Ioan Lupescu was and remains one of Romania’s best-known and most successful footballers. The attacking midfielder represented his country at two FIFA World Cup™ finals (1990 and 1994) and two UEFA EURO championships (1996 and 2000).
Lupo, as he was fondly nicknamed by his team-mates, played for a number of clubs including Dinamo Bucharest, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach. He also put in brief spells in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, before qualifying as a coach and then taking up the post of Romanian FA General Director in 2005.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, Lupescu recalled his favourite and most moving moments, and talked about his activities since bringing down the curtain on his playing career. "The most memorable moments in my career were the debuts," he said. "Appearing in the Romanian top flight at the age of just 17 was thrilling, as was my first international when I was 20 years old. And my first match in Germany, when Bayern Munich were the opponents, was unforgettable."
The 41-year-old featured twice at the FIFA World Cup finals and retains plenty of fond memories of the global showdowns in Italy and the USA. "1990 was my first World Cup. I was 21 and we came up against Diego Maradona in Naples. That was overwhelming. There must have been 50,000 Argentinian fans in the crowd, but we still battled our way to a draw, which took us through to the Round of 16. For the team, it also opened the doors to western Europe, and most of the players later ended up in Italy, Spain or Germany. For me personally, the World Cup in Italy was the springboard to a career in the west."
Lupescu was still an international regular when the next tournament came round four years later. The Romanians excelled in the USA and fought their way through to the last eight. "The World Cup in America was a terrific tournament. We had a strong squad at the time, with loads of experience. At the end of the day, we were unlucky to go out to Sweden. Our best performance there was a 3-2 victory over Argentina in the last 16. It’s a game I’ll never forget."
The most memorable moments in my career were the debuts. Appearing in the Romanian top flight at the age of just 17 was thrilling.
Lupescu, who spent his first four years as a pro on home soil in Bucharest, switched to the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen after the 1990 FIFA World Cup. The likeable and articulate player spent a total of eight seasons in Germany before returning to Dinamo Bucharest.
"Germany was and remains my second home," he said. "I love coming to visit and watching the Bundesliga nowadays. My spell there really left its mark, both in terms of the mentality and the highly professional approach to the game. Leverkusen was a very well-managed club, and the Gladbach supporters were unbelievable. I’m very proud of my time in Germany.”
After quitting the Bundesliga for a second stint with his home town club, the midfielder went back on the road to Bursaspor in Turkey and Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia. "After my time in Germany I went back to lend Dinamo Bucharest a hand, and we won the double in 2000. I briefly went to Turkey but returned home again. Then, right at the end of my career, I wanted to try something new and spent six months in Saudi Arabia, where I played for Al Hilal. Finding my feet there wasn’t easy, but learning out about life in that part of the world was an important experience,” Lupo says.
As a player, Lupescu crossed swords with a n umber of the greats, at the FIFA World Cup, the EURO, and in European club competition. But who was his most difficult opponent? "It’s hard to say,” Lupescu mused. "Diego Maradona was unbelievable, although he wasn’t as strong in 1990 as he was in 1986. In the Bundesliga, I was impressed by Andreas Moeller. He was one of the best all-round players I’ve ever seen, and I’ve never understood why some sections of the footballing public never respected him."
In 2003, the time came for the distinguished former international to hang up his boots. However, he remains fully immersed in the day-to-day business of the game. "I took my coaching badges in Cologne seven years ago and spent eight months as a head coach, but ultimately decided against that career path,” Lupescu advised FIFA.com.
"In 2005 I was offered the post of General Director at the Romanian FA. I really like the job, and it’s tremendous that I’ve now spent more than four years in the post. We’ve achieved a lot already, and we have big plans for the future,” the former international revealed.