Bucharest had always been the center for football in Romania, and it was Venus București who had dominated the league from the 1920s to the late 1930s. The league was suspended during the mid-1940s due to the war and the restart witnessed the rise of a team outside of the Romanian capital, FC UTA Arad. During the same time, Steaua was founded under the name ASA București, as the club was affiliated to the army.
While teams outside Bucharest dominated Romanian football in the 40s, Steaua were busy renaming themselves, first to CSCA(Central Sports Club of the Army) and then to CCA(Central House of the Army).
Success did not elude CCA for long as they picked up their first trophy, the Romanian Cup, in 1949 by defeating CSU Cluj. The 50s proved to be the beginning of a long period of capital clubs’ dominance over Romanian football. The conception of Dinamo București in 1948 was a big boost to football in Bucharest as the two capital clubs won six league titles in the following decade. The early 60s were completely dominated by new boys Dinamo București as they clinched five consecutive titles. This was the onset of a dark period in the history of Steaua București. The Militarii managed to win just three league titles over the next twenty years as their city rivals had got an iron grip over the Romanian league. During this dry period the club changed name yet again, this time to CSA Steaua București.
The Armymen finally tasted success in 1985 by winning the league by a mere two points and ousting city rivals Dinamo from the throne of Romanian football. This successful league campaign was coupled by the rise of two future Steaua legends, Victor Piţurcă and Gheorghe Hagi. Piţurcă was not the youngest player around, at the age of 28, but his experience and composure in front of goal proved to be imperative in Steaua’s national success. On the other hand, another Bucharest based club, Sportul Studenţesc, was witnessing the rapid growth of Romania’s most prolific player of all time, Gheorghe Hagi. These two contrasting players had their breakout seasons in 1984-85 as Hagi and Piţurcă scored 20 and 19 goals respectively.
The following season was pretty much the same story. Steaua won the league by 9 points and Piţurcă and Hagi continued to terrorize defenders across Romania. This time out, it was not just the Romanian League that was added to their trophy cabinet. Steaua had a sensational European campaign as they won Europe’s most prestigious tournament, the European Cup. Piţurcă continued to impress with his eye for goal as he scored 5 goals in the tournament, the brace against Anderlecht and a solitary goal against Kuusysi being the most crucial ones. Steaua’s dominance over the Romanian League continued to blossom in the 1986-87 season. The Army Men sat atop the table right from Matchday 3 up until the end of the season, also managing to remain unbeaten throughout the season. It was in the winter of this season that Steaua managed to sign Hagi from Sportul Studenţesc on a contract that allowed the Romanian attacker to play just one game for Steaua, the European Super Cup final.
The game was to be played against Dynamo Kiev at the Stade Louis II in Monaco. Hagi scored a stunning free kick to help Steaua pick up a memorable 1-0 victory. French newspaper L’Equipe very rightly summed up this match as a win for the “legs, muscles and nerves” of Steaua București over the “heads” of the Ukrainians. This stellar performance made Steaua hold on to Hagi, somehow managing to retain his services. Sadly for Steaua, their hopes of retaining the European Cup were shattered prior to Hagi’s arrival as Anderlecht managed to get their revenge by knocking out the Romanians in the Second Round.
Looking for redemption and boosted by the arrival of Hagi, Steaua looked set to get back the European Cup in 1987-88. Having a fairly easy route to the semi-finals, Steaua finally faced stiff competition in the form of Portuguese champions Benfica. Following a cagey goalless draw in Romania, Benfica disposed of the Romanians with a confident 2-0 victory at home. Hagi had a great tournament as he ended up finishing as the joint top scorer of the tournament. The league continued to be Steaua’s forte. Although Dinamo proved difficult to deal with, Steaua finally won the title by a point.
The 1988-89 season marked the last season where Steaua would be considered a threat in European football. Hagi and Marius Lăcătuş showed Europe just how attacking the Romanians were as they disposed of Sparta Prague, Spartak Moscow, IFK Göteborg and Galatasaray by scoring a total of 22 goals en route to the final. Up against one of the greatest teams in the history of the sport, Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan, Steaua were treated to a highly memorable thrashing. This 4-0 loss to Milan signaled the end of Steaua’s joy run in Europe’s elite competition. The club has managed just one semi-final appearance in a European competition over the next two decades.
National glory did not elude the Militarii as they won the 1988-89 season. The following season was a nail-biter as they lost the league by just one point to city rivals Dinamo București. After a decent showing at the 1990 World Cup, Hagi made the blockbuster move to the Spanish capital to play for Real Madrid. The 90s were just a continuation to Steaua’s glory years. The likes of Ilie Dumitrescu, Ilie Stan, Ion Vlădoiu and Sabin Ilie helped Steaua maintain their reputation as one of the most attacking teams in Romanian football. The club added six more league titles to the trophy cabinet in this decade.
The dawn of the new millennium was the beginning of the end of Steaua’s glory days. No European glory, a controversial owner and just three league titles clearly shows us just how drastically the club has dropped. Bucharest itself, seems have have lost its footballing talents as the none of the city’s clubs have managed to win a league title in the last last five years, something that hasn’t happened since the 1930s. The one thing that is in favour of historic clubs like Steaua, is the fact that the clubs that have clinched the title over the last few years have been unable to maintain any sort of consistency. The likes of Unirea Urziceni have gone from Champions League football to complete dissolution. Hopefully, this period will be nothing but a small blemish and Steaua will return to dominate Romanian football once again.