A club in financial despair, a manager willing to use his own money to ensure their survival, an owner with motives unknown. Radu Baicu tells us a Romanian horror story.
Victor Piturca's arrival at struggling Universitatea Craiova, one of the most beloved teams in Romania and traditional rival to the Bucharest clubs, was supposed to be all about a revival in the fortunes of ‘the White and Blue Love’. Some of the most promising players in Romania now had the chance to shine under the command of the former national team coach, who came to Craiova with a very ambitious project. At the heart of his future plans was just about the strangest agreement you'll have ever come across between a club’s manager and its owner.
Adrian Mititelu – the club’s owner – was struggling under the weight of huge financial problems that threatened their very existence. After several failed attempts to broker deals and loans to pull the club from the mire, it was Piturca himself who provided a light at the end of the tunnel. After securing his move from Steaua Bucharest (much to the disgust of owner Gigi Becali) Piturca signed a 3-year deal to become Craiova’s manager but on top of that, also brokered a unique deal to alleviate some of the pressure on the clubs’ finances.
He promised to loan the club (with interest!) the money needed to survive until January 2011. By that time, the owner should have made some of the longer term moves he had in place to ensure the money would be there to repay Piturca and make a further €5m available to invest back into the team. In theory the plan ensured Craiova’s survival, allowed the time to secure further investment, and kick started Piturca's plans to build a squad capable of mounting a title challenge.
From top to bottom, Craiova were a total mess. Staff had gone unpaid for almost an entire year, most players at least 5 months. The unpaid bills for the stadium and the club's utilities were huge and still mounting. Former players were suing Universitatea for lost earnings and compensation and Piturca's transfer plans looked to be in doubt until these issues were resolved. The club's training camp was also in desperate need of investment, water pouring through the ceiling and facilities all well past their best. In reality, it was a miracle that Universitatea were still in existence, let alone playing first division football.
Piturca used his own loaned money to solve as many of these problems as he could and set about trying to improve the squad. The extremely passionate crowd immediately responded to the gesture and manager's nickname of ‘Satan’ looked like getting an angelic makeover. Over 20,000 fans returned to ‘Ion Oblemenco’ and there was talk about a possible qualification for the UEFA Cup again, a competition where Craiova had made a mark in 1982 by reaching the semi-finals and taking out clubs like Fiorentina, Bordeaux and Kaiserslauten on route. Everything appeared to be looking up for the club but behind the scenes, things were not what they seemed.
Unable to come up with the agreed investments and feeling he was no longer in control of his own club, Adrian Mititelu asked the bodyguards to stop Piturca and his staff at the gates as they came to meet the team and resume training after the winter break. The owner had been angered by the manager's decision to consider a deal that would have sent some of the club's hottest prospects to CFR Cluj, as well as his lack of reaction to the imminent departure of unpaid Bulgarians Iliev and Gargorov. Piturca on the other hand, saw CFR's offer as a chance to get some cash flow back into the club having realized that since August, he’d been the only one investing any money. He asked Mititelu to respect the agreement they’d made and start delivering on his promises.
The bubble burst with a huge televised scandal, important facts lost in and amongst ridiculous and hilarious comments. The bald Mititelu: ‘You hired bald cooks at the club!’. The bold Piturca: ‘Your cook was only able to make scrambled eggs. You don't even know what prosciutto and parmesan are!’. It was a mistake from the manager to sink to the owner’s level as details began to emerge of the depth of Mititelu’s mismanagement
The owner was also hired as a General Director, so was paid a salary by Piturca of €10k per month according to the terms of his contract while all around others lost their wages. The owner also used to come after home games and take all the cash collected from sold tickets for personal use. All the payments made by Piturca had come directly from his pocket while Universitatea struggled having had their bank accounts frozen.
Right now, Mititelu has to pay Piturca €5m to sack him and the manager and his staff have been suspended pending an investigation for ‘unprofessional behaviour’ in the hope that Piturca will eventually resign, forfeiting what he’s owed. Angry fans are now gathering daily to protest against this treatment and demanding Mititelu severs his ties with the club. The wider picture is one of chaos and despair that such a situation has been allowed to exist, and the Romanian FA may face a serious investigation into their handling of the matter.
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