BY LIAM WALK
Amidst the clutter of replica shirts and bustling cashiers, Gheorghe Hagi’s statue stands proudly, radiating in the chrome light of bargain brand ceiling bulbs. It is an odd but fitting tribute for the likeness of Romania’s greatest player to be displayed in Steaua Bucharest’s club store, a room crammed with the contemporary colours of the club he represented at the inception of his career.
And while the Maradona of the Carpathians is deified by the Romanian public, the nation’s greatest player belies the mold of their current generation. At this summer’s Euros Anghel Iordanescu’s side played within themselves, organising into a compact 4-2-3-1 that hoped to make up for in efficiency that what it lacked in stardust. The plan backfired, with the Tricolorii getting knocked out in the first round and scoring only two goals to satiate their loyal fanbase.
Iordanescu’s attacking midfield trident was forward thinking in name only, the former Steaua man dropping the turbo charged talents of Gabriel Torje in favour of the fastidious Bogdan Stancu on the left with right winger Adrian Popa using his speed to great effect covering fullback Cristian Sapunaru if not attacking the opposition’s backline. But between the graft and athleticism glinted a dash of fleet-footed footballing alchemy, a boy turning the ball to gold-dust with his every touch.
The jewel in Iordanescu’s Romanian machine was Nicolae Stanciu, the mind-bending number 10 an outlier in a team indoctrinated in footballing inertia. His performances at the Euros showed signs of this brilliance, his play a tapestry of cute touches and cunning runs only men like Hagi or Nicolae Dobrin have woven before.
Stanciu, moving from Bucharest to Belgium over the summer, goes into the new season a man riding a crest of an ever swelling wave. His performances last season in Romania demonstrated his intelligence not only as a creator but a bonafide goal threat. Unlike other playmakers, the Transylvania native used his freedom in Steaua’s system to drift toward the shoulder of the last defender, confusing centre back pairings and capitalising on second balls from deep. Stanciu’s finishing, particularly with his preferred right foot, is impressively clinical. He helped himself to double figures in 2015-16, scoring many goals from outside the box or acute angles.
Anderlecht represents another stepping stone for Romania’s great hope. He will play alongside such burgeoning talents as Youri Tielemans and Frank Acheampong, and find solace in the familiar face of former Tricolorii golden boy Alexandru Chipciu who moved with Stanciu to Brussels from Steaua this summer. The Belgian league breeds quality, and Anderlecht provides a platform to shine against limited opposition while also bringing players to the austere cauldrons of rivals Standard and Club Brugge. If Stanciu can prove himself here, like Thorgan Hazard, Carlos Bacca, and Ivan Perisic before, he will continue his upward trajectory in European football. Romania need another idol and the Steaua club shop still has ample room on its shelves.