"Steaua București is the Romanian people, it represents the all-Romanian identity, and the 1986 Champions League trophy is a defining moment in our history, in our identity," says Emanuel Rocho, a leading Romanian football journalist. Through his Twitter account, Rosu is unveiling the expressionist & fascinating world of Romanian football, which Steaua, and its owner Gigi Becali, has a major part in it.
But first, a little bit of history: Steaua București has a glorious past. A true mega club, with strong social and cultural roots to its city & country, and that enjoys the support of millions in Romania.
The club was established in 1947 as part of the CSA Steaua Bucaresti - "Steaua București Military Sports Club". CSA is a sports association that operates in a variety of departments and 28 different sports - owned by the Romanian army, which until that year was a royal army, but by 1948 it had become the army of the Communist Republic of Romania.
Steaua in Romanian means a "Star". The red star that appeared in the symbol of the Romanian Communist Army and other armies in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, is a quite normal mascot for football clubs among these areas.
Football-wise, Steaua is the leading and most distinguished club in Romanian football. Despite, losing the championship title to the great Gheorghi Hagi's Viitorul last season, the club’s trophies cabin is loaded as it gets - 26 championships, six cup trophies, a few more league cups and local Supercups are for sure an impressive amount, but all of these are not the focal point of Steaua' supremacy in Romania.
In 1986, Steaua won the Champions Cup (the previous version of the Champions League), after beating Spanish giants Barcelona, with an 'All Romanian' squad - without any foreign players.
Hagi, known as the ‘Maradona of the Carpathians’ and considered, up to date, one of the greatest players in the history of the game, was then purchased by Steaua, and helped the club to win the European Supercup. Two years later the Romanians reached the semifinals, and in 1989 they reached the final of the Champions League again – only to lose to the great A.C. Milan, 4-0.
Back then, Steaua was one of the best teams in Europe, the most powerful icon in Romanian sport and famous club on a global scale. Moreover, for nearly 40 years, Steaua, was the people’s club in Romania. A popular symbol, with a strong affiliation to the communist era, that almost everyone could identify with. "No matter which part of the political map, Steaua has fans there. You can love this club or you can hate it, but staying indifferent towards it? Simply impossible”, Rosu highlights.
Good Night Communism, Good Morning to "The Smart Guys"
With the fall of the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe in the early 1990’s, things began to change in Romania. Politically, culturally and economically. This was the case of the traditional ownership structure of the country's sports clubs. Military/ State Ownership - out, Private Ownership - in.
In 1998, as part of the alignment with the laws of the UEFA, Steaua was transferred to the private ownership of a nonprofit organization. In 2003, the club became public, thanks to the club's main investor support, the businessman George "Gigi" Becali, which already held 51% of the club shares, and later completed its full acquisition.
Becali, 58, is a controversial figure. During the Romanian revolution, young businessmen acquired power centers in the market and began to grow and grow in terms of their economic power. 'Smart guys' they were called. Becali was one of them.
A man who used to be a shepherd, gained power and influence through his business moves, and was best known for his outspoken, controversial, colorful and provocative personality.
Over the years he has not hesitated to express his opinion on every possible issue, from women and homosexuals rights, through the Romanian Social Security to the sexual habits and leisure hours of his players. He calls himself an "Anti-globalization nationalist" and is considered a great admirer of Donald Trump, the President of the United States.
With his status as Steaua’s owner, he became one of the most famous politicians in Romania. His personal fortune is estimated at 300 million Euros as of 2016, and he holds companies worth more than a billion euros. Today, because of his political activity, he is not the official owner of Steaua, but because he left his children and people as responsible and supervisors, he is still the strongest man in the club, and also its main source of liquidity.
Despite his powerful influence, things hasn’t went smooth for Becali with Steaua. From 2011, Becali is fighting with the Romanian army, over the rights to use of the brand, assets and identity of the 'Steaua București' name. Actually, since 2014, it has been banned from using any name, symbols, or anything related to the Steaua brand. The name was erased from the scoreboard in the home stadium, and the players' shirts also pasted a black band on the club’s crest.
What is left of Becali’ Steaua is only the title they won in 2003 when he took over the club. “Becali himself is waiting for the Supreme Court's decision on the matter, and he thinks he will win," Rosu explains. "He called the new club FC FCSB – Football Club of Football Club Steaua Bucaresti - so the army won’t use the term 'FC' in the new team that they’ll form. Yes, it is as crazy and complicated as it sounds and gets”.
One Identity, Two Clubs
This saga stirred up Romanian football until last March, and after a long trial, the Romanian army and Defense Ministry won definitively. The rights of using the name, facilities and identity of Steaua were fully handed over to the army, which reestablished the club in the fourth division. In addition, since the legal crisis began, the of the home games are played at the legendary Steaua Stadium. European and important local games are hosted at the Arena Nationala. The Nationala actually sits in a military base, which has been owned by the Steaua Military Sports Association for years.
The rift between Becali’ Steaua and the army's Steaua has created an absurd situation within the biggest club in Romania, but it is not the only big club that suffers from destructive administrative problems. A few weeks ago, a Derby was held between Rapid Bucharest and Sativa in the 4th division in Romania. A game that attracted thousands of fans and was accompanied by a rich set of spectacular pyrotechnics.
Rapid is the legendary rival of Steaua, who together formed the "Eternal Derby" of Romania, known as the biggest rivalry in the country. In 2016 Rapid suffered bankruptcy and was reestablished as two different teams, both of which play in the fourth division. A complicated story itself that could have fill another article alone.
Steaua is a mega club, with a rich history in a continental level, with millions of fans and a vibrant present With a national, social, cultural and political importance and baggage in Romania, which over the years, and especially with the legal entanglement, has become a kind of parody of totalitarian management and military-state relations, private sector and football.
"The situation of Steaua București is very complicated. Not many people understand it, not even in Romania," explains Rosu.
A dispute that began over the rent of the stadium, rolled into a complicated story whose end is not in sight. For the fans, this situation is a hard fracture, a tear that seems to be difficult to fix.
“The fans outside of Bucharest remained with the Becali team (FC FCSB), as well as many of the fans from the city itself. When the story exploded, the club's two ultras groups decided to stop attending matches in protest against Becali and his behavior, but over time one of the organizations returned - not with the same enthusiasm of course - and the other joined the army team, which plays in the fourth division. In the derby held few weeks ago in the fourth division, the fans made an excellent atmosphere with a very invested set, but still there were a total of 1,000 people", he said.
"So, what does the future hold for Romania's top sport entity?" Rocho tries to answer.
"In the end, it's all politics. The army depends on the defense minister, who can ultimately decide what he wants. In general, Becali has gone very far with this struggle, and it does not seem that the Union will happen as long as he heads the club. What's more, a group of the army has its ambitions. To go up in the leagues, back to the first division, beat Steaua of Bacali in the derby, and win the championship. "
The story of Steaua is just one story out of many bizarre and human terrific stories about football in Romania. Follow Emanuel Rosu on Facebook and Twitter, and live the crazy reality of Romanian football, play-by-play. It's addictive.