Miodrag Belodedici: “If I ever imagined that Ceaucescu would fall, I would not have left my country” | Soccer | Sports

Miodrag Belodedici (Socol, Romania; 59 years old) was the first footballer to win the European Cup with two different teams. He is in Bilbao for the presentation of the documentary Desertor, a review of his career as a soccer player and his life that is presented at the Thinking Fútbol festival, organized by the Athletic Foundation. But was he a deserter? “At that time, yes, I was, because he worked in a military club,” he says, smiling. “I had the rank of lieutenant and I left my country and did not return. It can be said that I was a deserter because a military court tried me and declared me in absentia.”

The situation in his country was terrible. Belodedici was someone privileged in Ceaucescu’s Romania. “I liked playing for Steaua, but I didn’t like the way the country was, the life of the people, so I decided to leave. Not far away, to the former Yugoslavia.” The great sports star from her country, gymnast Nadia Comaneci, also made the same decision a few months later. “She crossed the border into Hungary. I left with a passport, but Nadia did it illegally and she ended up in the United States,” she remembers; He had everything well planned. “At that time many people ran away. Half of my town left. They crossed the Danube, many drowned; people in the mountains… I saw people who were captured by the police and beaten or shot. “I saw many horrors.”

However, a year later, Ceaucescu’s regime collapsed. “I could not imagine that in such a short time the dictatorship would fall and democracy begin. If I had known, maybe I wouldn’t have left. I played for the Romanian national team, for Steaua, in the Champions League, and I left everything and was suspended for a year by UEFA. “I came to think that my football career was over.” Although it wasn’t like that.

Belodedici, during a match between Panathinaikos and Steaua Bucharest in the 1998-1999 season.
Belodedici, during a match between Panathinaikos and Steaua Bucharest in the 1998-1999 season.Mike Egerton – EMPICS (PA Images via Getty Images)

Among his achievements, Belodedici became the first player to win the European Cup with two different teams. With Steaua and Red Star. “Two teams from Eastern Europe that, in theory, could not be compared with the great teams from Spain, Italy, Germany or England.” But that Steaua was “like the Romanian team. We had six or seven internationals in the team. Any player who went to figure became a soldier and played for Steaua or Dinamo Bucharest, which was the Police team. “The army paid us according to the rank we had.”

The difficult arrival in Serbia

And then came the final against Barcelona in Seville, and Steaua’s victory that surprised all of Europe. “And to us,” confesses Belodedici. “But the penalties were not a surprise,” he points out. “We had Helmuth Duckadam in goal, who stopped four, because he was a great specialist. Barcelona was much stronger than us, and we don’t know what happened, they couldn’t beat us. We had talked before the game that the important thing was that they didn’t score, and we knew that we could win on penalties,” he continues.

The stadium was silent. It was overwhelmingly from Barça, “yes, because there was no one from our country. When we took the trophy there was almost no one left in the stands,” he recalls. “They told us to take a lap of honor and we thought why, if there was no one left to show the Cup to… Then, the Ceaucescu regime made that victory as profitable as possible. “Ceaucescu himself welcomed us,” says Belodedici. “And they gave us each a military SUV as a prize, which was no good for driving on the streets, and which was also second-hand. “We all sold it in a few days to make some money.”

Belodedici fights for the ball with Shearer during a match between England and Romania at Euro 2000.
Belodedici fights for the ball with Shearer during a match between England and Romania at Euro 2000.

Then came the flight from Romania. “In my city they gave us permits to go to Serbia, because we had relatives there, but I was upset because I had been asking for a passport for a long time and they didn’t give it to me. I even went to Ceaucescu’s son. I had to go through a lot of interrogations, they asked me who my relatives were in Serbia and when they had fled. I told them that they had not escaped, that they had been there since after the World War. I finally got a legal permit and went with my mother and sister. I offered myself to Red Star,” he adds. There began another vaudeville story. “I went to the offices, I told them that I was Belodedici, from Steaua, that I had left Romania and wanted to play with them. Then they checked it and several managers appeared; They wanted to know if I was a professional or an amateur, but I didn’t have a professional license because I hadn’t signed any contract as a footballer. That was good for me because I only had to serve the one-year sanction from FIFA.”

The disappearance of the libero

With the Belgrade team he won his second European Cup. It was against Olympique de Marseille, also on penalties. “We had a great semi-final against Bayern. The second leg in Belgrade with almost 100,000 spectators was impressive,” he recalls; “Then, in the final in Bari, I had to take a penalty. We celebrated it much better than with Steaua.”

But ethnic tensions in the former Yugoslavia forced him to pack his bags again. “We went to play against Dinamo Zagreb in a very hostile environment, the fans started breaking the fences and we had to take refuge in the locker room. We spent three hours until we left escorted by the Police. Shortly after, the war began and Red Star had to sell us all. To Prosinecki, Jugovic, Savicevic…”, says Belodedici, who joined Valencia at the age of 28. “I had problems at the beginning, because I always played as a libero and that position no longer existed when I arrived at Mestalla,” he says. His world was collapsing: the Ceaucescu regime in which he grew up fell, Yugoslavia, the country that welcomed him as a refugee, disintegrated; His position on the field disappeared. “So I had to adapt to everything. I moved my position back to play center back,” he says.

At least he’s no longer a deserter. “Now I’m not. In Romania I went from being one to being considered a hero. “Now I work for the Federation,” he closes.

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