Despite a myraid of problems affecting Romanian football, Dan Petrescu, coach of defending champions Unirea, remains optimistic.

By Radu Timofte in Bucharest
Although seven Romanian teams are competing in Europe this season, the country’s club sides remain one of European football’s poor relations.

Financial problems, the endless changing of coaches, corruption trials involving federation officials and players’ agents, dubious transfers abroad, refereeing scandals and supporter violence have all affected the game.

Yet despite all of this, Dan Petrescu, coach of defending champions Unirea Urziceni, remains hugely upbeat about the coming season. “Unirea have four competitions to win this season: Champions League, Romanian Super Cup, league and cup,” says the 41-year-old. “Why did I remember Champions League? There is a grain of lunacy in any mind, so why miss this grain from my players’ heads?”

Their closest title challengers last season were Timisoara, who are equally ambitious in stating that their aims this season are the domestic league and cup double, plus qualification for the group stage of the Champions League.

To help them in their quest, new coach Ioan Sabau has been recruited from Gloria Bistrita and he has brought Senegalese striker Gueye Mansour back into the first-team squad and signed international defender Alex Bourceanu from Otelul.

Dinamo have also got themselves a new boss, with former Roma, Milan and Juventus defender Dario Bonetti becoming the latest Italian coach to earn a living in the Romanian top flight. He was given the job when Mircea Rednic walked out following Cornel Dinu’s appointment as sporting director, but Bonetti faces a tough task trying to rebuild a team that have been deeply affected by their recent lack of success.

Gigi Becali, the owner of rivals Steaua, was happy to describe the arrival of his club’s new Italian coach, Cristiano Bergodi, as the “transfer of the season”. The newcomer wasted no time in shaking up his squad, dropping striker Dayro Moreno, winger Antonio Semedo, and midfielders Mihaita Plesan and Florin Lovin to the reserves, while bringing in Poland’s Rafal Grzelak from Greek side Skoda Xanthi and Bulgaria’s Krum Bibishkov from Litex Lovech.

CFR Cluj, champions in 2008, also have a new leader in Portuguese coach Toni. He will have to make do without defenders Alvaro Pereira and Andre De Souza Galiassi, who have left for Porto and Kasimpasa of Turkey respectively, while Canada goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld has signed for German club Energie Cottbus. Playmaker Eugen Trica has returned from Anorthosis of Cyprus.

Failure to qualify for Europe last season means Rapid owner George Copos does not have the funds to strengthen the Bucharest club’s squad this season, so supporters will just have to be content that their Brazilian duo, midfielder Cesinha and striker Juliano Spadaccio, have been retained.

The departure of coach Razvan Lucescu to take over the national team left Brasov without a leader for several weeks until the arrival of Nicolo Napoli lifted spirits. Meanwhile, the signing of striker Valentin Badea was such a boost for Universitatea Craiova that new team-mate Florin Soava claimed the club are now good enough to win their first championship for 18 years.

Former FIFA referee Adrian Porumboiu changed his mind about giving up ownership of Vaslui after the club’s last-minute qualification for the Europa League. However, there were few transfer dealings for young coach Cristian Dulca to enhance his side this summer.

A solid defence may make up for a lack of fresh faces for coach Sorin Cartu at Pandurii, while former international Dorinel Munteanu, who replaces Petre Grigoras in charge of Otelul, has bought in a dozen new players.

Grigoras is now in charge of Poli Iasi, who were rescued from relegation
by Bergodi last term before he joined Steaua, and they, along with Gloria Bistrita, could struggle again.

Gaz Metan were relegated last season but reprieved when the Romanian Football Federation decided to relegate Arges Pitesti instead after owner Cornel Penescu was found guilty of corruption.

Newly promoted International from the city of Curtea de Arges brought eight new players but look destined to return to the second tier.

Astra Ploiesti, a poor club who spent six years in the lower divisions, Unirea Alba Iulia and Ceahlaul Piatra Neamt, back in the top flight after a one-year exile, will also struggle.