The thought of heading to Transylvania this week may scare a few people, particularly fans of Bram Stoker novels. But should Manchester United be frightened?
For Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, drawing CFR Cluj, Braga and Galatasaray in the Champions League suggested last season’s group stage failure would not be repeated. A scrappy and unconvincing 1-0 win over Galatasaray hinted that actually winning the competition is a distant prospect, but a win is a win.
The other result from the first matchday suggested Braga will be no threat as they lost 2-0 at home to Cluj. But this in turn suggested the Romanians might be one of the surprise packages of the tournament.
We will find out soon enough if they are. Cluj could assume from United’s home defeat by Tottenham that their opponents are vulnerable, not least with Nemanja Vidic injured and the defense leaking goals. On the other hand, the return of Wayne Rooney and the second half onslaught that nearly rescued a point might act as a catalyst for better performances in the weeks ahead.
History certainly favours Manchester United. Their four previous matches against Romanian sides have all come in the last decade and all resulted in victory.
In 2004-05 the Red Devils came from behind to defeat Dinamo Bucharest 2-1 in the away leg of the qualifying round, before finishing the job with a 3-0 win at Old Trafford. Last year saw United taking on Otelul Galati in the group stage and won both games 2-0, with these turning out to be the only victories of an otherwise wretched campaign.
Right now, Romanian club football is of a modest standard, way below that achieved by Steaua Bucharest in their glory years of the later 1980s (altough the previous dominant English clubs were barred from Europe following Heysel). It is hard to see another club from the country reaching the final of Europe’s biggest club competition again as Steaua did in 1989, yet alone emulate the winners of 1986.
So anything other than a defeat would see Cluj achieve something no Romanian side has done before. But then again, this is only a record covering four games and having failed to pull off a comeback to match that of the European Ryder Cup team; United may reflect that their 23-year home unbeaten run against the Spurs was much longer. Records – be they long or short-standing, are meant to be broken and runs are there to be ended.