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Romanian football legend Ilie Balaci dies aged 62

Former football legend Ilie Balaci has died on Sunday at the age of 62, the Universitatea Craiova football club has announced on its Facebook page.

”On a mournful autumn day, Ilie Balaci has left us to play in the angels’ team. God rest his soul! We will never forget you, Ilie Balaci!” the message posted on the social network reads.

Ilie Balaci, the former great glory of Universitatea Craiova, died Sunday morning at the age of 62. The announcement was made to Digi Sport by his former teammate, Sorin Cârţu. The unexpected news has caused a shock in the world of football.

In Division A he played 347 matches and scored 84 goals for Universitatea Craiova (1973-1985), FC Olt Scorniceşti (1985-1986) and Dinamo Bucharest (1986-1988): 76 for Universitatea Craiova, 7 for FC Olt and one for Dinamo.

He has won 3 championship titles of Romania and 4 Romanian Cups with Universitatea Craiova, a team for which he has evolved for the most part of his career and before his retirement in 1988.

Mircea Lucescu said on Sunday: “He was a great player. Ilie Balaci was one of the great talents of Romanian football alongside Gigu Dobrin, Gheorghe Hagi, Florea Dumitrache and Ion Pârcălab. Of course there is another category of players like Dinu, Boloni, Lăcătuş… but there is another profile, emotionally, professionally. But the greatest talents are those mentioned. Ilie Balaci was a world top player, not a national player,” Lucescu has told Digi Sport.

Ilie Balaci: 13 September 1956 – 21 October 2018) was a Romanian football midfielder and manager.

Balaci is a product of Universitatea Craiova’s youth system. He made his first team debut in 1973, at the age of 16, and won the league title in his first season. He soon managed to become one of the youngest players ever to score in the Romanian League. Balaci went on to play twelve seasons with Craiova, helping them to win two consecutive league titles in 1980 and 1981. He also won the Romanian Cup four times, in the years 1977, 1978, 1981 and 1983. He became an integral part of the team helping them reach the 1982–83 UEFA Cup semi-finals, before moving to Olt Scorniceşti in the winter of 1984. In December 1982, he signed a pre-contract with Italian side AC Milan, but the transfer did not materialize because of the communist regime in Romania, Wikipedia.org informs.

In the 1986–87 season, he jointed Bucharest rivals Dinamo Bucureşti together with Craiova teammate Rodion Cămătaru. He spent two seasons at the club, under the leadership of Mircea Lucescu. However, Balaci did not win any major trophies whilst he was playing for them and following a knee injury he had to retire from football.

Balaci made his full international debut on 23 March 1974 in a friendly match against France at the age of 17. He earned 65 caps and scored 8 goals for the Romanian national team between 1974 and 1986.

He also became captain of the national team during the UEFA Euro 1984 qualifying campaign, but he was unable to play for Romania at UEFA Euro 84 due to an injury.

After retiring as a footballer, Balaci went on to coach lower league sides Pandurii Târgu Jiu and Drobeta-Turnu Severin. In 1991, he coached clubs in North Africa and the Arab world, he became one of the most successful managers there having won over 22 major trophies domestic and international.

He took charge of Tunisia’s Club Africain and Moroccan club Olympique Casablanca in the early 1990s guiding them to their first African Champions League, the league title and the Tunis Cup. He then managed UAE, Qatari and Saudi Arabian clubs Al Shabab, Al Nassr, Al-Hilal, Al Ain and Al Sadd winning the championship and domestic cup with each side. In June 2003, he was appointed manager of Al Ahli until January 2005, where he won the UAE President’s Cup. He then went on to join Qatari side Al-Arabi in the 2005–06 season, before moving to the United Arab Emirates club Al Shabab for a second spell, but without success. In August 2007, Balaci was hired as general manager of Universitatea Craiova whom he also coached in two periods, and remained there for two seasons. On 22 July 2009, Balaci was named head coach of Kuwait club Kazma. He had an impressive start with the Kuwaiti side at the 2010 AFC Cup.

On 11 July 2011, he returned to Morocco signing for Raja Casablanca but was sacked following a financial dispute with the club in September after just two months. Raja appointed Bertrand Marchand as his replacement.

On 4 June 2013, Balaci signed a contract with newly promoted Saudi Premier League side Al-Nahda saving the club from relegation. In September 2013, he was sacked as coach due to a poor start to the season with only one point from the first four matches.

In April 2016, he took over the head coach position at Omdurman-based club Al-Hilal. Balaci was sacked in September 2016 after the team clinched the title with three games left to play. Balaci thought that the club’s owners did not want the title win associated with his name.

In July 2017, Balaci was unveiled as the new manager of Omani side Al-Suwaiq. Although the team was assured of top of the championship with 38 points from 15 games Balaci decided to terminate his contract in March 2018 with 12 games left on the season.

About Victor Lupu