The magic of the UEFA Champions League has never belonged exclusively to powerhouses like AC Milan, Real Madrid CF, Manchester United FC or FC Barcelona. Every season produces romance, rewards for ambition and a chance for novices to pit their wits against legends. This time it is the turn of Romanian titleholders FC Unirea Urziceni.
Despite only being promoted to Romania's Liga 1 three years ago, Unirea have since reached their first domestic cup final, competed in the UEFA Cup and won their first title: they are significantly ahead of the schedule agreed by coach Dan Petrescu and his general manager Mihai Stoica. Instead of a projected date of 2011 for Unirea to even make their UEFA competition bow the Wolves of Baragan, from a town of just 17,000, will play Sevilla FC, Rangers FC and VfB Stuttgart in Group G for what Petrescu admits would be a "miracle" berth in the knockout rounds.
But the former Chelsea FC and FC Steaua Bucureşti right-back believes a link between himself and Sir Alex Ferguson could bring about the greatest of shocks. "When I arrived at the club in 2006 I wasn't happy with the way things looked and I decided to change many players," the 41-year-old told uefa.com. "We've sold 24 guys and bought 22 – there's only one player left from the day I arrived [Epaminonda Nicu]. The example we have followed is Manchester United where the manager has the final say on all buying and selling, rather than the board deciding for him.
"In our country Unirea are the only club where the manager has this power. It has made the players stronger because I've already explained to them: 'I wanted you here … it's not that I just found you here. Some people thought you were finished, but I believe in you.' However, the players must not to go to Seville or Stuttgart or Rangers just to swap shirts. Some Romanian players actually do that – they are only waiting for the final whistle to swap shirts with the big stars. Not my team. We'll go everywhere to win."
That is a big ask, particularly on Matchday 1 when Group G favourites Sevilla host the Romanian side. "The first game is the one I didn't want to start with," admits Petrescu who played in the semi-final and then the final of this competition with Steaua in 1988 then 1989. There is one happy coincidence, though: it was at the Rámon Sánchez-Pizjuán stadium that Steaua defeated FC Barcelona on penalties in the 1986 European Champion Clubs' Cup final. Petrescu was still a youth-team player, but knows Unirea might need to draw inspiration from the venue. "Sevilla have a lot of experience in UEFA competition and will start as big favourites," he said. "We know we cannot gift them any space because they have so much strength and quality and they are very good at free-kicks. But in football many things can happen."
Dan Petrescu spoke to uefa.com at the recent UEFA Elite Coaches Forum.
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