INTERVIEW Gica Popescu: I have obtained nothing in life that didn't come through hard work

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The former Romanian international football player Gheorghe Popescu, candidate for the chairmanship of the Romanian Football Federation (FRF), declared in a video interview to Agerpres that he wished to win the March 5 elections in the first round of voting, to not live the emotions of a second round, but that he pays the same attention to his five rivals in the elections.

Photo credit: (c) Mihai Poziumschi / AGERPRES FLUX

The former captain of the national team denied the involvement of the federation in his election campaign and ruled out any possibility that Mircea Sandu, the current chairman, will be involved in the executive of the federation, though he supports his race to win a new mandate on the Executive Committee of UEFA.

AGERPRES: How do you consider your campaign for the FRF chairmanship and the election campaign in general developed? Did it cross the boundary of common sense?

Gica Popescu: As far as I am concerned, I consider it went very well. We have observed to the letter the programme that I envisioned at the beginning of this candidacy, many months ago. The first thing I did was to announce my intention to run in this year's election. The elections were planned to be held in late May, early June. I've drawn up an initial plan for that date, prepared it and revealed it. I've also revealed the team with which I intend to take the leadership of the Federation if I am to win the March 5 elections. After that we started this country-wide tour with the intention to make our programme and our team known for our voters and the more so to find out from the people involved where the real problems in football lie. I can tell you that we've noticed what we believed from the start: Things look one way from the capital and another way out in the field. I also said, when launching my candidacy, that in what concerns me, I wish that this campaign be based upon the respect among candidates, for it to be a competition among programmes, ideas, teams. Unfortunately, this did not happen, due to the other candidates' choice to have a campaign made by attacking me. My team and I wish, through the behaviour that we had, to prove what we had in mind for the next four years in what regards conduct, we wished to be an example in this respect. There's one week left, we expect more and more of these outbursts from our competitors. It is their choice to campaign this way, their decision, and we will not stray from the conduct we had up to now regardless of what happens.

AGERPRES: How do you comment on the fact that eight people applied to become candidates, yet only six were ultimately validated as candidates?

Gica Popescu: It's a very good thing that there are options to be had and that people who will vote on March 5 have more programmes, more leaders to choose from. It's good that there is such a wide range. After all they have to decide who the best leader is, what the best programme is and which the best team is.

AGERPRES: Of your competitors, whom do you consider to be your main rival in the elections?

Gica Popescu: I pay equal attention to all those that applied to be in this competition. I believe that when they decided to compete in the March 5 elections, they relied on some support being granted, otherwise I don't see why they would do it. Each competitor deserves respect and we will be attentive until March 5.

AGERPRES: Do you believe that the chairmanship will be decided in the first round of voting? Do you anticipate an easy win for yourself?

Gica Popescu: Nothing is easy in life. I have obtained nothing in my life, be it in my professional football career or afterwards, that didn't come through hard work and honesty. I am convinced that this is what is going to happen now as well. I would like to win the elections in the first round, then I wouldn't have to live through the emotions of a second round, but this will be decided by those who come to the vote.

AGERPRES: If a second round exists, do you have an agreement to cooperate with anybody, any of your competitors; did you take this into consideration?

Gica Popescu: I have an agreement with people affiliated with my programme for the next four years. I have an agreement with my team members that we will keep these promises and be fair in the decisions we make, we will be friends to the people in the field, with whom we will solve the issues surrounding our football. The alliance that we made in this campaign was with affiliated members to observe the programme we proposed for the next four years.

AGERPRES: You've been in the provinces, you've talked to people, what are the main issues they face there?

Gica Popescu: At every meeting we have had, a member of my team, Cristi Bivolaru, wrote down the problems outlined by people in the provinces. And we have about 60 pages with all kinds of ideas. What we want is that after March 5 the dialogue truly begin. During the campaign, everybody promises something. A lot of exaggerated things we saw in the provinces proposed by other candidates. They probably can allow themselves to say things that are not easy to accomplish. We do not do this and what we want is to give people a programme that we respect and honour. It is necessary that we should solve things together with people, I do not want a leadership imposed from Bucharest. Together with people involved in the second league, the third league, the county football associations we must decide things, because through these people we will implement these changes and we need their participation.

AGERPRES: How do you comment on the fact that certain candidates say that you were helped by the Federation, by general secretary Adalbert Kassai? What's the real situation?

Gica Popescu: We are in a campaign and during the campaign a lot of things are said that our competitors know aren't true, yet believing that they can gain an advantage, they make these statements, even if they aren't true. We have been in the provinces with the entire team, not always all of us, because some members had other activities and we couldn't all be there. But around 60-70 percent of the time we were there as a team. In none of these trips there were any of those mentioned by our competitors.

AGERPRES: Do you find it a good opportunity to have a televised meeting between the candidates, so they can expose their plans before the elections?

Gica Popescu: No. Maybe if they had another kind of discourse, based on ideas and programmes, then probably yes. But first of all, people watching us are not those who vote. People in the provinces are those who vote and we have talked to about 90 percent of them. The rest we will meet next week. We have presented the programme on their home turf, we have discussed a great deal and I believe this is the manner in which all the competitors should do it.

AGERPRES: You're the only candidate that presented his team. Why do you believe the others are late to do this?

Gica Popescu: They probably do not have a team or do not take pride in the team that they have, otherwise I see no reason for not going public with this. I have made this mistake in 2005, talking only what I wanted to do even though I had a team behind me. This time I decided that besides the programme to present the team as well, because in the end the value of a leader is also given by the team that he has.

AGERPRES: How much does it matter or how much did it matter the support given by chairmen Mircea Sandu and Gino Iorgulescu?

Gica Popescu: It is the statement of the League's [the Romanian Professional Football League] chairman who knows me very well, for twenty-odd years. I've worked with Gino Iorgulescu when Mr Cornel Dinu was the coach of the national team and he was the assistant coach. We know each other well, he knows the type of man I am and he probably has great trust in what I represent as a person and as a future chairman of FRF. I have also worked for about 15 years together with Mircea Sandu at the national team, he knows me very well and he is the incumbent chairman. I believe it matters a lot for these people have a certain level of lobbying that they can do and I believe their views are positive.

AGERPRES: However, in your first candidacy [in 2005] you were opposed to Mircea Sandu. What made you change the opinion you stated then and accept to cooperate with him?

Gica Popescu: It's a good thing to clarify this cooperation that you are speaking of. All in all, Mircea Sandu was proposed by the last Executive Committee meeting to become an honorary chairman of the Romanian Football Federation. Honorary, not executive chairman, so without involvement in the executive for he can't have any. If the general assembly validates this proposal, Mr Mircea Sandu will become honorary chairman with no influence and I would like to stress influence, or executive involvement. He is also a member of the UEFA Executive Committee and if he wishes to remain one, he should draw up a new mandate in the Executive Committee and I will support him in this endeavour. Firstly because he's Romanian and Romanian football should be represented at this level in the UEFA. It is important for us to have a representative in the UEFA Executive Committee. In September, the UEFA Executive Committee will decide the hosts of the European Championships in 2020 and here's an advantage, a great help we could receive. This would be the future relation that the chairman of the Federation can have with the honorary chairman.

AGERPRES: Will you call him for advice, given his experience?

Gica Popescu: I hope it won't be necessary, I hope we will all manage on our own and won't need advice. But if there's a moment when his help is necessary, I will not hesitate to ask him or others who can help.

AGERPRES: You said at one time about your programme: 'This programme needs to be implemented not only because it's my programme, but because something must be done, otherwise Romanian Football will die. Can you expand on that statement?

Gica Popescu: In every meeting we've had with the affiliated members we presented our programme and it took at least 50 minutes. We do not have the time for me to present the programme, but I believe that Romanian football is in a delicate spot due to the lack of results, lack of athletic performances and this cannot change without a well-structured programme as our own. A programme that has as a basis developing the child and youth sectors as we consider should be done and it's not only our view. We worked on developing this programme with the technical staff of important federations such as those of Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands. We exchanged ideas and saw what these federations do to improve their football and reconstruct it so it works well. And we've chosen this path because it's a good thing to learn from those who have a good track record and that have something to teach you. We've developed the project and we've presented it to those in the provinces and who will come to the vote on March 5. From my point of view, it's the programme that can change Romanian football. Such a change cannot be done at short notice. It will take a lot of work, a lot of sacrifices and an extraordinary dedication not only from us, but a lot of other institutions that must participate in the programme. But we believe in this programme very, very much and we believe it to be attainable.

AGERPRES: What will be, if elected chairman, your first three decisions and what's the main objective in your first year of mandate?

Gica Popescu: What I want is that in the time directly after the confirmation of the vote to summon the Executive Committee and propose a ?"road map." To propose objectives that are attainable with deadlines that are reasonable. I want to present this and have the go-ahead from the Executive Committee because together we have to make decisions that are in the best interest of those we propose them for. It is hard for me to give three ideas because, from my perspective, everything we put into that programme is important. But we will have a "road map" with well envisaged deadlines to have and hold a course.

AGERPRES: How about the first objective you would like fulfilled this year? Is there something you would like to see completed?

Gica Popescu: It's hard for me to name one. All the things written down are important. The first thing we must do is start working. One of the first things on the agenda is to meet with all the staff of the federation and tell them my methods of cooperation. I am very strict in regards to discipline and schedule, in observing the decisions we make. I want people to know from the very beginning what kind of work we will do. It won't be easy, it will take a lot of work, sacrifices, maybe even working Saturdays and Sundays, I will be the first to do so. I want to lead by example. And I want them to know very well how things are going to be.

AGERPRES: In regards to the federation, how do you find the size of the staff? Normal, too large, too small?

Gica Popescu: It's very easy to talk from where we're standing. From here it looks packed, but we might go there and see that people there have certain clearly defined contracts and will have to stay. Some of them might leave as a consequence of the programme we will impose. Or they won't want to work with us. It's very hard to make such a statement, it seems unprofessional. You have to be on the inside, see what every man has to do, the contracts that they have, make an evaluation of every man that works inside the federation and then draw the line and come up with a well-structured idea. The organizational chart seems crowded, but only when we get there we will truly know how things are.

AGERPRES: If you are elected, do you want a limited number of mandates as chairman or will you stay for as long as the football world wants you as chairman?

Gica Popescu: You should know that I don't wish to grow old at the Romanian Football Federation. But I do want to accomplish some things I've had in mind, I would be glad to stay and see some of my works come to fruition because I'll be honest, if we accomplish in two mandates what we envisaged and the results start coming in at the end of the second mandate, I would be glad to stay a third to enjoy the results.

AGERPRES: Victor Piturca will be the national team coach for at least one more match, that with Argentina. What is your view, will he be changed, will he remain?

Gica Popescu: In regards to the national team coach, I believe that, in principle, whoever he may be, he should have a two-year contract with the goal to gain entry to the next final tournament. If he and the team qualify, an extension to his contract to boost his confidence and appreciate the work he has done so far. If we are to look at the current national team coach, we'll see that he [Piturca] has a contract until 2016. Normally, contracts are made to be observed. It's true that cooperation has to exist on all sides, coach, chairman and technical director because if a feeling of mutual commitment, of wanting to do things to improve football does not exist and certain rules of the new chairman are not observed, I believe it is very hard to cooperate. We have to have a common denominator that we must observe in order to work together properly.

AGERPRES: Would a foreign coach be a solution for the national team?

Gica Popescu: I don't want to comment on the prospect of a new coach insofar as the national team already has a coach. I'll say it again, it would be disrespectful of me to make such comments given that I do not hold an official position [in the Federation].

AGERPRES: Cristian Chivu [Romanian defender at Internazionale Milano] is supporting you, do you know if he's willing to come back to Romania, is he interested or have you proposed to him to cooperate with you at the Federation?

Gica Popescu: Before launching the idea of candidacy I met a few times with Cristi in Milan and he was delighted to be a part of our team. I told him that my advice is to play football for as long as his health allows it, knowing the issues he has, and if he can, at the same level he has played up to now. After that he will have time to join our programme regardless of when he decides to hang his boots up. I know that he underwent an extremely delicate and tough operation recently that has, fortunately, succeeded. He will have an important period of recovery and I don't know if he wants or could play football any more. What is important is that he told us that when he is finished with playing football he will join this project, having enjoyed good relations with most of people on the team.

AGERPRES: You have a trial pending, if there is a conviction, what will happen? Will you give football up?

Gica Popescu: Since this trial began I have made no public statements regarding the trial. There's three more days and it will all end. Let's be patient. I'm very optimistic as a rule. I've waited nine years, there's only three days left.
AGERPRES

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