Only 7 years ago, Unirea Urziceni found themselves in the third tier of Romanian football, tonight they will be at Anfield to face Liverpool. From a town in South East Romania that has only 17,000 inhabitants, it is some feat, and one that hasn’t taken long in its fruition. After winning the Romanian third division in 2003, Unirea was taken over by Valahorum, a company run by the Dumitru Bucsaru who made his money buying up unfinished state apartment blocks after the overthrow of Ceausescu in 1989. Shrewd investment in the team got the small club from Urziceni promoted as runners-up to the Premier League in 2006.
To judge how small the club is you only have to look at the stadium. Surrounded by Vineyards, it only holds 7,000 and it is only this big because of renovation work which came about after Valahorum’s takeover. The club is also extremely young, considering it was only founded in 1954, and they played locally in the Ialomita region for many years. Since then, success has been minor, they achieved a last 16 Romanian Cup spot in 1988 and they were promoted to the second division in the same year. The sponsorship from Valahorum was crucial though and the club was renamed FC Unirea Valahorum Urziceni.
The first season in the top flight in the 2006/07 season started off badly and there was a great risk of relegation. Dan Petrescu however was brought in as manager and former Steaua Bucharest President Mihai Stoica was brought in as Chairman to turn the situation around, and they achieved their aim by finishing tenth. From then on, the only way has been up for Urziceni and they finished fifth in their second season before remarkably winning the title last year. They won the title after beating FC Timisoara 4-1 and finished on 70 points, three ahead of their nearest rivals. The previous 25 of the last 26 Romanian championships have gone to teams in the capital Bucharest, but Unirea, along with CFR Cluj, have begun to take the stranglehold away from the capital in recent seasons.
Even though Valahorum’s financial investment can be credited for much of the success at Unirea, Dan Petrescu had built a very good team. The investment still had been less than their Bucharest rivals but manager Petrescu still managed to beat them to the title, and with only six foreign players in the squad too. Despite having talented foreign players in left sided Argentinian midfielder Pablo Brandan and a Brazilian holding midfielder in Ricardo Gomes who both helped the team to the league title last season, home grown talent such as captain George Galamaz and Marius Onofras have also contributed greatly to the team’s success.
During this season’s Champions League campaign they beat Rangers 4-1 in Glasgow and Sevilla 1-0 at home. Petrescu however left Unirea in December by mutual consent and it is up to Israeli Ronny Levy to keep the club on a positive footing in the Europa League. Unirea have been on their winter break since mid December when they beat CS Politehnica Iasi 2-0 in the league, and it will be interesting to see how they cope at Anfield lacking match sharpness and with a brand new manager.