Protasov parting on good terms

Ukrainian coach Oleg Protasov may have some tearful moments as he gets ready to say goodbye to FC Steaua Bucuresti after tonight's UEFA Cup tie in Berlin.

Heading home
On Friday, 199 days after taking charge of Steaua, Protasov will spend his final day in Bucharest before flying to Athens to join his family for Christmas. Then, on 1 January, he will head to his home town in Ukraine to take the helm of his new club, FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.

Contrasting personalities
After Walter Zenga's colourful reign at Steaua, which brought qualification for the last 16 of the 2004/05 UEFA Cup, Protasov has introduced a more rigid sense of professionalism and stability. While Zenga was known for his temper, Protasov has been notable for his calm and quiet.

Worrying start
His tenure got off to a worrying start as Steaua lost what was considered an eminently winnable UEFA Champions League qualifying tie against Rosenborg BK. However, subsequent results - not least the two victories and draw that secured Steaua's progress in the UEFA Cup - have won over the doubters.

Becali pleased
Steaua owner Gigi Becali is certainly a fan of Protasov and even when the coach announced his early departure, Becali was magnanimous, telling the Romanian media: "Under the terms of his contract, Protasov should have paid us €150,000 in the event of ending his contract early. But I won't ask him to do this, because this would be like a punishment, a fine. He has worked hard and done very well. Why should I take his money?"

Generous gesture
Astonished and impressed by the gesture, Protasov responded: "You Romanians have proved to me that you are good people. I don't know many other countries where something like this would happen. Fact is, I should have paid this €150,000. Instead I will donate €50,000 to Mr Becali's charitable causes to benefit Romanian children. It's my way of contributing to the future of this country."

Hard decision
Protasov also said: "Although we have lost a few matches, I have only fond memories. There is a fantastic atmosphere at Steaua and that's why it was very difficult for me to take this decision, even if I am going back home. If I could, I would bring the entire team to Dnipro."

Winning ambition
Hertha - still looking to book their place in the knockout phase - will not be happy to hear Protasov has plans for his farewell fixture. "I will field my best lineup," he revealed. "We do not want to lose and would like to finish the group in first place."

Worthy farewell
Such a result would provide a worthy send-off, not just for Protasov, but for a whole era in the club's history. When Cosmin Olaroiu succeeds the Ukrainian on 1 January, Steaua will move to the 60,000-seater National Lia Manoliu stadium so work can begin on the reconstruction of their Ghencea ground. Protasov may be as good as gone, but as Becali would be pleased to concede, you cannot stand in the way of progress.