FC Rapid București began their spring season on Saturday with a 1-0 First Division win at relegation-threatened CSMS Iași. Not exceptional for the three-time national champions who reached last year's Romanian Cup final, other than for the fact 17 players were released over the winter.
Rapid reached an insolvency agreement in a Bucharest court in December and, as a result, key regulars including Vladimir Božović, Rui Duarte, Filipe Teixeira, Gláuber, Romeo Surdu, Nemanja Milisavljević, Renan da Silva and Dorin Goga departed for new clubs, with others becoming free agents. Rapid thus rid themselves of a number of players on high salaries in order to build a new home-grown squad on a more modest budget.
Although coach Marian Rada was able to hold onto stalwarts such as Romanian internationals Daniel Pancu, Nicolae Grigore and Ovidiu Herea, plus Ștefan Grigorie, he turned to many of the young players he had worked with when leading Rapid's reserve side in the third division. During winter training in Marbella, he formed a team dubbed 'Baby Rapid' or 'The Rapid Kindergarten' by the Romanian media, which impressed in friendlies on the Costa del Sol. Suddenly there was hope of avoiding a first relegation since 1989.
So at Iași, Rapid fielded an XI with only one foreign player – Brazilian goalkeeper Peçanha – the first time they had deployed a majority of Romanians since 23 May 2007, when their side comprised only home nationals. Peçanha's excellent performance was key to victory, while in front of him were the likes of left-back Nicolae Vasile, at 17 years and 56 days the youngest player in the top division this term.
Also making their debuts were 20-year-old Mădălin Martin and Florin Călin, 19, and overall the team's average age was under 25, a radical change for a club accustomed to experienced selections in recent times. "Those youngsters will get better and better," Rada said. "I am sure that in Spain we managed to form a competitive young squad."
So instead of looking down, Rapid are eighth and climbing. Of course, it is too early to say if they can maintain that position and Sunday's visit of UEFA Europa League-chasing FC Dinamo București will be a severe test. But it is encouraging to see talented Romanian players emerge – even in unusual circumstances.
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