Contrary to popular belief, taking over a club and transforming it into one capable of reaching the Champions League group stages doesn’t necessarily require petroleum money.
Anzhi Makhachkala spent hundreds of millions without even reaching the best club competition in the world.
So how could a club from a city with a population of 18,320 people with relatively scarce funds pull it off?
3 is the magic number
Dumitru Bucsaru bought third-tier Romanian club Unirea Urziceni back in the summer of 2002. Only three years later, the club was promoted for the first time to Romania’s top division.
After a period of (once again) three years, they won the title in their 3rd year of Liga 1 participation. Winning the top division also guaranteed Champions League qualification for the next season.
Former Chelsea full-back Dan Petrescu was appointed as manager in 2006.
One year later, Steaua’s General Manager Mihai Stoica joined up with Super Dan to create a strong technical and managerial units. These were probably the most important two signings of the club, ahead of any player.
The players themselves in fact were mostly disregarded, dubbed rather dramatically “The Squad of the Unwanted“.
Ridiculously Successful Transfer Windows
Let’s not talk about wages (Player salaries were roughly between £20-30k per annum, similar to what you’d get working in Topshop in the UK). Instead, let’s have a look at the deals from the point the club were taken over to the point they the won the title:
The vast majority of signings were free agents. They only paid over £176k for a player in the 2008-2009 season – which was when they actually won the title – and their highest transfer fee was £440k.
The season Unirea won the title was one of the most competitive of the decade. The Bucharest Big 3 had just started their notable decline, but other promising clubs like CFR Cluj, Vaslui and Timisoara were all launching title bids.
Liga I 2008-2009 Final Standings
Despite losing 2nd spot after losing to Stuttgart in the final fixture, they still became the most successful Romanian team in Europe ever by gathering 8 points in the Group stages of the most prestigious club competition.
Progress in the UEFA Cup was short-lived after their post-Group Stage entrance, losing 1-4 on aggregate to Liverpool.
So where are they now?
Even though they finished runners-up next season, the club looked sure to disappear. Unfortunately, the chairman had found himself in a lot of trouble with his real estate business during the recession.
He decided to withdraw the €25+ million from the club to salvage his personal future.
All the money gained through Champions League participation and players being sold went in his pocket.
There was no return for football: All the players were sold, the club got relegated and was eventually abolished in 2011.
The reason behind their success
Their chairman was like a shadow. He was always hiding from the cameras and most people didn’t have any idea how he looked like. That was also good because he didn’t want to get involved and mess around with the technical aspects of the game, unusual for a Liga 1 club owner.
But if I had to use only one word to describe the true reason behind their success, it would be discipline.
Super Dan was probably the most terrifying character you could find. You just couldn’t live with him if you didn’t have an exaggerated work rate.
He was the type of guy that would surely get the best out of you, and he did exactly that at Urziceni. And this why I haven’t mentioned any of the players. Only Pablo Brandan and Raul Rusescu eventually performed as expected further in their career.
Everyone feared him to be honest… The only moments he wasn’t shouting were either when he was attending press conferences or during interviews.