[caption id="attachment_4356" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="The Romanian National stadium is where Otelul will play their home Champions League games"][/caption]
Manchester United's next opponents in the Champions League are Romanian outfits Otelul Galati. Like the majority of United fans, I hadn't a clue who they were and like so many teams in Europe, the ones you know the least about sometimes turn out to be the most dangerous (take Trabzonspor beating Inter Milan 1-0 at the San Siro last week as a prime example). United make the trip to Romania with 3 points an absolute necessity after 2 draws leaves them in a precarious position in the group. I took the time out to speak to Dragos, a Romanian national, who has kindly answered a few questions to give a better insight into what we should expect from Otelul when we play them on their home turf.
Hi Dragos. If you could introduce yourself and let the readers who you are and where you come from?
Hi, my name is Dragos and I am from Cluj-Napoca (CFR Cluj played in the 2008 Champions League season with Chelsea). I'm a fan of Universitatea Cluj ( "U" Cluj ) who are big rivals of CFR, much like Manchester United and Manchester City. Just so you know, Otelul stands for "steel" and Galati stands for "city from Romania".
How big a club are Otelul Galati in the Romanian league?
Otelul is a small club from Romania which has spent the majority of the last few decades in the top division, always finishing in the middle of the table. Their president is Marius Stan, a former Romanian football player with many years of experience in management and playing. He is a man who doesn't talk too much and just gets on with the things that need to be done, a sign of a good manager. They are financed by Arcelor Mittal (the largest steel producing company in the world) but I don't think they give them a lot of money (their budget last season was only €3-4 million) but with the Champions League this season, it should be a lot more. Nobody gave them any chance of winning the league, a comparison would be like Wigan Athletic winning the Premier League this season, but thanks to Marius Stan (President of Otelul) and Dorinel Munteanu (Manager of Otelul), the team felt like they never had any pressure on their shoulders and were able to perform week in week out. It was a huge surprise that nobody expected to happen but due to the responsible, thrifty, smart and professional staff from Otelul, they managed to make the dream come true.
Romanian champions Unirea Urziceni were in the competition last year. Do you think Otelul will do better than them and make it through the group stages?
First with regret I want to say that Unirea Urziceni was dissolved as a team as the owner Dumitru Bucşaru has not filed for a licence and decided not to enroll the team in any competition. He took the money that Unirea gained from taking part in the Champions League and left the club in disarray. In my opinion, Otelul can do better than them. They have many exciting young players and I'm sure they will give everything in every Champions League match as it is such a big opportunity for them to be seen by bigger clubs in Europe. Otelul have a big advantage too, nobody knows them, and that makes them a dangerous team to play against, especially at home. The training has been greatly improved and a physical training camp at Poiana Brasov, a mountain resort, has raised the fitness levels of Otelul Galati in preparation for the Champions League.
This is the first time the club is in the Champions League. How are the fans taking it? Are they looking forward to the fixtures?
Yes this is the first time that the club is in the Champions League but they have previously played in the preliminary rounds of the UEFA Cup and the Intertoto Cup, so the fans know what European football is all about. They are very happy and enthusiastic to take part in the competition after the shock of winning the championship last year, they could not belive it.
Who are Otelul's best players to look out for?
[caption id="attachment_4358" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Cornell Rapa lines up against Danny Welbeck - a lineup that might happen in Romania. Photo: Action Images"][/caption]
The best players from Otelul are Romanian international Cornel Rapa a 21 years old defender who is very fast and aggressive, whos greatest strength comes from speed on the counter-attack. Another player to look out for is 22-year old Liviu Antal, a midfielder who is confident with the ball at his feet and excellent at retaining possession. The most experienced player for Otelul is Gabriel Paraschiv, a 33-year old attacking midfielder who has scored 35 goals in 154 matches for Otelul from 2006. If anybody deserves to play in the Champions League, it is Gabriel.
What kind of football do Otelul play? Are they more defensively minded or do they attack the opposition?
Otelul is a counter-attacking team with a strong defence. They might not score a lot of goals but when they catch you on the counter-attack, they are clinical. This is the style of football that won them their first Romanian championship and they will play the same style in Europe.
You get to play against finalists Manchester United. How do you think Otelul will play against us? Will they be scared by the opposition?
I don't think Otelul will be scared because they have nothing to lose. I'm sure they will have emotions coarsing through their veins in the first minutes but then they will be 100% focused on the game ahead. As I said before, it is a big advantage for Otelul that United will not give them much of a chance but it has been shown in previous years how the underdog can prevail. For example, AS Roma lost 1-2 to CFR Cluj on their home turf and CFR Cluj also managed to draw against Chelsea at home. I bet that United will lose at Bucharest and I'm sure of this because United players will be relaxed and when they wake up, it will all be too late.
Nothing wrong with a bit of optimism eh? If your home fans can't believe you can win then nobody will. This fixture looks simple on the surface but no trip to Eastern Europe midweek is easy and considering we play Liverpool away in the Premier League prior to this, it will be a difficult period for United to keep on top of their impressive form thus far in the season.