Steaua Bucuresti – known as Steaua – have the most lucrative history of any Romanian club and have made multiple successful European ventures in their history. But recently, the club has struggled to maintain its domestic dominance, as well as any hope of European glory.
Like so many upstart Eastern European sides, Steaua was formed following the end of the Second World War. Unlike many of those teams, however, Steaua was formed by the Romanian army and was originally comprised of military officers who were already playing competitively for other clubs. With the army founding its own team, Steaua was able to lure away these officers away to form a strong base for a growing team.
In each of its first three years in existence, the team placed higher in the league than it had the previous year before capturing a first title in 1951. It was the first of three championships in a row for the young Romanian side and kicked off an era of quality seasons for Steaua , who only finished outside of the top five in Romania twice between 1956 and 1971 and captured four more titles during that span.
The 70s proved to be the calm before the Romanian storm, as the club began its true golden era in 1984. After finishing second that year, Steaua won five consecutive league titles and made European dreams a reality in Romania. After years of being eliminated in the first or second round of the European Cup, now the UEFA Champions League, Steaua mounted an impressive run through the tournament before facing Barcelona in the final in 1986. The game was always going to be difficult for the Romanians against the Spanish giants, and it was made even tougher by the fact that the final was played in Seville, giving Barcelona a definite home-field advantage.
But Steaua did what most teams would when faced with a mountain to climb, playing a very disciplined and ferocious defensive game which went scoreless through 120 minutes. What happened next is one of the greatest moments in Champions League history as Steaua keeper Helmuth Duckadam saved all four Barca penalties to stun the 70,000 spectators. It’s still the biggest win in club history, but despite all their
efforts, Steaua has been unable to reach to top of European football again even after acquiring the greatest Romanian footballer of all time, Gheorghe Hagi, the year after winning the European Cup. While he helped Steaua in their continued capturing of league titles, Hagi was unable to bring European glory back to Romania, as Steaua were beaten in the semi-finals in 1988 and finals in 89.
However, the landscape of Romanian soccer was about to change, and there was nothing anyone involved in the sports business could do about it. In the all too common mix of politics and football, the Romanian revolution opened up the previously tyrannical state, allowing players to depart freely to the rest of the world. With their best players now being attracted by bigger clubs and paychecks elsewhere, it was impossible for Steaua (and other Romanian sides as well) to keep their nucleus together. The main man, Hagi, promptly left for Real Madrid in 1990.
Despite winning six consecutive domestic titles starting in 1993, the Romanian side saw a sharp decrease in its European success. The departure of Hagi and other local stars resulted in Steaua
The turn of the century has seen more league titles captured, but still more European misery. Currently, Steaua holds a seven-point lead in Romania and looks to be cruising towards their third consecutive title. But for the Romanian powerhouse, simply dominating domestically will not always be enough. Steaua’s fans are hungry for a return to European prominence, but until the club can start bringing in top talent again, that will remain a near-impossible task.