Rejuvenated Sanmartean breathes new life into RomaniaOn 01/31/2019 by admin
The 34-year-old midfielder was named in Romania’s starting lineup for the eagerly-anticipated clash with neighbours Hungary last month, his first international appearance since playing 28 minutes of a Euro 2012 qualifier against Belarus on Oct.
He quickly began terrorising the Hungarian defence with his delightful touches and close control.
Three days later, he came on as a second-half substitute against Finland and soon turned provider for Bogdan Stancu’s two goals, which secured a solid 2-0 win.
He then delivered a perfect cross for defender Paul Papp to score his second goal in a 2-0 win over Northern Ireland on Saturday, that left them unbeaten and top the Group F with 10 points from four matches.
“Sanmartean was fantastic and he’s 34,” Northern Ireland coach Michael O’Neill said. “I don’t know where he has been hiding so far.”
Local media and fans hailed Sanmartean’s performances, with his brilliant technique and ability to dribble past defenders earning him the nickname “The Romanian Messi”.
“Lucian excited all of us,” said Anghel Iordanescu, who began his third spell as Romania coach last month. “I regret he’s 34 and not 24 or 25, he’s such an artist.”
The former under-21 captain, who joined Steaua Bucharest in February, is considered one of Romania’s most talented players after former great Gheorghe Hagi but he has endured many twists and turns in his career.
At 23, Sanmartean joined Greek side Panathinaikos, helping them win the league title in his first season and quickly became a crowd favourite with fans calling him “the little magician”.
But a conflict with Italian coach Alberto Malesani followed and, after not playing for the next two and a half seasons, he decided to buy out the remainder of his contract and join Dutch side Utrecht.
Soon after moving to the Netherlands, Sanmartean was described as a “gold mine” by Utrecht bosses, but injuries forced him to return home to modest Gloria Bistrita .
“I have known him for 18 years and I feel sorry for him,” Hagi, another admirer of Sanmartean’s skills, told local media. “He could’ve achieved much more in football.”
(Editing by Toby Davis)