Steaua Bucharest, once upon a time in Romania

Apără Duckadam! Suntem finalişti! Am câştigat Cupa! Cupa Campionilor Europeni eşte la Bucureşti!

These words, pronounced by the commentator Teoharie Coca-Cosma on May 7th, 1986 are, for Steaua Bucharest supporters, the same as the triple “Campioni del Mondo!” by Nando Martellini, which made Italian football fans rejoice back in 1982. The Romanian commentator was celebrating the fourth consecutive penalty save by Helmuth Duckadam in Seville against Barcelona. A save which consecrated Steaua Bucharest as European champions, the first team from eastern Europe to win the European Champions Cup.

2016 was meant to be the 30th anniversary of the trophy, the year which would gather all Steaua supporters in celebration of their glimpse of European glory.

Instead, it will probably be remembered as the year which torn Steaua apart in a civil war so bitter it would even smear the memory of the Seville 1986 heroes.

The issue is the long-disputed legal battle between the current owner, controversial businessman Gigi Becali, and the Romanian Ministry of Defence. The Defence used to control Steaua, the former Army team in Communist times, up until 2003. Through its attorney, lieutenant colonel Florin Talpan, the Ministry is claiming the right to use the brand Steaua, denouncing irregularities in Becali’s purchase of the team from the Army. Back in 2014 Talpan had managed to inhibit Becali from using the brand Steaua Bucharest, forcing the owner to resort to the acronym FCSB.

This was confirmed on December 21st, 2016 by the Court of Appeal of Bucharest: should the Court of Cassation confirm the verdict, Becali would be forced to change the name for good and to pay back to the Army 37 million euros in compensation for undue use of the brand between 2004 and 2014.

In the meantime CSA Steaua, the multi-sports club still controlled by the Defence, announced the foundation of a new football team, which will be enrolled to the fourth or fifth division starting from next summer. Their goal is to reach Liga I in 2020, when the reconstruction of the Ghencea Stadium (which is currently being demolished) into a 31,000-spectator venue should be completed.

lacatus

The Army’s team technical coordinator will be Marius Lăcătuș, one of the penalty takers in the historic final against Barcelona in 1986. Lăcătuș, a former Steaua coach during Becali’s tenure, is not the only Steaua 86 member to side with the Army. Adrian Bumbescu discussed publicly the possibility of becoming the coordinator of the club’s youth sector. Midfielder Tudorel Stoica, who had missed the 1986 final having been booked in the previous match, accused Becali of producing forged documents to the Professional League, and disowned the current team:

In the national football league there isn’t a Steaua anymore, there is another team instead of Steaua.

More crucially, one of the prospect investors of the military team could be Victor Pițurcă, a former coach of the national team and of Becali’s Steaua, and a striker for the 1986 team. According to Becali, he became the majority shareholder of the club when Pițurcă and then president of the Administration Council Viorel Păunescu spontaneously sold him their share parcels. Pițurcă has declared:

Many supporters want Steaua to come back to Ghencea, and hope there won’t be only one person deciding everything anymore.

He also suggested he might take back to the pitch, aged 61, if the Army’s team is enrolled into the fifth division:

I should speak with Belo (defender Miodrag Belodedici) and Tudorel Stoica, to convince them to come back onto the field”.

The only 1986 team member who keeps loyal to the current team is the hero of Seville, goalkeeper Helmuth Duckadam, who has been acting as a honorary president and ambassador of Steaua Bucharest. Duckadam, interviewed by Gazeta Sporturilor, attacked Pițurcă vehemently (“He’s one of the men who earned tens and hundred thousand euros without being annoyed by Becali’s ownership of Steaua. Now, after 13 years, he comes and wants to destroy it, only because he doesn’t want Becali to own it!”).

Soon other former teammates, such as fullback Ilie Bărbulescu and midfielder László Bölöni, have issued bitter replies against Duckadam.

While the Professional League is alarmed (“Steaua is Steaua and it holds Romanian football upon its shoulders. It’s the only club who manages to pay transfers, and thanks to that money they can maintain the other ten clubs”), ever since the 2014 sentence support for Steaua has waned. Many have left the stadium, and support is divided between those who openly support the army, those who hope to get rid of Becali and those who hope for a compromise solution and for continuity with the current team.

Steaua’s reputation, nonetheless, has been lethally wounded by these divisions and by the legal actions and declarations of both Talpan and Becali.

The waves of mud, after debasing the present and past of the club, have even reached the legend of Steaua 86 members, seemingly unable to keep their dignity. It seems that even the last fairytale left for Romanian football in times of crisis, even the last glorious memory, is destined to a bitter ending.

A fost odată ca-n poveşti: once upon a time, like in fairytales.

Photos Steaua ©Getty Images