Steaua Bucharest have today appointed former favourite son Ilie Dumitrescu as manager after Gheoghe Hagi refused a retrun to the famous Romanian club. But will Dumitrescu last any longer than his predecessor Victor Piticura? Radu Baicu suspects not.
Without waiting to sign a contract with Steaua Bucharest, Victor Piturca took charge after the end of another poor season in Romania. Free to do everything he wanted, as verbally agreed with the club's desperate owner Gigi Becali, "Piti" looked like a man who had a solution to the club's biggest problems: the poor quality of the team, the huge row with the fans, the lack of professionals within the club.
Even though Becali wasn't able to offer the 600,000 Euros per season Piturca required (Piturca accepted half of that sum), outspoken politician Becali did agree to a vital clause: he (Becali) would refuse to talk with the media for twenty hours following the end of Steaua's matches and avoid making comments on Steaua's players, opponents or referees. A complete change to what had gone before.
The agreement was that if Becali was to forget about these restrictions, he would have to pay an important, but undefined at that time, sum of money. The project went on, with Piturca signing a temporary deal as the new season approached while expecting the paperwork for his three year deal to be finished. In the 59 days spent in charge of Steaua, the last coach to lead the Romanian national team to a major tournament made a number of impressive moves, all for the good of the club.
Firstly, Piturca convinced Emerich Jenei, the coach that led Steaua to the European Champions Cup in 1986, to return as president. Secondly he cleaned Steaua's offices of Becali's relatives and brought professionals in key positions, with a focus on Steaua's former players. In addition, Piturca changed Becali's decisions to reduce the costs and the activity of Steaua's youth academy, as well as the planned closing down of the club's marketing department. Most significantly the new coach made peace with Steaua’s fans by lifting bans dictated by Becali and inviting them back to Ghencea (Steaua’s home stadium), where he decided that the 2 metre high fences that surrounded the pitch should be taken down. In his short stint in charge, Piturca bought 14 new players for 2.4 million Euros, raising a further 1.3 million from the sale of only 2 players, Ovidiu Petre and Juan Toja.
Steaua started the league in style, with two victories, coming back from a goal down in both games to win 2-1. The first game at home, versus Universitatea Craiova, was played in a stadium packed with enthusiastic fans that got behind the team in spectacular (and intimidating for the visiting team) fashion
Everything seemed perfect and Steaua was considered one of the favourites to win the league, even though it was hard to believe that this completely new team wouldn't at some point pay for its lack of cohesion. The surprise came right after the second win of the season, and Becali's first statements regarding the team and its players. His moderate comments - like the observation that Tatarusanu, the keeper, should have come out for a cross, at Universitatea's goal - compared with what he had said in the past, angered Piturca, who announced that he will not travel with the team for the FC Brasov game, unless the agreed deal is finally signed.
The clause, inflexible like its creator stated that if Becali, a wealthy property developer, was to talk again about the players or the team, he would lose a property outside Bucharest with an estimated market value of 6-8 million Euros.
The condition, revoked on Becali’s part, saw Piturca clear his office and ask his staff to resign on Sunday, the day after Steaua's draw against FC Brasov.
"I agreed to offer Piturca maximum power at the club, but not bigger than mine" said Becali, brilliant in his stupidity.
It was a strange deal from the beginning, one that saw Victor Piturca staying in the dark and pulling the strings at a club that was in all kinds of trouble: poor results, average squad, no money to improve it, huge conflict between the fans and the board.
The disbelief surrounding his return to Ghencea was as strong as the feeling that things would not work. Not because Piturca wouldn't have been able to put together a winning team in a very short period, or because the man is such a control freak that he thinks the manager's role stretches from naming the club's president to deciding what the players should serve for dessert. Or because he'll prove a too expensive manager - nothing's too expensive for Becali - Piturca left for one reason only. He realized that he wouldn't be able to reach a goal that was more ambitious than winning the Champions League; keeping Gigi Becali quiet.
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