The Romanian Divizia A season begins on Friday - with Bucharest's 14-year championship monopoly under threat.
By Paul-Daniel Zaharia
The 88th Romanian Divizia A season begins on Friday - with Bucharest's 14-year championship monopoly under threat.
FC Steaua Bucuresti took a record 22nd title in 2004/05, pipping the only other recent champions, FC Dinamo Bucuresti and AFC Rapid Bucuresti. However, a team that has not claimed first place for 67 years could well finish top next summer.
FC Politehnica AEK Timisoara, thanks to the backing of oil company Balkan Petroleum, have spent millions of euro over the summer. The well-supported sixth-placed team have recruited Romanian internationals Marius Popa, Gabriel Caramarin, Gigel Coman, Adrian Olah, Viorel Moldovan and Ovidiu Petre as well as Australian defender Jonathan McKain and 36-year-old coach Cosmin Olaroiu from FC National Bucuresti.
Steaua received the blow of veteran midfielder Dorinel Munteanu's departure to CFR Cluj as player-coach. Goalkeeper Martin Tudor followed Munteanu to Cluj, while the only Steaua signing is CF Otelul Galati forward Victoras Iacob. The size of new coach Oleg Protasov's task was shown in their 3-2 Super Cup loss to Dinamo on Sunday, and Steaua were held 0-0 at Irish side Shelbourne FC in their UEFA Champions League second qualifying round first leg last week.
Romanian Cup holders Dinamo, fresh from defeating Steaua, have retained coach, Ioan Andone, but have a new board, led by executive president Ioan Becali. With a €10m budget, Dinamo have raided relegated FC Universitatea Craiova, the last non-capital-based champions, for Mihaita Plesan, Cozmin Moti, striker Florin Bratu and goalkeeper Mariko Daouda. Fellow UEFA Cup entrants Rapid have €3.5m to spend, and have added Bogdan Mara, Emil Dica and Romeo Stancu.
European debutants Cluj not only hold a 2-1 lead going into the home leg of their UEFA Intertoto Cup semi-final with FK Žalgiris Vilnius, but could also challenge hard on the domestic front thanks to the arrival of Munteanu, Tudor, Romeo Surdu and Cristian Coroian.
FC Farul Constanta, the highest provincial team last term in fifth, are also possible contenders, while FC Vaslui, promoted along with CS Pandurii Lignitul Târgu Jiu and CS Jiul Petrosani, have the biggest number of foreign players, ten. Even if they struggle, only two sides will be relegated, with four teams coming up as the league expands to 18 - part of a wider reform of reducing the numbers in the next two levels to improve quality.