“In 1984 I was with Steaua at a tournament in Gijon in Spain,” former Steaua Bucureşti striker Victor Pițurcă told UEFA.com. “I bought my one-year-old son a tiny kit of my favourite team Barcelona. I couldn’t have guessed that two years later I was going to beat them in a final.”
No one could have. Steaua’s success in Seville 30 years ago today remains among the most startling triumphs in European Champion Clubs’ Cup history. “We were a team from eastern Europe, with no money, and we achieved so much because we were very good players and formed a very good team,” added Pițurcă.
The final was an endurance test. Scoreless after 120 minutes, Steaua won 2-0 on penalties after Helmut Duckadam famously saved all four Barcelona spot kicks. UEFA.com recalls a true ‘Golden Generation’.
Romania’s ‘Golden Generation’ is generally reckoned to be the Gheorghe Hagi-inspired national team that sparkled in the 1990s, but Pițurcă disagrees, saying of Steaua: “We were Romanian football’s golden generation. We won domestic trophies and two European trophies [the European Cup and the 1986 UEFA Super Cup] – the most important ones – and we had continuity at the highest level for five years.” That Steaua side claimed five straight titles and four Romanian Cups, and went a record 104 league games unbeaten from 1984 to the December ’89 revolution, as well as reaching the 1988 European Cup semis and 1989 final.
Emerich Ienei’s outfit were nicknamed ‘The Speedies’, the coach explaining: “In training, we did one-touch football. Only when the boys lost their focus, because it’s very difficult to keep that up, did I accept two-touch football.”
His regular cast featured defenders Ștefan Iovan, Adrian Bumbescu, Ilie Bărbulescu and Miodrag Belodedici, iron midfielders Tudorel Stoica, Lucian Bălan and Laszlo Bölöni, creative director Mihail Majearu and forwards Victor Pițurcă, Marius Lăcătuș and Gavril Balint. Hagi, meanwhile, announced his arrival with the winner against Dynamo Kyiv in the 1986 UEFA Super Cup, by which time Ienei was Romania coach.
The tactical genius
A Steaua player from 1957–69, Ienei knew the club inside out. He had won championships during an earlier spell as coach before returning in 1983. His tactics and understanding of his players made him a superb technician.
“I didn’t hold endless team meetings before matches, because long meetings drain players’ concentration,” he remembered. “I preferred to analyse opponents step by step; every short meeting was a step forward.”
Another trademark technique, he recollected, was “announcing the starting XI three days before every match”. He explained: “It doesn’t make sense to keep the players tense until the eve of a game – if they are tense, other problems might arise and who knows what might happen.”
The final drama
Steaua beat Vejle, Honvéd, Lahti and Anderlecht to get to the Seville final, but were considered rank outsiders in their opponents’ home country. Ștefan Iovan, who stood in for suspended captain Stoica, recalled: “People were telling us we didn’t have a chance, but we weren’t scared at all, because we had formed a team with real personality.” He added: “Ienei said, ‘Wouldn’t it be a pity not to take the trophy having reached the final’, knowing the chance might never come again.”
Steaua neutralised Barcelona brilliantly, the crowd’s anxiety playing on Terry Venables’ team as the game wore on. “The atmosphere was fantastic – against us, of course – but sometimes a hostile atmosphere makes you feel even stronger,” Duckadam said. The goalkeeper, of course, proved unbeatable.
“The fact we reached extra time gave us hope that we could make it to penalties too,” he continued. “Previously, almost every Romanian team had lost shoot-outs in Europe, so winning on penalties was something unique. We didn’t have a player who could decide a match on their own, but we had a very good team with very good players.”
Pițurcă – now a day short of his 60th birthday and coaching al-Ittihad in Saudi Arabia – had further reason to celebrate since he turned 30 at midnight, shortly after the trophy lift although he insists such thoughts never crossed his mind.
“Honestly I didn’t have a clue I could have celebrated my birthday on the pitch,” he said. “I was fully focused on the game, but now you mention it, you are right. But how could I possibly have thought of my birthday at a time like that?”
“With God’s help we managed it and receiving the trophy and raising it above my head were unbelievable moments,” Iovan added. “Like a dream – something you cannot put into words.”