Steaua Bucuresti was one of the Widzew Łódź's rival in the group along with Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. Marius Baciu, who became Steaua's player just before the beginning of 96-97 season, got a chance to show his skills to European audience. The official page of RTS Widzew Łódź proudly presents the interview in which the Romanian player reveals his memories about that time followed by opinions on recent situation of football in his country.
Bartosz Koczorowicz: It has been almost 20 years since Widzew Łódź and Steaua Bucuresti played together in UEFA Champions League group stage. Throughout all those years you were representing several football clubs from different countries. Now you are a coach, but with the end of season 2014-2015 you have stepped down as the coach of Concordia Chiajna. What are you doing right now?
Marius Baciu: I am working on a new project at the moment. I am also in talks with few clubs from abroad. I can say that I am open to receiving offers from Poland as well. However, I don't want to reveal much before I sign the agreement.
Speaking about the beginning of your career - as a youth player of Gaz Metan Medias it would be natural to start the professional career in a mother club. However, your first match as a senior player took place in the 1992-1993 season in Inter Sibiu - the local opponent's team.
- At that time Inter was playing in the top division in Romania (Liga I). That match you have mentioned was in fact the only one in that season. I was only 17 years old when I made a debut in the highest level in my country. The real play happened in Gaz Metan, the year after (in Liga II - ed. note). That resulted in my return to Inter, but after couple years the club started having financial problems which led to relegation followed by closure another years later.
Inter was relegated in the 1995-1996 season. At the same time, the champion of Romania, Steaua Bucuresti, showed an interest in you. Finally, you became their player in the next season. That must have been a significant change for such a young player like you: from fighting against relegation to competing for trophies and having an opportunity to show oneself in Europe.
- Steaua was mainly interested in young and talented players and I was already playing for the Romanian U-21 national team. Probably that was the reason why I became a Steaua player. Inter did not have a bad team, but because of the already mentioned financial problems in this club I have decided to accept the offer I was given. Steaua was the best team at that time. Therefore, in my opinion, that was the best choice to go play there. They were being controlled by the army, whereas their opponent, Dinamo, was governed by the police. From the formal point of view, I was a policeman, but no one created any problems with my transfer. The final decision belonged to me.
Did you feel any pressure because of this situation? The expectations have grown much in a very short period of time.
- Not at all. I always wanted to play among the best. I treated my situation as a big challenge, but also a great chance. When I came to Steaua, Anton Dobos, who was the first option on my position, decided to leave. This was a very important fact to me, especially because I was already playing on the international level as a youth. After the first match against Club Brugge I have managed to become the first-squad player. In total, I have spent six years in Steaua and for the whole time I missed less than 10 matches because of sitting on the bench or being injured, I guess. What I also remember is that I was suspended while Steaua was playing the away match against Widzew in Champions League.
On the road to the UEFA Champions League group stage, as you have already mentioned, Steaua had to eliminate Club Brugge. You had done it and, therefore, you could celebrate the qualification. Did you want to meet specific teams before the draw of the groups took place?
- We did not have any special wishes. All the teams at this phase of the tournament were strong, including Widzew of course. Many players had left Steaua before the beginning of the season. This was a chance for such young players like me at that time as they replaced the leavers in the squad. For sure, Atletico Madrid was the greatest favourite of the group in our eyes. Anyway, facing any team in Champions League was a challenge for us. Once we got to know, who is in the group with us, we said to each other that we had nothing to lose. We did know much about Widzew to be honest. However, from the very beginning we were treating all the teams in this group equally.
The beginning of the group stage phase was very unlucky for you. In 28th minute of the match against Atletico in Madrid you got the red card. Steaua lost 0-4 becoming the last team in the group after the first round.
- But those were the best 28 minutes I have ever played for Steaua! After this match I received an offer from Fabio Capello (Real Madrid’s coach in 96-97 – ed. note). Before I was sent off the pitch, the score in Madrid was 0-0. After my booking we were too weak to effectively defend the goal with ten players.
Obviously, you also had to miss the next match which was the home battle against Borussia Dortmund. Steaua lost 0-3. While you were not on the pitch, your team conceded nine goals (four against Atletico, three against Borussia and two against Widzew). That is more than a half of all the goals lost by Steaua in the whole group stage!
- Personally, that was a great situation for me. My reputation was getting higher and higher. Romanian press noticed that too and they were writing articles about it. Anyway, with or without me in the squad, Borussia Dortmund was still too strong for Steaua at that time, in my opinion.
You must have regretted that matches where you had to sit on stand and watch your colleagues. You had no influence on the score while the team needed you.
- Of course, I wanted to play against the champion of Germany very much. Borussia had a fantastic squad consisting of players who had clinched the European Championship title couple months before. That would have been a great opportunity to show myself against such a team.
The first full match in Champions League group stage played by you was the one against Widzew Łódź in Bucuresti. Polish champion, due to squad problems, delegated a team with almost no substitute players on the bench. The main objective for Widzew was to survive without injuries.
- I remember that despite their problems it was as a very ambitious and aggressive team. We had our problems to score a goal. The match in Bucuresti was very difficult for us and suddenly one situation couple minutes before the last whistle and the ball was in the net because of one Widzew defender who scored an own goal.
As we already mentioned, you also missed a match in Łódź because of the yellow card in Bucuresti. Widzew took revenge on Steaua and won 2-0. The rule had been finally confirmed. When Marius Baciu was not in the squad, Steaua was losing goals. Was that noticed by other clubs as well?
- Once Champions League finished, I started receiving more and more interesting offers from different countries – Spain, Italy and Germany. However, I was a very young player who just entered the new team. Therefore, Steaua did not want to let me go anywhere at that time.
Speaking about the Champions League group stage finish, your last match in Dortmund was a classic exchange of punches. Borussia won 5-3 and you have scored one of the goals for Steaua.
- We already knew that we would not qualify further. Therefore, our attitude was that we would like to end this adventure with a good performance. It was easier to take such an approach at that moment as we had absolutely nothing to lose.
Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund advanced to the knockout stage of the tournament. Which of those two teams was less comfortable to play with and why?
- It is difficult to compare those teams. They were representing two different styles. Looking at individuals, Atletico had a ? few incredible players, but as a team they were not as strong as Borussia Dortmund. Furthermore, my opinion is that BVB was also better than their country rival - Bayern Munich.
How does it look when we talk about individual players only? Which player was the toughest to play against, if you had to choose only one from this group?
- This is even a more difficult question than the previous one, as there were many fantastic players in the opponent teams. But, if I had to choose only one, that would Julio Cesar. I liked that player the most. His play was very impressive to me.