Tomcat a hit for the Lions

It has taken a very long time, but it seems as though Romania has uncovered a legitimate successor to Gheorghe Hagi, Iuliu Bodola and Anghel Iordanescu, the three top scorers in the history of the national team. As of August last year, the Tricolorii ranks include a striker who looks capable of achieving great things – and not only that, he is still only 23. The striker in question is Bogdan Sorin Stancu. 

A lightweight at just 69 kg (152 lbs), Stancu was born in June 1987 in Pitesti, a town of 170,000 on the Arges River. He was spotted and taken on at the age of 11 by local outfit Arges Pitesti, now a second division side. As he steadily progressed through the youth section at his hometown club, it became clear that the talented youth had what it takes to break into the pro ranks. 

However, when he was just 14, fate dealt the young Stancu a blow from which he almost never recovered. He lost his father suddenly and unexpectedly to a heart attack in 2001, and the talented player spent a number of months away from the game, struggling to cope with his grief. It was only when time eventually healed the wounds that he returned to his club. 

Pro debut in second division
The striker ultimately featured at every youth level for Pitesti, a Divizia A club at the time, who opted to accelerate the young man’s development by sending him out on loan to second division Dacia Mioveni. The 18-year-old was an instant hit with fans and pundits alike, and swiftly did more than enough to convince his parent club of his quality. 

The predator’s three goals in just 12 second division appearances prompted Pitesti to call their player home. He made his Romanian top flight debut at the age of 19, the first step on a rapid climb up the pro career ladder. There was to be a temporary setback for the burgeoning star in 2006, when his mentor and coach Sorin Cartu relinquished the hot seat at Pitesti in favour of former Italy international Giuseppe Giannini. 

The man who featured at the 1990 FIFA World Cup™ deemed Stancu not good enough for the top flight and allowed him to move to Unirea Urziceni, a fateful call which proved a major blessing for the player and his new club. Between 2006 and 2008, the sharp-shooter scored 11 goals in close on 50 first division appearances. 

Lure of the capital
However, like so many talented provincial players before him, the lure of the capital eventually proved irresistible. After two seasons in the provincial surroundings of Urziceni, the carefree and down-to-earth young man switched to Steaua Bucharest, the most successful club in the country. 

All the potential Stancu had displayed at Unirea blossomed and flourished for the 23-time champions, as the striker swiftly matured into a key player for the 1986 European Cup winners. By the end of his first season with Steaua, Stancu was level with Greek marksman Pantelis Kapetanos as leading scorer at the club on 11 goals. The pair were responsible for half the club’s goal tally that season, which ended with sixth spot in the league and a place in the UEFA Cup. 

Nicknamed Tomcat for his blistering pace and agility, Stancu shifted up another couple of gears the following season, firing 15 goals in all competitions as the men from Bucharest finished fourth in Divizia A. 

Delayed international debut
The promise shown by the up-and-coming goal-getter did not escape the attention of national head coach Razvan Lucescu, who issued Stancu with his first senior call-up for a meeting with Hungary in August 2009, only for injury to prevent the player earning his first cap. 

The six-foot striker would have to wait another year before finally making his debut in a 2-0 defeat away to Turkey last August. Stancu has been a fixture in the national set-up ever since, and scored his first international goal in a 1-1 UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying draw with Albania. 

That point in front of their home crowd was a disappointment for Stancu and Co, as their campaign for a berth in Poland and Ukraine made a less than auspicious start. Lucescu’s team are a lowly fifth in Group D with just two points from three matches so far. 

Off to pastures new
In the domestic league, Stancu picked up where he left off in previous seasons. He finished the first half of the current Divizia A campaign as the league’s top scorer on 13 goals from 18 matches. 

However, the nation’s most successful club remain far off their trophy-winning form of old and occupy seventh spot in the league, one of the reasons why the striker opted for a new challenge in Turkey with Galatasaray. The Istanbul giants laid out a reported €5 million for the 23-year-old, but just a few games into his spell on the Bosporus, he has already repaid a substantial chunk of the fee. 

Stancu’s first game for Gala was a 3-2 cup quarter-final first leg defeat away to Gaziantepspor, in which the Romania international opened his scoring account with the goal that put his new team 2-1 up at one point. He doubled his tally in Turkey with another goal in Galatasaray’s 4-2 top flight victory over Eskisehirspor three days later. 

Should Stancu’s obvious instinct for goal continue to bear fruit, the passionate fans in Istanbul will have found a new hero, and all-time Romania top scorer Hagi may have found a challenger for his crown. Stancu needs another 34 goals to catch the 46-year-old, who himself spent the years from 1996 to 2001 in Istanbul in the Lions’ famous red and yellow jersey.