An ‘Identity Crisis’ for one of Europe’s Greats
European Cup glory is for most the barometer of success in the modern era of club football. To be the greatest on the continent, invariably makes you the greatest the world over and as a result Europe’s premier club competition is where the stars of our game are born and immortalised.
Europe has been dominated by an elite few; the likes of Real Madrid, AC Milan, Bayern Munich and Liverpool all having their turns at the summit of the club scene. Yet these spells have always been punctuated by other protagonists, often by the brief moments of glory that have left sides forever immortalised in the European game. In 1986 it was the turn of Romanian side Steaua Bucharest to steal the headlines; their penalty shootout success over Barcelona in Seville forged the club a reputation that it still holds to this day.
Steaua’s cup success in 1986 marked the beginning of a spell of European grandeur for the Romanians, winning the Super Cup in 1987, reaching further European Cup semi-finals and finals in the following two seasons.
Formed by the army in 1947, Steaua have by nature been a political beast for much of their existence. The word Steaua itself means star in Romanian, a striking symbol of the clubs significance within the former communist bloc. The famous red and blue of Steaua is again another reminder of the clubs richly steeped history that like with so many other clubs simply cannot be mirrored or matched.
Yet those that are familiar with the politics of Eastern Europe will know that nothing seems to last forever. Change has for several decades been the overriding theme in these parts, and for many of the regions major institutions it has simply become the norm not the exception.
Even with that in mind, few could truly have been braced for the news last week that has sent shockwaves throughout the footballing world.
Locked in a long running dispute with their founding fathers, the army. The Romanian Champions were just last week handed the news that their very existence was being called into question, with the countries highest court cancelling their registration, effectively leaving them as a team with no name.
The ministry had long argued, and since 2011 legally argued that Steaua were using the ‘brand’ illegally, a notion that the court have subsequently agreed with. On Sunday the club were introduced as simply ‘the Champions’, with any sense of a club identity absent from both the scoreboards and the players’ kits. The match itself was almost immaterial, a 1-0 victory over CSMS Iasi that will long be remembered not for the scoreline but for the precedent it could well have set in top level European football.
The situation though is ongoing, with the club being granted the right to participate in the Europa League this week as Steaua Bucharest whilst the situation is dealt with at home. Like with so many issues, money talks. Abuses of power are the norm; and it would be naïve not to expect such an outcome from the current standoff.
But this would be to treat the situation as purely political; emotionally football stands to lose so much more.
Steaua may not be the household name that they once were; but even so they can still consider themselves amongst the illustrious few to have truly accomplished something on the European stage. They are a huge club by tradition, and an institution that should be sorely missed if it were to continue on the treacherous path that its own government has placed it on.
This will for some seem an irrelevance, a problem for someone else and not for them, others perhaps simply a chance to reminisce about the great sides of yesteryear. In reality Steaua’s battle for identity is one that should resonate with nearly every fan in the modern era; whether it be a question of existence or one of self-character, football clubs and their composition are facets constantly being questioned and altered in todays world.
From Wimbledon to Bucharest and beyond, the battle for identity is fast upon us.