987. The opposition were a Dynamo Kiev side coached by the great Valeriy Lobanovskiy, featuring Blokhin, Belanov, Zavarov and generally reading like a who’s who of 1980s Soviet football. Hagi’s 25-yard free kick, after a foul by Blokhin, was enough to win the trophy for Steaua, and the army team were not inclined to give the young match-winner back to his club after the game. So he stayed for three seasons, and the club turned down several big offers for him – including, apparently, one from Juventus and Fiat owner Giovanni Agnelli to build a new car factory in Bucharest. Even though Hagi represented Steaua for just three seasons, he is among the club’s all-time top 10 goalscorers, with 76.
But this is all in the past. Let’s whiz past his two years at each of Raddy Antic’s Real Madrid, Mircea Lucescu’s Brescia and Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona (where he was a team-mate of Romario, Stoichkov, Koeman, Guardiola et al.). At the time of Euro 2000 he was already a Galatasaray legend, having just led the team to victory in the UEFA Cup final against Arsenal, Turkey’s first ever European trophy; a triumph tarnished slightly by his own sending-off in extra time for punching Tony Adams. The “Maradona of the Carpathians” earned his nickname not only for his breathtaking skills but also for his fiery temper; it is not inappropriate that in his last match for the national team, the quarter-final clash with Italy at this tournament, he was sent off. His first booking was for a foul which tore Antonio Conte’s ankle ligaments; the second, five minutes later, was for diving. It was his fifth red card in international matches.
Hagi played one more season for Galatasaray before hanging up his boots in April 2001. Two months later he was appointed coach of the national team, but resigned in November after the team failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. In 2004 he was hired as Galatasaray coach, but the club fired him after one season. A disastrous three-month reign at Steaua ended with resignation, after one interference too many by the owner Gigi Becali, to whom Hagi is godfather. By now it looked like this was another truly great player unable to translate his gifts into coaching others.
In 2009, the “Gheorghe Hagi Academy of Football” opened in Ovidiu, just outside Constanta. Inspired by the Ajax model of youth training, the project cost 10 million euros to set up, a lot of which came straight from Hagi’s own pocket. The senior team, called “Viitorul”, meaning “the future”, was registered for Liga 3 that summer, taking the league place of local side CS Ovidiu. Three years later the team was in Liga 1; two seasons of narrowly escaping relegation were followed by real progress – only partly because more established clubs were collapsing all around them. After the 2013-14 season, Hagi took over as manager himself, after working unsatisfactorily with a succession of inexperienced coaches (including Stelea).
In 2016-17 Viitorul pulled off the impossible by winning the league title on the last day, ahead of the Bucharest giants Steaua (now FCSB) and Dinamo. The average age of the squad is 22; only two players on the books are over 27; only one is not Romanian. This marks a radical departure from the norm in Romania, where foreign players provide a quick fix and few club bosses have the patience for youth development. Four of the new champions are in the latest senior Romania squad; another two or three are Academy products now playing elsewhere. The current under-21 squad features eight Viitorul players. The club reached the last 16 of the UEFA Youth League this season.
According to transfermarkt.ro, 30 players have graduated from the Academy to the Viitorul first team squad. This season alone, three players were sold for more than a million euros each: in the current economic climate that is big money. Hilariously (or not), in 2013 Hagi loaned six of his academy players to Steaua so that the severely under-invested and thus under-performing youth team would not disgrace themselves in the UEFA Youth League. “Hagi’s kids” are (the) one bright spot in the future of Romanian football, and many are the neutrals who rejoiced at their title win.
8. Dorinel Munteanu, b. 1968.
Versatile defender/midfielder Munteanu made his 3rd division debut aged 14. He was first capped in 1991, just before his transfer from Inter Sibiu to Dinamo Bucharest, and remained in the national side for 22 consecutive matches. An ever-present in the major tournament finals of 1994, 1996 and 1998, he extended that record through Euro 2000, scoring in the group game against England. In 2001, during a four-year spell with Wolfsburg, he reached a century of caps, and eventually finished with 134 – the Romanian all-time record. “Munti” came back home to join Steaua in 2003, and helped them to the league title in 2004-05, before leaving to become player-manager of CFR Cluj. His club career came to an end in December 2007 while player-manager of FC Vaslui; he had played in the top flight of Romanian, German or Belgian football for twenty-one seasons. Eight games in charge of Steaua followed in 2008, but then in summer 2009 he took over at Otelul Galati, and in his second season there guided them to their only league championship, a great achievement not least because the players were often unpaid for months. Struggling through the next season, including losing all their games in the Champions League group stage, Munteanu resigned in 2012. Since 2014 he has been sporting director at Chivu’s old team, CSM Școlar Reșița, who were just pipped to promotion out of the third tier on the last day of this season. Fun fact: there is a bust of Chivu’s father Mircea, a former coach, at the club’s ground.
9. Viorel Moldovan, b. 1972.
Moldovan was the Swiss Super League’s top scorer and player of the year in both 1996 and 1997, and champion in 1998, while at Grasshopper. He then spent two years at Fenerbahce, under Joachim Low and then Zdenek Zeman. Immediately after Euro 2000 he became Nantes’ record signing and helped to fire the Canaries to the league title in his first season. In 2006, having returned to Romania, he took part in Rapid Bucharest’s best-ever European run, scoring in the UEFA Cup quarter-final against Steaua. After retirement a year later, Moldovan spent time as sporting director for Unirea Urziceni, whose coach was Dan Petrescu; he left to become coach at Vaslui, then Brasov, then Sportul Studentesc, without much success, before one year in charge at Rapid guided them to instant promotion back to the top tier in 2013-14. He served as Anghel Iordanescu’s assistant with the national team for two years before signing up to coach Auxerre after Euro 2016; he lasted only nine games before being sacked for publicly lambasting his team. Moldovan scored 25 times in his 70 international appearances, including the goal against Germany in this tournament; only three players have scored more.
2. Dan Petrescu, b. 1967.
After successful spells at Steaua, Zdenek Zeman’s famous Foggia, Genoa, Sheffield Wednesday… and especially Chelsea under Hoddle and Gullit, where he won an FA Cup and a Cup Winners’ Cup, full-back-cum-midfielder Petrescu fell out with manager Gianluca Vialli during the 1999-2000 season, and transferred to Bradford City. The elder statesman, who already had 89 caps before the tournament, would stay at Valley Parade only until January 2001, when he moved to Southampton to reunite with his former Chelsea boss Glenn Hoddle. But when Hoddle left for Spurs, Petrescu fell out of favour and returned to Bucharest, for one season with FC National, then coached by Walter Zenga. He remains the only post-war Romanian international to have scored in two different World Cups: both goals were winners which secured top spot in the group for Romania.
A nomadic coaching career since his retirement in 2003 has seen one dazzling success: taking charge at tiny Unirea Urziceni in their first season in the top flight, he led them to a cup final and then the league championship in 2009, following up with Champions’ League victories over Rangers (4-1 at Ibrox) and Sevilla. He was Romanian Coach of the Year in 2008, 2009 and 2011. After leaving Unirea he had further success in Russia, taking Kuban Krasnodar to promotion and then spending a year and a half at Dynamo Moscow. Impressively, he lasted just one match in charge of Targu Mures in 2015 (succeeding Liviu Ciobotariu). He was coach of Al Nasr in Dubai for seven months, until last week, when he resigned and was replaced by Cesare Prandelli.
11. Adrian Ilie, b. 1974.
After a trophy-filled spell at Steaua in the mid-90s, Ilie moved to Galatasaray in 1996, where for two years he played alongside Hagi, Popescu and Filipescu. He earned a big transfer to Claudio Ranieri’s Valencia in 1998, where he took over from Romario as Claudio Lopez’s strike partner. Under Hector Cuper and Rafa Benitez, Ilie was a less integral member of the team that reached two Champions League finals and won the league title. Injuries took their toll on “Adi van Basten”, and after passing through Alaves, Besiktas (alongside Daniel Pancu) and FC Zurich (with Filipescu again) Ilie retired aged only 31, having won 55 caps for his country. Although he did for a while invest in a lower-league club, Forex Brasov, and spend some time as sporting director at Steaua, nowadays the “Cobra” (a nickname Ranieri gave him because “he stings you and he kills you”) no longer has anything to do with football and says he likes it that way. He makes his living from property, including a hotel in the mountain resort of Poiana Brasov.
Next time, we’ll take a look at the rest of the squad, several of whom – thanks to all those suspensions – had a part to play in the tournament, as well as Romania’s World Cup 2002 qualification attempt.