The King, the World Cup gamble, the obsession

The Herald

BUCHAREST. — What’s the first thing a king does when he assumes the throne?

Well, when the decade was the 1930s, the country was Romania, and the subject was Carol II, the answer was truly outrageous — he declared his first and foremost priority to get his nation entered into the next FIFA World Cup.

The seemingly insurmountable problem was that Carol II only seized power 35 days before the maiden edition of the tournament got underway.

Yet the 37-year-old extrovert was undeterred by the extreme lack of time, or by the fact Romania had only played its first international exactly eight years earlier.

Somehow, following considerable endeavour, King Carol II succeeded in securing Romania a place at Uruguay 1930, beating FIFA’s deadline for entry by a mere three days.

The monarch immediately granted an amnesty to all players suspended for football-related offences.

Then, rather than trusting coach Costel Radulescu to select the squad, King Carol II chose it himself!

The core of his best players worked for an English oil company, which refused to grant them the three months’ paid leave necessary to participate at the tournament and warned that anyone who did travel to Uruguay would have no job to return to.

Flexing his considerable muscle, the king phoned the company’s boss and insisted he would close it down unless they relented.

Naturally, they did.

And so, on 21 June 1930, the Romanians boarded the Conte Verde in Genoa.

A short stop later in Villefranche-sur-Mer, they were joined on board by the France squad and FIFA president Jules Rimet, who had the trophy in his suitcase.

Thereafter, the Belgians got on in Barcelona, before the luxurious Italian ocean liner picked up Brazil in Rio de Janeiro.

During the 16-day, cross-Atlantic trek, Radulescu put his 19 players through fitness drills on one of the vast vessel’s 10 decks.

When they did ball work, however, the Romania coach had 20 charges to oversee — oh, yes, King Carol II couldn’t resist a kick-around!

Romania were placed in the three-team Group 3, with only the winners advancing to the semi-finals.

They beat Peru 3-1 before losing 0-4 to Uruguay, the eventual champions, which wasn’t really a shame.

Football underwent an immediate popularity explosion in Romania — one that has seen the sport evolve to become nothing short of a national obsession.

Carol II vacated the throne in 1940, and passed away in Portugal 13 years later.

The man will, nevertheless, live infinitely in the annals of Romanian football history as the inspiration behind the birth of that rhapsodic love affair between Romanians and the beautiful game. —

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.