As we approach game week seventeen Snagov find themselves in 2nd place behind Chindia Târgovişte, the form side of the division. The top of Liga 2 is very tight with only six points separting first and seventh place.
Snagov do not play tomorrow and will be able to take the time to see how their promotion rivals perform in the Saturday fixtures. Chindia Târgovişte travel to Metaloglobus who are in the lower regions of midtable. I would be shocked if Metaloglobus win but sooner or later teams on great runs do falter, much like Snagov did earlier in the season at Pandurii Târgu Jiu.
Snagov's next opponents are Universitatea Cluj and I assume that most informed football fans in England will at least have some passing familiarity with the name "Cluj". In the Romanian Liga 1, CFR Cluj are the current champions and I think most English fans will be aware of this club as they have competed in European competition in recent years. Sheffield Wednesday fans will also be interested to know that former Owls player Dan Petrescu led CFR Cluj to the league title last season.
Cluj is a place with a rich footballing history with both Cluj clubs have histories that span almost a century. Although I could talk at length about CFR Cluj, I will instead focus on Snagov's opponents this weekend. So, in Now We Live tradition let us ask the question:
Who are Universitatea Cluj?
An old club, founded in 1919, they have spent a large part of their history in the first division. In 1940 the club was forced to move to the city of Sibiu as part of the Second Vienna Award where the northern part of Transylvania was handed over to Hungary. Following the end of the Second World War, the club was able to relocate back to their traditional home.
Despite spending most of their early history in the top division, the turn of the millennium saw The Red Caps (one of their nicknames) relegated to Liga 2 in 1999 and then to Liga 3 the following year.
U Cluj spent only one year in the third tier of Romanian football as they immediately bounced back to Liga 2.
In the 2006/07 season U Cluj dominated the division, finishing 12 points clear of second place:
A season of dominance in 2006/07.
The following years saw U Cluj switch between divisions with regularity. Following their season of dominance, they finished bottom of Liga 1 with just 17 points. The following season saw U Cluj fighting another relegation battle to avoid the drop to Liga 3, which they managed with a win in the final round of matches.
Prior to the 2008/09 season, U Cluj were taken over by Florian Walter, who led the club to promotion to Liga 1 and then stabilisation in the top division the following year. However, there appears to have been some controversy over his ownership in the years that followed.
in 2012 Florian Walter left the club and became owner of Petrolul Ploiești. Once he assumed control of Petrolul, many of Cluj's better players followed Florian Walter to Ploiești. This move was devestating to U Cluj as they lost their main financial backer. As the 2012/13 season progressed, Cluj's debts increased but they were able to avoid relegation. As the season drew to a close, Florian Walter announced he would return to the club, but it was not enough to save U Cluj from ultimately being relegated. Despite not finishing in the relegation places, the club was not granted a licence to continue in the top-flight and would start the following season in Liga 2. This was not the end of this story, however.
Over the course of the summer, the club contested the decision to relegate them to Liga 2 and was successful. So, after much uncertainty the Red Caps would start the 2013/14 season in Liga 1. Despite little investment in the team, the club avoided relegation once more as they finished 11th. It was simply delaying the inevitable, however, as the following season would see U Cluj relegated.
The 2014/15 Liga 1 season was a strange one. It had been decided to reduce the Romanian top-flight from 18 teams to 14 teams, which meant the bottom third of the table would be relegated:
The following years were a strange time for U Cluj. The club was competing on a respectable level in the Liga 2 standings, but there was a shadow over the club as Florian Walter was being investigated and, according to what I can find on Wikipedia, was arrested for money laundering and tax evasion. With this off the field scandal, the club's performance on the field suffered and despite early season promise of promotion, the 2015/16 season fizzled out into a mid-table finish.
In 2016 the business that owned U Cluj, which was in turn owned by Florian Walter, lost the rights to the club's name and records. The club's name and records were taken over by the local Municipality and after a season in which they were known as ACSF Alb-Negru al Studenților Clujeni (White-Blacks of the Students from Cluj), the club was able to reclaim its' rightful name; F.C. Universitatea Cluj.
Having read around the history of the club I have felt great sympathy for the fans of U Cluj. As a Sheffield Wednesday fan, I have seen all sorts of disappointment. What I have noticed from studying Romanian football is that although there are not a huge number of people that support it, those that do are passionate and committed. Clubs regularly go through turmoil and strife but the fans stick with the clubs and make sure the history of the club endures.
The current logo of Universitatea Cluj as they approach their centenary.
The City of Cluj-Napoca
The full name of Cluj is actually Cluj-Napoca but most people shorten the name to Cluj. It is the fourth biggest city in Romania by population and is situated towards the North-West of the country, approximately 200 miles from the capital, Bucharest. Despite the distance from the capital, Cluj is one of Romania's most important cities as it is the location of the country's largest university and the largest Romanian owned commercial bank. The city has also had international recognition. In 2018 it was named as the European City of Sport and in 2015 was named the European Youth Capital. I was surprised to learn that Cluj is twinned with Rotherham.
I've discussed in previous blogs how Romania's population is in decline but Cluj appears to be bucking that trend with no population loss since 2002. Historically there has been a significant proportion of Hungarians living in Cluj. As recently as 1992, 22.7% of the population of Cluj was Hungarian but this has now dropped to 16.4% as of 2002.
Although U Cluj play in the Romanian second division, their stadium puts many English stadia to shame. Cluj Arena opened in 2011 and is a Category 4 Uefa Elite Stadium. The stadium has a seated capacity of 30,201, although the record attendance is listed as over 80,000 for a music festival.
In addition to being the home of U Cluj, the Arena has hosted other Romanian clubs playing in European competition such as Pandurii Târgu Jiu in their 2013 Europa League campaign. Cluj Arena also hosted the Romanian national side in their 2016 and 2017 World Cup qualifying matches against Montenegro and Denmark respectively.
Costing just under 50,000,000 Euros to construct, Cluj Arena is a fantastic stadium and a credit to the city.
Since I started this post, the fixtures on Saturday morning have been played and Snagov will be delighted with one of the results:
Metaloglobus held Chindia Târgovişte to a goalless draw which means if Snagov win tomorrow they will be on the same points as Chindia Târgovişte, with first place determined by goal difference.
To reclaim top spot Snagov will need to win by at least five goals; four goals would see them on the same goal difference but Chindia Târgovişte have scored many more goals than Snagov and they have the lead in the meeting between the two sides.
I am predicting a high scoring game tomorrow. Cluj will be up for this game as they know a win will see them overtake Snagov in the table. It is going to be a good game and I think it will be a close fought contest. With Snagov having the home advantage, I predict a 3-2 win for the home side.
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