The 19th of June 2016 will probably stay in the collective memory of Romanians as a black day, a nightmare. Losing to Albania in a decisive European Championship match is a remarkable negative achievement that is not really what you'd wish for from your national football team. Judging from a different angle, the match between Romania and Albania brought a historical win for the latter. It was the team’s very first win at a final tournament and while Romania’s defeat hurts and leaves the sourest of tastes in our mouths, Albania’s win is savoured by its splendid fans and celebrated as a true national event. The team can still qualify for the last 16 as one of the best third-placed teams, depending on results from the rest of the groups.
It’s hard to put words to paper when there is so much to talk about. I’ll leave writing about Albania’s joy to someone else. The same with writing about its remarkable journey to even get to the European Championship for the first time and about its Italian coach, who managed to bring a whole new spirit to a team that Romania was able to defeat 6-1 not long ago, but wasn’t when it needed to do it most. I could have talked about Giovanni De Biasi, who leads Albania for five years now and who was granted Albanian citizenship in 2015. If his team manages to qualify for the last 16, or maybe even the quarter finals, De Biassi could very well run for President with real chances.
I could have also written about Sadiku, the striker who scored the decisive goal in Albania’s first win at a Euro tournament and whose name seems to bare a double fate for him. His name reminds us of what Romania – this sadistic bunch who deserve their sinister fate – managed to do (sadicu = the sadistic one in Romanian). Furthermore, his first name is Armando, maybe coming from a certain Diego Armando Maradona, and not his mom’s favourite soap opera character. There are statistics that I can write about too. Albania managed to score its first ever goal at a final tournament, while Romania failed to score from open play – only penalties. I won’t go on…
But I will copy what I found written on my Facebook when I opened it up this morning. It’s a text I wrote exactly two years ago, during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Naturally, Romania wasn’t there.
“Costa Rica defeats Italy and Uruguay. Uruguay overcomes England. Mexico draws with Brazil. Chile and Holland beat Spain. Australia plays like there’s no tomorrow. This World Cup already seems like one of the most interesting in recent memory. Second hand teams play next to big footballing powers, players leave their heart and soul on the pitch and fans from all around the world have gathered to support their idols.
In all of this, Romanians sit and watch on TV, some lucky ones even in the stands, as the teams competing show exactly why Romania is not there. I’ve never seen our national team play with the desire and ambition that these teams and their players show. At this World Cup, the alleged differences of value between teams have gone largely unnoticed and the entertainment it has shown so far is largely down to this. Small teams manage to punch above their weight against much stronger opposition. There truly are 'no more small teams', as the expression goes.
Romania is missing this exact quality. It cannot rise and play better when the setting needs it to do so and seems to not be able to surpass its mediocre condition. Romania misses that spark that can be seen on the pitch and in the players’ eyes that tells you the desire and passion are there. Maybe Romania not having a team in Brazil is for the best. Maybe we should all stay home and look at those playing there, in the country that breathes football, and then reflect on what we are missing.”
It feels like time simply stood still since then.
I don’t think there was a need for another alarm signal to be raised in regard to the poor shape of Romanian football. If there was, well, here it is. Maybe there really are no more small teams, but if there are, Romania is definitely one of them. It plays like one for a while now – defensive, pace-lacking football, although it lacks the ambition that small teams show too. Maybe it’s time for Romania to act like a small team. One without big plans and ambitions. It’s time for everyone to lower their heads and work according to a well thought plan and system.
First, the team needs a few things. It needs a coach which can work on the mental side of the players, because Romania has the weakest players in the world mentally. It needs some new and honest people to run the Football Federation. With a good long-term plan, they can regain the trust of Romanian supporters. It also needs, as Cristian Săpunaru perfectly pointed out after the game against Albania, a lot of kids and youth centres. Not only that, but people to manage them as well. Coaches that can teach the footballers of tomorrow what football and sport really is and means.
It’s hard to have such ambitions in a country like Romania. But we must, or else we risk standing still while the whole world evolves around us. What happened to our football and the national team at this European Championship is truly telling. Football has always been a mirror of society. In Romania’s case, a mirror of the ill society which we live in.