In the world of football, aside from renowned goal machines like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, very few players manage to hit the net over ten times in as many matches. Even fewer succeed in scoring a lightning-quick hat-trick in European competition, or notching six goals in a single league match.
In the past four months, Steaua Bucharest striker Claudiu Keseru has achieved all of these feats. And, a year after returning to his native Romania from France, he has made it clear that he has no intention of resting on his laurels. “My return has been quite successful – I’m on great form, and I hope it lasts,” he told FIFA.com.
“I felt like my time in French football had run its course. Steaua offered me this opportunity in the January transfer window, and I decided to grasp it. It was the right choice, but France will always have a place in my heart. That was where I developed as a footballer and as a person,” said the fluent French speaker.
If the 27-year-old attacker has always held France in high esteem, the feeling appears to be mutual. From Nantes to Bastia, and not forgetting Tours and Angers, the Romanian’s friendly attitude, fighting spirit, talented left boot and goals – 78 in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 combined – endeared him to football devotees across the country.
“All the teams I’ve played at have had a different, positive effect on me,” Keseru explained diplomatically. “But Steaua are a legendary club. They’ve had the most domestic success, and are still the only Romanian side to have won the European Cup. They’re the ones everyone wants to beat here,” he added.
“My dad has always been a Steaua supporter, and that inevitably left me with a fondness for the club,” he continued. “And I was born in 1986, the year when they became European champions. That’s not something people forget about in a hurry.”
Keseru would love to emulate that outstanding accomplishment, and recently laid down a marker by scoring an impressive 11-minute hat-trick in the UEFA Europa League versus Aalborg (6-0), just a month after he had made history by finding the net six times against Pandurii Targu (6-0) in Romania’s Liga 1.
“That was a first for me personally as well,” he remarked. “It was a bit strange. At that point, I hadn’t ever scored a hat-trick before, and then I got two in the one match. Everything went right for me in that game. But a forward can only flourish if he gets great service from his team-mates, and I’m quite spoiled in that department.”
On the international stage, Keseru has not yet been given the chance to flourish, despite his goalscoring endeavours at club level. Although he has received regular call-ups to the Romanian squad, he boasts just one senior cap to date, earned in a 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifier against Andorra, a match in which he still got his name on the scoresheet.
“It certainly feels like unfinished business. But it’s not just up to me – the coach picks the team, and I have to respect that,” he said, aware that his place in the Tricolorii pecking order could change now that Anghel Iordanescu has returned to the helm of the national XI, replacing the outgoing Victor Piturca.
There is no doubt, however, that Keseru’s eye for goal could prove vital for the Romanians during their UEFA EURO 2016 campaign. In a seemingly winnable Group F, the team ranked 21st in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking currently lies in second place behind Northern Ireland.
“We’ve been given the label of favourites, but the truth is that the group is very tough to predict. Finland have a nice, fast-flowing style of play, Northern Ireland have won their first three matches, Greece have got just one point, Hungary are playing well, and the Faroe Islands need to be taken very seriously,” he said.
Nevertheless, the prime objective remains qualification. “I would love to take part in EURO 2016, for obvious reasons. Pulling on the Romanian jersey in France would be absolutely amazing, as far as I’m concerned.”
If Keseru’s rich vein of form continues, his goal could well become a reality. And why not aspire to emulate other top strikers such as Cristiano Ronaldo? “Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m in the race for the 2014 FIFA Ballon d’Or,” he said, laughing. “Sure, I get a lot of goals, but players like Ronaldo score even more often and from all over the pitch!”