In June we caught up with the players who started Romania’s opening fixture of Euro 2000. Now let’s turn our attention to the remainder of the squad…
1. Bogdan Lobonț, b.1978.
Although he featured in three of the qualifiers after making his debut at age 20 in 1998, the junior goalkeeper in the squad could not dislodge Stelea as number 1 and did not play in Euro 2000. Earlier in the year he had transferred from Rapid Bucharest, with whom he won a league championship in 1999, to Ajax, for €3 million. An investigation was opened by Romania’s anti-corruption directorate in 2013 because €900,000 of the sale should have been paid to Lobont’s previous club, second division Corvinul Hunedoara, but the money was never paid and Corvinul was wound up in 2004.
Lobont finally established himself as Ajax first choice in 2003 and stayed until 2006; after a short spell at Fiorentina and a couple of seasons back home at Dinamo Bucharest, now 39 he is seeing out his playing career as a backup goalkeeper at AS Roma. He would end up with 85 caps for Romania, including starting all three of Romania’s games at Euro 2008. Despite not having played a single competitive match for four years, Lobby was called up by the national team in September 2017 for Cosmin Contra‘s first games in charge.
15. Ionuţ Lupescu, b.1968.
Lupescu (whose father Nicolae had won the league with Rapid in 1967 and represented Romania at the 1970 World Cup) made his league debut in 1986, aged 17, for Dinamo, and won the first of his 74 caps in 1988. He played in three of Romania’s four games at Italia ’90, putting away his penalty in the shootout defeat against Ireland. He played in all Romania’s games at USA ’94 and Euro ’96 too. In 2000 he was on his second spell at Dinamo, after eight years in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Moenchengladbach. He would win a third league title with Dinamo in 2002 before retiring that year. He only played once more for the national team after Euro 2000. Lupescu was sporting director for the national team from 2007 until 2011, and is now a technical director at UEFA. Tweets @ionutlupescu68.
18. Ionel Ganea, b. 1973.
“Vio” had scored both Romania’s goals on his international debut against Estonia in 1999 and seven goals in total in his eleven internationals to date. He was the Romanian league’s top scorer in 1998-99, while playing for Gloria Bistrita and then Rapid Bucharest, who became champions. Euro 2000 saw perhaps his international career’s high point, scoring the winner against England from the penalty spot.
A Stuttgart player at this point, Ganea would later play for Bursaspor (briefly) and then Wolves – where he described Glenn Hoddle as “one of the most difficult managers I have worked with” – before returning to Romania in 2006. He initially signed for Dinamo, but broke his contract for a lucrative deal with former club Rapid; he then jumped ship again to FC Timișoara in June 2007. A couple of months later, in a game against Rapid, Ganea attacked a linesman and was banned for 22 matches. The linesman is currently (autumn 2017) on a coaching course, in the same cohort as Adrian Mutu.
Ganea is remembered in Scotland for a bad challenge on promising young Celtic defender John Kennedy during an international friendly match in 2004; Kennedy never fully recovered and had to retire five years later at the age of just 26. Ganea’s last international goal came in 2003 and he won his 45th and final cap in 2006. As a coach, he has had short spells in charge of U Cluj, Rapid, Dunărea Călărași, Voluntari and, most recently, was relegated with ASA Târgu Mureș. Vio’s 18-year-old son George, also a striker, is with Roma’s Primavera side.
19. Erik Lincar, b. 1978.
Lincar did not feature at Euro 2000, and played only twice more for Romania, in friendlies later the same year. He finished with five caps. In 2002 the midfielder left Steaua (with whom he had spent five seasons and won two league titles) for unspectacular spells in Greece and then Russia, before winding down his career at Progresul Bucharest and retiring in 2008. In May 2017 he was appointed coach of Academica Clinceni, a mid-table, small-town club in financial difficulties in Liga 2. Two games in, he had already suffered a 6-0 home defeat and a player strike, but now the team are flying high in the division.
20. Cătălin Hîldan, 1976-2000.
A young midfielder who had just captained Dinamo to the league and cup double in the 1999-2000 season, even scoring in the cup final, Hîldan’s eighth and last game for Romania was in the friendly against Greece on the eve of this tournament. On 5 October the same year, during a friendly match at Oltenița, he suffered a cardiac arrest and died, aged just 24. A passionate, one-club man, Hîldan’s memory is kept fondly and vividly alive by Dinamo fans, who sing his name, display tifos of him and call him “Unicul căpitan”, the Only Captain. One end of the ground at Dinamo stadium bears his name, the Peluza Cătălin Hîldan, and the number 11 shirt was permanently retired after his death.
21. Florin Prunea, b. 1968.
Made his debut in 1990 aged 21, but never overhauled Silviu Lung or Stelea as first choice, despite playing the final three games in the 1994 World Cup campaign; a mistake against Sweden in the quarter-final sent the match into extra time. A nomadic career, which had already taken him to Craiova (twice), Dinamo (three times) and U Cluj (three times), would see him play briefly in Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece before his retirement in 2006. He played his 40th and last international match in 2001. He was president of CSM Poli Iași until a takeover in June 2017, when he accused the new management of money-laundering. As a result, Prunea no longer sits on the executive committee of the Romanian Football Federation as representative of Liga 1 clubs. I’ll admit it, I can’t be bothered to work out whether he’s a deluded paranoiac.
22. Cosmin Contra, b. 1975.
At Euro 2000, Contra came on as a substitute against Germany and then started the games against Portugal and England, in place of Ciobotariu.
After three successful seasons with Dinamo Bucharest, right-back Contra moved to Alavés in Spain in 1999. Two years in Vitoria-Gasteiz culminated in a most unlikely UEFA Cup final appearance in 2001, where they lost 5-4 to Liverpool’s golden goal. Contra was voted into the UEFA team of the year, alongside Vieira, Beckham and Zidane, and was voted Romanian Footballer of the Year. His performances earned him a move to AC Milan, where he was a first-team regular but lasted just one season. Sixteen yellow cards in 2001-02 point to a temperamental character, but in August a fistfight with Juventus’ Edgar Davids led to both men being sent off after only four minutes of a pre-season friendly… and, when the scrap escalated in the tunnel, that was the last straw for the Milan bosses, who sold him to Atletico Madrid.
At the Calderón he featured in two campaigns before a short loan period at West Brom in 2004. Contra’s career then revived at Getafe, where he spent four happy years, before returning to his home town Timișoara in his mid-thirties for one last job. On the international stage, he started every game at Euro 2008 and finished with 73 caps.
As a coach, Contra’s best spell to date was a year and a half with Petrolul Ploiesti, finishing third in the league and reaching the cup final. However, he was appointed coach of Dinamo Bucharest in February 2017, which coincided with an upturn in form that saw the Red Dogs come within a whisker of snatching the league title. In September, at a low point in Romania’s fortunes – mathematically unable to qualify for the next World Cup with two games to go – Contra was appointed national team coach to replace Christoph Daum. Since then he has stopped tweeting as @contracosmin1.
7. Adrian Mutu, b. 1979.
How is it that Romania’s all-time joint top scorer, with 35 goals in 77 appearances, a man who scored over a hundred goals in Serie A (with a goals-to-games ratio better than Vialli’s), can be found in so many top-tens of “wasted talents”?
A youth product of FC Argeș in Pitești, Mutu made his league debut in March 1997, aged 18. In 1998 he transferred to Dinamo Bucharest, where 18 goals in the first 18 games of the 1999-2000 league season helped Dinamo to a league and cup double. It also earned him a move to Inter Milan before Christmas.
Offloaded to Verona after less than a year, however, it took Mutu until the 2001-02 season before he really made his mark. Even though Hellas ended up relegated, Mutu did not have to play in Serie B because Parma came calling. 18 league goals in the 2002-03 season for Parma earned him a big-money move to Ranieri’s nouveau riche Chelsea. After a fairly unproductive season (six league goals), when Mourinho took over Mutu’s attitude became a big problem. He was involved in a police car chase in Romania in September 2004; then a drug test famously came back positive for cocaine the following month. Mutu was sacked for breach of contract, suspended for seven months and fined £20,000 by the FA.
Chelsea shipped him out to Juventus for nothing in January 2005, even though he could not play until the last game of the season because of his ban. The following year he helped the Old Lady to the scudetto, which sounds like obscure code for something untoward. Juve were relegated in 2006 (and stripped of that title), after the Calciopoli investigation revealed that they were indeed up to something untoward, but Mutu was on his way again – this time to Fiorentina, where he would have his most lasting impact, scoring 46 league goals in his first three seasons and writing himself into Viola folklore. However, in January 2010 another drug test came back positive; his initial nine-month ban was reduced to six.
Then the winding down. Summer 2011: moves to Cesena. Summer 2012: to Ajaccio. January 2014: to Petrolul, coached at the time by Cosmin Contra, where he stays for 7 months. Summer 2015: to Pune City in India, for 6 months. January 2016: to Târgu Mureș, also for 6 months.
The young Adrian made his international debut in spring 2000. He played every game of Euro 2000 after the opener. Impressively, 24 of his 35 goals came in competitive internationals, although only one came at a major finals (the rest were in qualifiers). He captained Romania at Euro 2008, played every game there, and scored his country’s only goal. So far, so model professional.
However… In August 2011, along with Gabriel Tamas, he was banned from the national team for going out drinking while their team-mates were playing a match against San Marino. Then, in November 2013, he posted a picture on social media of Romania coach Victor Piţurcă as Mr Bean, and received a life ban from the national team. Finally (so far), in 2015 he received a 14-month suspended prison sentence, plus a €10,000 fine, for breaking an Albanian waiter’s nose in a Florence restaurant five years earlier.
Mutu got married for the third time in 2016. Also in that year he announced his retirement, after failing to make the squad for the Euros. His farewell letter – to Fiorentina fans via the ‘Corriere dello Sport’ – says, revealingly, “I have won what I dreamed of: the love of people”.
If he had played to his potential for longer than a few years, if he had tried harder to please the gaffer, if… if… But it’s no good: he would never be able to shake off the English media’s image of him as a jack-the-lad, a waster. In Tuscany they love him still. In late 2016 he was appointed general manager of Dinamo Bucharest: it’s not a coaching role, but he does see himself taking that route at some point in the future. He’s still young!
16. Laurențiu Roșu, b. 1975.
Signed by Steaua before he was 18, Roșu made his Liga I debut in November 1993. The skilful, left-footed attacking midfielder was part of the team that reached the Champions League group stage in 1994-95, alongside Gâlcă, Ilie and Lăcătuș. In seven seasons at Steaua, he won five league titles and three Romanian Cups.
He was sent off on his Romania debut in 1998, in a Euro 2000 qualifier against Portugal. In the finals, he came on as a second-half substitute in the second and third group games.
That summer he was transferred to Numancia in Spain. The team finished bottom of the Primera Liga that season, but Roşu was one of their leading lights. His hat-trick in a home win over European champions Real Madrid ensured that he will be remembered fondly in Soria forever. He stayed for three more years, with the team struggling in the Segunda División, before moving in 2004 to Recreativo de Huelva, with whom he won promotion in his second season. He then helped Huelva to their highest ever league position, 8th in the top flight, in 2006-07.
After Euro 2000 (see below) he was picked by Bölöni and then Hagi, but Iordănescu, who took over in 2002, did not select him. In 2005 Piţurcă recalled him to the squad for the successful Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, but he was injured before the tournament itself. He then moved down to the Spanish third division with Cadiz and retired at the end of the 2008-09 season. Since retirement his coaching career has not really taken off. After several years as a number two to (among others) Gâlcă and Contra, he spent last season as boss of UTA Arad, but narrowly failed to get them promoted to Liga 1 and was released in June.
14. Florentin Petre, b. 1976.
“Piticul” (the Dwarf) Petre, a 5’5″ winger, played for Dinamo between 1994 and 2006, making over 250 appearances for the club. Just before Euro 2000 he was part of the double-winning team, alongside Hîldan and Lupescu. He had made his international debut in 1998. At the tournament he replaced Petrescu during the second half against Portugal and started the quarter-final for his 20th cap. After the tournament his life took a turn for the weird. He was diagnosed with hepatitis C later in the year, and in July 2001 was electrocuted while fishing in the Danube Delta, sustaining serious burns. Petre spent four years abroad with CSKA Sofia and Terek Grozny before retiring in 2011. During this spell abroad he helped Romania qualify for Euro 2008 and started the Italy match in the finals alongside Chivu, Mutu, Lobont and Contra. He played his 52nd and last international match in 2009.
Married to a Bulgarian former model, he has at some point turned his hand to rally driving. In September 2017 he announced that he had completely recovered from hepatitis after eighteen years; apparently Steaua owner Gigi Becali sent him, unsolicited, a hugely expensive course of new treatment. His son Patrick (b. 1997; 5’6″) currently plays, in the same position as his dad, for Sepsi OSK in Liga I (on loan from Dinamo).
17. Miodrag Belodedici, b. 1964.
“Only 25 men have ever played in and won a European Cup final for an eastern European team. Miodrag Belodedici is two of them.”
So begins a must-read article by Jonathan Wilson about this elegant sweeper, the oldest member of the Euro 2000 squad. An ethnic Serb born in a Serb-majority area of Romania, next to what was then the Yugoslavian border, Belodedici joined Steaua in 1982 and stayed for six seasons, winning 5 league titles and 3 Romanian Cups. He played every minute of the 1986 European Cup triumph against Barcelona in Seville.
Two years later, however, just before the Romanian revolution, “the Deer” defected to Yugoslavia – read the Wilson article for details. After serving a UEFA ban (for breach of contract) and receiving a ten-year prison sentence in absentia (for desertion, since Steaua players were military personnel), he won the European Cup again with Red Star Belgrade in 1991, scoring a penalty in the shootout. He also won the last three Yugoslav First League championships, before leaving Red Star for Valencia in 1992. Two seasons at Mestalla were followed by one each at Valladolid and Villarreal, before Belodedici set off for Mexico to play for Atlante. In 1998, at the age of 34, he returned to Steaua for a final spell, winning another league title in 2001.
Belodedici had won 19 caps before his defection, and did not add to that total until being welcomed back into the fold in 1992. He started every game of the famous 1994 World Cup campaign, before his sudden-death penalty kick was saved by Thomas Ravelli, sending Sweden through to the semi-finals at Romania’s expense. At Euro ’96 he played the first two games but was not picked again for four years. At Euro 2000 he came on as a first-half sub for the injured Popescu during the England game, and played the whole quarter-final. His international career ended after 55 caps with the qualifying defeat to Italy in 2000 (see below). Belodedici now works for the Romanian Football Federation.
COACH: Emerich Jenei, b. 1937. The man who won league titles with Steaua as player (in the ‘50s and ‘60s) and coach (‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s), guided Steaua to their European Cup triumph in 1986, and coached Romania at Italia ’90, had been re-appointed to replace Victor Piţurcă a few months before the tournament. He retired after Romania’s exit from this tournament.
ROMANIA AFTER THE TOURNAMENT
The quarter-final against Italy proved to be the last match not only of Hagi as a player, but also of Emerich Jenei as a coach. He retired from the game, but continued to be involved with football: he was president of FC Bihor Oradea in the mid-2000s, and (briefly) of Steaua some time after that. His replacement was named in July as Ladislao Bölöni, who had played under Jenei at Steaua in the 1980s and had won over 100 caps for Romania, but who had only one job on his coaching CV, at Nancy. The qualification group included Italy, whose superiority had so recently been demonstrated, so the expectation was to finish second and go through the play-offs.
Gica Popescu announced his international retirement in summer 2000, but was forced to deny suggestions that this was retaliation for the state’s obstruction of his business deals.
Substitute Ganea came to the rescue in the first qualifier against Lithuania with an 89th-minute winner. The following month would bring the away fixture with Italy; but, worse than that, two days before the game, Cătălin Hîldan died on the pitch during a friendly match with his club Dinamo. Although he would not have played in Rome, the Romanians were in no state to face the Italians after losing their team-mate, and Inzaghi, Delvecchio and Totti all scored before half-time. The experience led Petrescu, Lupescu and Belodedici all to announce their international retirements, so that, with the next competitive fixture not until late March, there was a need for serious reconstruction.
Mirel Rădoi and Paul Codrea at the back, and Marius Niculae up front, were all given a chance. During the return game with Italy in Bucharest, Inzaghi scored twice to win it 2-0. Ganea was not happy about being kept on the bench for 78 minutes; he was dropped for two games and would not start an international match for another year. Bölöni also fell out with Gâlcă after the next match. In June 2001, after less than a year and only thirteen games in charge, the coach departed for Sporting Lisbon (where he would give both Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Quaresma their senior debuts).
Hagi was installed in short order, and in September his team notched up Romania’s first ever win in Hungary, and that secured the play-off spot. Popescu was back as skipper; the team was playing a more entertaining style; there was plenty of optimism. The play-off opponents were to be a depleted, Zlatko Zahovič-less Slovenia side. Unfortunately, in the first leg in Ljubljana, Stelea was beaten by a soft goal from Osterc and it finished 2-1. But still, Romania surely had the quality to turn it around back at Ghencea. But the game ended 1-1, in spite of Hagi finishing with five strikers on the pitch. Slovenia had qualified for the World Cup, and Hagi resigned a few weeks later, after just five matches in charge.
Romania have only twice qualified for a major tournament since Euro 2000, scoring one goal at Euro 2008 and two (both penalties) at Euro 2016. It turns out that a one-off genius, supported by a settled team of extremely good, experienced players, can make all the difference to a golden generation. Who knew?