The sad story of Sportul Studentesc

Regie could have already seen its last game

Just when we thought our sporting week couldn’t get any worse, we discover that Sportul Studentesc – the only Romanian football team we have ever given rat’s arse about – face oblivion. Unbeaten and top of the Romanian second division, Sportul were due to play their first game after the winter break today, at home (well, close to it: as their own ground is currently out of circulation they were scheduled to play at Juventus Bucuresti, in Colentina) to Farul Constanta.

Alas it was not to be. Come kick off time, the Sportul players named on the team sheet were in the stands as opposed to on the pitch, on strike in protest at the repeated failure of the club to pay them their wages. Farul were awarded the game 0-3 by default.

Owed, in some cases, as much as two years’ worth of pay, Sportul’s first team squad has had enough and are demanding that they either be paid or released from their contracts (as free agents they would be able to sign for other teams, even outside the transfer window).

Quite what happens now is anybody’s guess, but with the club’s owner Vasile Siman not looking likely to back down, Sportul face playing the rest of the season with the youth team: promotion, until this weekend almost a certainty, now looks unlikely.

Indeed, seeing out the season at all would probably now be viewed as a success. The club looks doomed. Its own stadium – Regie – has no utilities (like the players, unpaid for years – we wrote about the situation back in September, when we last went to see Sportul play) and weeds are growing in the stands. It will take a fair bit of investment to make the ground usable again. We must alas assume that Regie has already seen its last game.

This is a shame for anyone with a sense for the history of Romanian football. Sportul are one of the oldest clubs in the country (founded in 1916 as the football team of Bucharest University) and have given the game a number of fine players over the years. Gheorghe Hagi, who first came to prominence at Sportul, is not the least of them. We should not forget either that Dan Petrescu cut his managerial teeth here.

If Sportul actually had any fans, now would be a good time for them to start a ‘Save Sportul’ fund.

  • ekk

    This is a bit off topic, and I’m sorry for that, but I just had to ask: When exactly did “capital living” become “mundane living”?
    It still says ‘capital’ on the page title, but that may be a bit of extra slyness on your part, I’m not sure 🙂

    • Well spotted. Some idiot wrote a review of this blog a while back and called it ‘mundane’. So in the spirit of Edith Piaf (‘make virtues of your faults’) I changed it to exactly that: mundane.

      • Giuseppe

        City life is usually mundane, so a blog about it should reflect that 😛

      • ekk

        Well, then I must say you’re doing a great job of picking out the interesting parts from a “mundane life”. Cheers!

  • Ethan

    How much did the owner pay for this team in the first place? How do you make football at that level a viable business?

    • Giuseppe

      I don’t think he payed anything; around 98-99 the club was struggling against relegation into the third division. Then president, a guy called “Mac” Popescu, brought Vasile Şiman in as an investor and pretty soon the guy was running the whole operation.

      Over the next seasons the club relied on a squad made up of very talented young players; Sportul Studentesc had maintained one of the best youth systems in the country, despite limited resources. These young players had very low wages, even by the standards of Romanian football at the time; so with very few transfers and low wages the club could survive on a limited budget even once they promoted back to the first division.

      In fact, once in the first division, I suspect most of Sportul’s small budget was covered by things like sponsorship and the few hundred thousands that made up the TV money back in the early 2000s.

      Anyway, cutting the story short, Şiman made a considerable amount of money by selling most of those players over the course of the next few seasons. The club continued to produce relatively talented players during the mid 2000s, despite minimal investment in the youth setup, who, in turn, would also be converted into cash. During the time, the club also made a few good seasons, finishing well into the top half of the table.

      When the club’s fortunes turned for the worse and failed to get a license for the first division, details of which aren’t important for the sake of this discussion, the team went back into the second division. Here, survival meant a lot less money and a lot less talent, so he sold off some of the remaining top assets. Other were basically turned into “captives”. Players like Dacian Varga or Tiberiu Bălan were too good to play in the second division and, instead of selling them, Şiman decided to go for another approach: loaning them out, on a season-by-season basis to the highest bidder. The players themselves were coerced into signing extension on their contracts: you want to play at a big(ger) team for a decent wage? Well you can go on loan, but only if you extend your contract with Sportul. You don’t want to do that? Well you can waste your talent in the second division over the next few years.

      These “captive” players have probably been the main and only real stream of revenue for the club. And even that probably wasn’t enough to convince Şiman do actually invest anything meaningful into a new generation of players.

      This season’s squad showed some promise and was edging closer to promotion; I imagine Şiman wanted (or wants) to keep this team together with almost no money until he could cash in on this new generation of players once he was back into Liga 1.

      I don’t know how familiar you are with Romanian football, but one thing you have to understand is that, if in Liga 1 thing have been tough in recent years in terms of budgets and big clubs have gone into all sorts of trouble, in the lower divisions most of the teams have been running in “survival mode” for many, many years and quite a lot of them eventually run out of steam and simply die.

      • Giuseppe

        Also, I should remember to proofread these long comments before clicking on “submit”. 😀

      • Excellent reply, thanks.

        • Giuseppe

          The really unfortunate thing is that occasional decent results, like CFR Cluj’s 10 points in the CL and away win at Old Trafford, or Steaua’s recent form, serve to hide or, at least, shift the focus away from all the things that are truly horribly wrong with the way Romanian football is managed, both at macro-level (the FA and the Professional League), and at individual club level.

          The fact that Romanian teams with comparatively tiny budgets have, on occasion, punched well above their weight, only goes to shows there’s considerable potential in Romanian football. The fact a club like Sportul Studenţesc was capable of producing relatively good players with next to no money shows the same.

          But, like Romania as a whole, that potential is almost always squandered, because the people in charge are too poorly prepared and/or too corrupt.

          As a native of Bucharest, I’ve been a Steaua supporter nearly all my life. I attended my first match 20 years ago, a Dinamo – Steaua derby at the old Naţional. I was 6 and I’ll never forget the joy in our section of the stadium, the wooden benches, the rather steeply inclined floodlight pylons that loomed overhead, and the old-style electronic scoreboard that to a young kid who didn’t know any better was so impressive.

          Considering my lifelong attachment to the club, for the supporter in me it’s nigh on impossible to wish luck to our Bucharest rivals. However I can’t help but realize that the way things are in Romanian football, our recent streak of fortune may be all but fleeting; I can’t help but look over the fence to what’s happening at Dinamo, at Rapid, and even at little Sportul, and not feel a bit of apprehension. My feelings for these three clubs are rather mixed, no point in going into details about it, but there’s no denying that without local rivals life would be more… mundane 😀

  • Mister Rearguard

    Surely if the players are not being paid then their contracts are meaningless i.e they are free to move on to another club.

    • Anon

      You’re forgetting where you are…

      • Mister Rearguard

        Oh yeah, silly me!

        • The players will, eventually, be free of their contracts if they continue to go unpaid. Problem is their case has to go first to the League, then the Romanian FA, then UEFA. It takes months, if not years.

          • laur

            so craig, your son.. does he have a favourite team at his age?
            and don t lie))))

            • Chelsea of course. You don’t choose which team you support.

              • Giuseppe

                Of course you do, you silly Brit. 😀

      • Parmalat

        =)) true, I think the regulations say after 3 months of not receiving payment they may be declared as free agents, but the commission (which should be autonomous but in fact is subordinated to the Liga Profesionista de Fotbal) usually refuses to declare players as free agents.

  • Giuseppe

    I’m sorry about what’s happenining to Sportul; compared to Vasile Şiman even George Copos is a guy with deep and open pockets. Unfortunately Sportul has so few fans that, even if they wanted to do something, I doubt they would be able to save bodega* from around the corner.

    *bodega = tavern, pub, usually run down and dirt-cheap.