Radoi: These Olympics can help Romania reach the World Cup

  • Romania beat Honduras in their opener and now face Korea Republic

  • Mirel Radoi assesses comparisons with the golden generation of the 1990s

  • He discusses putting his job before everything

Romania got off to a perfect start at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Japan 2020 with a 1-0 triumph over Group B opponents Honduras. This battling win, against a team that finished fourth at Rio 2016, was further proof of the revival of Romanian football, which is back on the Olympic stage 57 years after contesting a quarter-final at Tokyo 1964. That Olympic participation was secured at the UEFA European U-21 Championship in 2019 under the stewardship of former international Mirel Radoi (67 caps), who made such an impression that he was subsequently handed the reins of the senior team. "I was in the right place, at the right time," the modest 40-year-old told FIFA.com, as his side prepare to face Korea Republic on Sunday 25 July in Kashima. FIFA.com: Mirel, you were young and relatively inexperienced when made Romania coach. Why do you think you were selected? Mirel Radoi: It was thanks to the U-21 EURO in 2019 in Italy. When I was put in charge of the U-21s, we weren’t assured of a place at the EURO. But then we won our final two games and topped the qualifying group. Once at the finals, we qualified for Tokyo in style, which was when people really started talking about us, saying there was a talented new team and coach… even making comparisons with the golden generation of 1994. So the fans, media, and people at the national federation were lobbying for me. I was in the right place at the right time.

Paradoxically, you had a hard time getting your three overage reinforcements from the senior team... I have to say that we understand the decisions of the clubs. They have to defend their own interests to be equipped to play major competitions. For us, it was complicated because not everyone arrived at the same time, and so not all the players had the same degree of physical preparation. But what pleased me is that they understood what was at stake in this competition and they all wanted to be here. Even if they weren't the first choices, they know that this tournament could be one of the biggest opportunities of their lives. Does this young generation understand what the Olympic Games represent? Yes! Finally, I hope (laughs). We talk to them about it every day to make sure of it, but it’s difficult to pass on that kind of experience. We have only one member of staff who has experienced the Olympics before, but we cite other Romanian athletes from other disciplines who have been to the Games. I also gave them the example of Neymar, who said that, as a player, the emotions he experienced at Rio 2016 surpassed those of the 2014 World Cup. Is your presence here a sign that Romania is back on the international stage for good? I hope so. Our goal with Adrian Mutu (the U-21 coach) is for this generation of players to break into the senior team in the coming years. This competition is an opportunity to prove that our presence here is no fluke. The federation has been actively working on this for the past five years.

KASHIMA, JAPAN - JULY 22: Rigoberto Rivas #10 and Edwin Rodriguez #8 of Team Honduras celebrate their side's first goal, an own goal by Elvin Oliva #21 of Team Honduras (not pictured)  during the Men's First Round Group B match between Honduras and Romania during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Kashima Stadium on July 22, 2021 in Kashima, Japan. (Photo by Hector Vivas - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

What was the starting point? The federation asked itself what could be done to improve the development of our young players. They decided to hire young coaches like me and Adrian Mutu, who also knew the youth teams. We’re motivated, know where we want to get to, work hard and have a lot of connections around the world. Through our own experience, we can make young players understand what it means to be a professional and represent your country. How do you view the many comparisons with the generation that shone at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™? To be honest, you can’t compare the golden generation of the 1990s with that of today in terms of individual talents. Once you take that out of the equation, you have to be clear about what you can do. And the answer has to come from your squad. Everyone has to give the best of themselves for the team. We don’t have the quality we had before, so we have to compensate with a strong collective spirit. Which coaches inspired you to follow in their footsteps? Just one: Cosmin Olaroiu, who coached me when I was at Steaua Bucharest and who’s become a friend. He was the one who pushed me in that direction. For me, it was unimaginable that 25 players could listen to me and understand what I wanted. Back when I was a player, I thought that the job of the coach was easy. Now I realise that it’s the players who have it easy (laughs)! Before I made my decision, he said to me, ‘If you're willing to dedicate all the time you currently spend with your family on this job, then do it, otherwise do something else.’ It was the best advice I've ever been given. Today I embody this passion to the fullest and can no longer live without football – even on vacation. What are the pros and cons of coaching the youth team as well the senior side? The downside is the pressure heaped on me by the media, some of whom think I’m involved in too many things and that if I try to do everything, I’ll succeed at nothing. But I don’t care because I learned to handle pressure when I was a player, especially in the Champions League with my club and competing at EURO 2008 with Romania. The advantage is that I see the youngsters evolve and can accompany them to the senior team. We’re not here just to play an Olympic tournament, we’re here to prepare for the next five years and reach the World Cup. Maybe I won't be in charge then, but I want them to understand what the national team expects of them. I want them to have a winning mentality, to be able to play without a complex against the likes of Germany, France, Spain or Italy, and never lose a game in their heads before taking to the field, no matter who the opponents are. I want to change the mentality of Romanian football.

Romania’s Gheorghe Hagi in action against Argentina at USA 1994.

1994 FIFA World Cup USA™

Fixture Flashback: Romania 3-2 Argentina

31 Jul 2020

BOLOGNA, ITALY - JUNE 27: Matei Mirel Radoi head coach of Romania  reacts during the 2019 UEFA U-21 Semi-Final match between Germany and Romania at Stadio Renato Dall'Ara on June 27, 2019 in Bologna, Italy.  (Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images )