Romanians You Should Know: Rodion Camataru

more than a year ago
Legend has it that when Austrian Toni Polster heard news that Rodion Camataru had scored another hat-trick, and had thereby overtaken him at the top of Europe’s scoring chart, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said “I’m not going to Monte Carlo.” Monte Carlo of course was where the prizes would be handed out for those footballers who scored the most goals in one season.

For much of spring 1987, Polster, who had scored 39 times for his side Rapid Vienna, looked to have an unassailable lead. As league seasons finished throughout Europe, nobody had overhauled his target. Rodion Camataru, playing for Dinamo Bucharest, had scored a respectable 26 goals, but with just six matches of the season remaining it looked doubtful he could catch Polster.

That he did, and the scandal which followed, was endemic of football in Romania during the Ceausescu regime. Camataru scored an incredible 18 goals in those last six matches, finishing the season with 44 goals from 33 matches and comfortably taking the Golden Boot: the prize for Europe’s top scorer. Camataru himself has since said that he knew nothing of a conspiracy to allow him to win the solid gold boot, which, after all, would have at that time probably more than doubled Romania’s precious metal reserves. “All I know is I scored those goals, and that nobody stood by to let me put the ball in the net. I was never officially accused of anything, and was never asked to give back the trophy. Besides, why does nobody ask how Polster managed 39 goals?” What Camataru doesn’t mention is that the Golden Boot prize was withdrawn the next year, and not restored for more than a decade, and even then in a different guise: a weighting system now allocates more points to goals scored in stronger league championships, such as England or Spain.

The Golden Boot scandal however should not cloud the glittering career of Romania’s greatest centre-forward. Born in 1958 in Strehaia, Camataru made his debut for Universitatea Craiova at 16, in 1974. Noted for his pace, strength and superb balance, Camataru scored a ton of goals in 12 years at Craiova, all the while resisting calls from Bucharest, where he was wanted by Steaua and Dinamo. He was part of the Craiova Maxima team that reached the semi-final of the UEFA Cup in 1983, by which time he was also a regular for the Romanian national team. He would collect 75 caps for Romania in all, scoring 22 times. He played all of Romania’s games in the European Championship of 1984, though perhaps his finest moment in a Romania shirt came a year later: a splendid goal at Wembley in a 1-1 draw with England. Camataru eventually joined Dinamo in 1986, with the promise that he could move abroad if he stayed three years. In the summer of 1989 Dinamo were good to their word, and Camataru became one of the first Romanians to play outside of the country, moving to Charleroi in Belgium. He then played for Heerenveen in Holland, before retiring in 1993. His played his last game (and scored his last goal) in the 1993 Dutch Cup Final, lost to Ajax.


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