On Romanian Football: Identity.

This is a personal hypothesis about the current status of Romanian football and a concept of youth development.

In my previous article, “Football is not just a sport; It is an identity too.”, I described the means by which those players known to us as The Golden Generation manifested themselves as a national identity back in the 90’s, and how you could identify yourself with them. They were by all means role models, especially to youngsters.

It is this mechanism of “identification” that makes it impossible to ever identify yourself with a top Romanian football player nowadays, because they simply do not have it. They lack identity.

This begs the questions, is it identity the true asset that Romanian football needs at the moment to perform?

What about if to the player is assigned an identity? Which most of the times happens. Local club traditions are borrowed by the player from an early age, but is that truly his identity? I am fortunate enough to have had the privilege of engaging several Romanian football players on this subject and I can assure you that they are not forthcoming on this topic. They are already trained to be somebody else and they are obliged to stick to it.

What I have been able to glean, mostly by way of observing their reactions to interviews and several training sessions, is that the Romanian football players do not often, nor do they appear to care to believe in themselves. They lack confidence and leadership skills, letting others to take decisions for them and not managing to develop their own identity. Managers and officials not caring about personal development of a player is a common issue, and this does not appear to work so well for the performances in club competitions, neither international ones for football in Romania.

I would hypothesise based on this information, and from information gathered from other sources, that the club officials do not share the same ideas as the players. Do they make the right decisions for the players they have in order to help them develop themselves? Or they take the decisions in a way that advantages “everybody”? Thus, it might be possible that the individual can’t develop himself as a unique character. All pure speculation, of course — but the time does pass, and the results are yet to come. One must say something!

Here is a small part from Peter Schmeichel first autobiography, on Romanian football players. In regards to a game from 1989.

The Romanians were unbelievably aggressive and put us under pressure all the way through the game. We were unable to find a way to counteract their style and succumbed to a 3–1 defeat. We faced eleven Romanians about whom Soren Lerby later remarked: “They certainly hadn’t drunk buttermilk before the game!”.

Words belonging to the goalkeeper of the team that was going to win the European Championship 3 years after that game. That is an identity.


I believe a player, a youngster, in order to find his identity has to:

  • Do mistakes;
    As a mentor or friend you have to support his decisions and go with them, even if you know there are not the best sometimes. This way the learning comes faster and stays longer. You have to be there to pick him up after he failed and guide him to get back on track.
    Has to make mistakes and take decisions on himself.
  • Be inspired;
    As a mentor or friend you have to continuously inspire the player. Remember who the player is as a person. Just simply ask him questions like “What did you want to be when you grow up?”. Try Brendan Rodgers method, of asking the players mothers “What did their sons wanted to do when they grew up”. And then read the answers in front of the whole team. Maybe try the dutch way of Marco Van Basten: take the players on social events, dinners, arts performances although this way is not appealing to all kinds of players.
    Inspiration has to flow around him, role models play an important role here.
  • Build confidence;
    As a mentor or friend you have to make sure the player is not worried about future. For many players, and people in general, not knowing the future is scary, which eventually will build up pressure that leads them into taking wrong decisions or paths. Youngsters aim to be in the future what they see in others, in already established professionals, thus, they decide to use same products as them, look like them and act like them. And this is how another cheap copy will be developed instead of having your own identity. Help them be confident.
    Confidence has to be built through experiences, they have to stop worrying and start enjoy it.

This concept of lacking Identity is also known in Romanian football language with the following abbreviation “The Lost no. 10”. The idea behind is that since Hagi retired, a new number 10 did not step up. And we are still searching for it, more than 20 years now. Personally I saw this missing link, until last year, as being Nicolae Stanciu. Although, this article was written shortly after Hagi’s own team (FC Viitorul Constanța), founded 8 years ago, won the Romanian championship with a team average age of 22,6 years old.

Once the identity is found, then you can aspire to it; it will act as a beacon, allowing you to discover yourself and perform.

I am, of course, nothing more than a passionate person about this topic, an outsider, so it did not lie within my power to find the true nature of problems of current football status in Romania. These are my notes and ideas.

If you have a recommendation of a book that I have to read or if you have a project in mind about football or sports in general write me at:
hello [at] jeanpopescu.com

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