Romanian contenders FC Otelul Galati are thriving in the UEFA Cup despite chaos at home.
By Paul-Daniel Zaharia
Anyone who watched the cool manner in which FC Otelul Galati dispatched Albania's KS Dinamo Tirana by a 4-0 margin in the first leg of their UEFA Cup first qualifying round fixture would have struggled to spot that Sorin Cartu's side were a club undergoing a deep crisis.
Fifth in the Romanian table in 2003/04 and Romanian Cup finalists for the first time in their history, things seemed to be going swimmingly for Otelul in the spring. Even a 2-0 defeat against league champions FC Dinamo Bucuresti in the cup final was not so bad, as it opened the door to the UEFA Cup.
However, the team which has thrived despite an absence of big stars, relying on dependable top-flight journeymen like defenders Cornel Dobre, Gheorghe Rohat and Stefan Nanu, the midfielder Ciprian Danciu or the strikers Danut Oprea, Augustin Calin or Cristian Negru, was falling apart behind the scenes.
Soon after the cup final, it was revealed that the club had been unable to pay its players thanks to debts of €165,000. In addition to this, any hopes of bringing in some revenue by playing their opening UEFA Cup game at home were dashed by reconstruction work to the Otelul stadium and the parlous state of Galati's other arena, the Dunarea.
The players threatened to strike for their unpaid wages and the game against Dinamo looked to be under threat until, two days before kick-off, the club were finally able to pay up thanks to the arrival of the first instalment of Otelul's television money for the season.
Nonetheless, when the team finally kicked off against at the Gheorghe Hagi stadium in Constanta, a full 250km away from Galati, few could have had high hopes. "We will do what we can in the circumstances," said coach Cartu. Such an emphatic victory, then, was entirely unexpected. Captain Viorel Tanase said that the result was a tribute to his team-mates pride and tenacity. "We played for our honour and for our country," he said.
However, that kind of spirit may be called upon again in the second leg in the Albanian capital after more turmoil in the Otelul camp. With midfield player Iulian Apostol leaving for FC Farul Constanta, Cartu threatened to quit a few days ago. "Nothing has been done to strengthen the team," he fumed. "The heads of this club are useless.
I could leave at any moment, even during half-time at a match."
Since last season, Otelul have brought veteran midfield player Tanase back from FC Arges Pitesti and signed striker Victoras Iacob from AFC Rapid Bucuresti, but still the squad is threadbare. Tellingly, for the first leg against Dinamo, they named a squad of just 19 including three goalkeepers, two junior team players and three players who are about to leave the club because their contracts or loan spells are expiring.
Cartu has calmed down somewhat since club president Nicolai Boghici pledged to bring in new players, saying: "For the moment, I am staying. I am coach and I have to do my duty and I will stay in Galati as long as everybody pulls their weight."
Whether the honour and national pride that inspired Tanase in the first leg will reappear in the second remains a mystery. The sad fact for Otelul is that, for most of their squad, the prime motivation for playing well in Tirana on Thursday would seem to be finding a new team as soon as possible.