How to make a profit with a small football club

Writing for IBWM, Radu Baicu looks at the Unirea Urziceni success story; how to make profit with a small football club.

The club’s discrete owner, Dumitru Bucsaru, earned over 20 million Euros since Unirea reached the Champions League’s group stage. Why would he let the team fall apart then? Well, because he wouldn’t be able to dribble past the football’s rules one more time and make this kind of money with minimum investment and a club that lacks a proper stadium, a decent fan base and the vital revenue streams that keeps the ball spinning these days.

Unpaid players for months, lost chance to reach Champions League’s group stage, no money to re-establish order in a team everyone wants to abandon, starting with the general manager, Mihai Stoica, who has already resigned. Not a pretty picture, that’s why we should look back and realize what this club has achieved and that this is just the ugly ending of a beautiful story. One that saw Unirea Urziceni move from the muddy 3rd division football to the glamour of Champions League in just six years, where the Wolves collected an impressive tally of 8 points in the same group with Seville, VFB Stuttgart and Glasgow Rangers – a record for Romanian football.

Could all this have been done without massive investment in the team, could such a feat ignore year after year vital revenue streams like TV rights money, high gate receipts, numerous season tickets holders and the on and off match day fans’ financial support? Affirmative! The key in Unirea’s case was the sporting success and the partnership Mihai Stoica (general manager) – Dan Petrescu (coach) ensured that this insignificant club squeezed results from a low cost team fed more with motivation rather than money, speculating its hunger for success. Let’s have a look at the players that formed a formidable squad not just by Liga I’s standards and maybe start thinking twice before putting tags on footballers!

Underrated players, most of them bought with less than 100.000 Euros:

Catalin Grigore – goalkeeper, was a reserve player at Poli Timisoara

Laszlo Balint – right back, was playing for a second division club, UTA

Bruno Fernandes – central defender, had relegated with Ceahlaul Piatra Neamt, in the second division

Ersin Mehmedovic – central defender, was a reserve player at Poli Timisoara

Valeriu Bordeanu – left back, former Steaua defender, was playing for two years at Politehnica Iasi, a mid-table club in Liga I

Iulian Apostol – central midfielder, was transfer listed by FC Vaslui, suspected to be involved in fixing some matches

Sorin Frunza – left midfielder, was transfer listed by Farul Constanta, suspected to be involved in fixing some matches

Razvan Paduretu – central midfielder, former Dinamo player, was playing for a mid-table team, Gloria Bistrita

Dinu Todoran – central midfielder, bought from Farul Constanta

Marius Onofras – striker, bought from Politehnica Iasi, best scoring record in one season: 6 goals

Cristian Danalache – centre forward, was playing for a second division club, UTA

Good players signed on a free transfer:

Pablo Brandan – left back, had one experience in Europe, with Deportivo Alaves

Jacob Burns – central midfielder, had worked with Dan Petrescu in Poland

Antonio Semedo – right winger, former CFR Cluj key player

Bogdan Mara – winger, former Rapid and Dinamo player

Sorin Paraschiv – central midfielder, former Steaua captain, convinced to return from Rimini (Serie B)

Promising players, surprising signings:

Giedrius Arlauskis – goalkeeper, scouted by Stoica and Petrescu, bought for 150.000 Euros from Siauliai, now rated at 2 million Euros

Raul Rusescu – forward, bought from a second division club, CS Otopeni

Bargain buys, top players:

George Galamaz – central defender, former Rapid player, bought from Dinamo, where he was just a backup solution

Marius Bilasco – centre forward, bought from FC Arges, ignored by other clubs for his poor scoring record in Liga I

Vasile Maftei – central defender, former Rapid captain, bought for just 400.000 Euros

Dan Matei – right back, former Gloria Bistrita captain

Laurentiu Marinescu – central midfielder, former Petrolul Ploiesti captain, wanted in the past by Rapid

As you can see, this is a team formed by underrated players, team leaders hungry for a new challenge, foreign footballers carefully selected. It was a job done with minimum investment mainly due to the fantastic work done by the Mihai Stoica and Dan Petrescu, who took care of things in a professional manner even after the transfer window was closed and the official matches began. A master of communication, Stoica was the liaison between players, staff and ownership, the shield that protected the squad from the opposition’s attacks and the referees’ habit of committing mistakes against specific teams. An excellent coach, Petrescu worked like a mad man not just to implement a style based on a solid defence and quick and direct attacks, but to make these players who generally hadn’t won anything believe that they can go on and win the league or fight for draws and wins against the likes of Seville, Stuttgart or Rangers.

This winning partnership was broken last winter, when Dan Petrescu decided to move on, signing for a second division club from Russia, Kuban Krasnodar, even though his team was about to face Liverpool, a tie that would have offered him the thing he craves for the most: exposure in the UK. It was a surprising move from the coach, but six months later it was Stoica’s turn to step down, angry that Dumitru Bucsaru lied to him (and made him look bad in front of the players) and continued to delay payments he should have made even before the league started. Two signals strong enough to believe that this club will fall apart very soon, as soon as the likes of Arlauskis, Galamaz, Brandan and Bilasco (bargain buys for a lot of clubs from Germany, Italy, even England!) would have been sold for sums between one or two million Euros. Two signals stronger than the six games gone without a win or a goal scored since the start of the season, one that could end earlier than expected or uglier than anyone would have imagined a year ago. Excepting Bucsaru, of course…

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