Defender Iasmin Latovlevici understands the unique allure of the FC Steaua Bucureşti shirt. "No other Romanian team can compare to Steaua," he said. "It starts with the kit and ends with all the smaller details."
That red and blue jersey was famously worn by the champions of Europe in 1985/86, but while Steaua continue to shine on the continental stage, their position as the leading lights of Romanian football has been a little more nebulous over the last decade.
Just two league titles, in 2005 and 2006, and a solitary Romanian Cup in 2011 represents a poor return for the Bucharest club but, as they look to complete a double against Molde FK in UEFA Europa League Group E, there is every reason to suggest that the current crop are ready to extend their record for Romanian titles to 24 this term.
CFR 1907 Cluj have been the toast of Romania in recent seasons, winning three national titles, three domestic cups and two Super Cups while giving a good account of themselves in the UEFA Champions League, but Steaua are not accustomed to being overshadowed. Romania's most successful club with 21 cup triumphs alongside their 23 championship crowns, this season they have vented that frustration on all comers; 14 games in they already lead the way by eight points.
A squad that features no less than nine regular Romanian internationals – including the league's 11-goal top scorer Raul Rusescu – is also a major factor in their success. Coach Laurențiu Reghecampf has played a significant part too, the one-time Steaua midfielder making good use of what he learned in a nine-year spell in German football.
The 37-year-old played for Energie Cottbus, TSV Alemannia Aachen and 1. FC Kaiserslautern, and the second youngest coach in the Romanian league has brought a distinctly Germanic slant to Steaua. His side do not sweep aside opponents – most of their league wins have been by one-goal margins – but they are efficient and, thanks to a German fitness coach, remarkably durable.
That combination of composure and long-life batteries has served them well in Europe too, where they top a challenging section and are already well on the way towards earning a place in the knockout stages. A repeat of their 2-0 defeat of Ole Gunnar Solskjær's Molde on matchday three could put them into the round of 32 if other results go their way.
Reghecampf is quietly pleased. "There are some negatives, but I would say we are doing well as a team," he said. "Let's not forget we are top of the table. I don't know if we can still lose the title, but anything can happen in football so I will have to keep my players' feet on the ground and get them to maintain that standard to the end."
Honouring that red and blue shirt is, as ever, what is demanded of the Steaua players. "It is crucial to respect our sport and be proud after every game we play," said Reghecampf. Their guard has rarely slipped this season.
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