Real Madrid has Raul, Manchester United has Sir Alex Ferguson, Milan has Maldini, Liverpool has Shankly, Bayern has Beckenbauer and Juventus has Alex Del Pierro. But it is not necessary to play all your career at a single club to be remembered later for a lifetime as “The One”! Rapid Bucharest has many players that became legends during its 88 years history, but one seems to detach from the rest.
Daniel Pancu is the symbol of Rapid from the late ‘90s and the early 2000s, but he became also the hero now, in 2011, when he scored six goals that brought Rapid five wins. Three in the past season and two in the one that we see in action right now. Born in Iași, on 17th of August 1977 and when he came at Rapid he was only a youngster of 20 years. After three years at the local Politehnica, Pancu signed with the team from Giulesti, fulfilling his childhood dream. He came in the yearly days of 1997, but Rapid ended that season on a eight place. After that, Rapid became a giant ant finished first second, adjudging the Romanian Cup after 23 years and after one more season managed to win its’ second official title.
Pancu gathered all this time 77 games and 23 goals, including the one in 1999, against Dinamo, that edged Rapid’s way to the title. Those remarkable performances, dubbed by the Romanian Super Cup in the same year, brought Daniel a transfer to Italy, at Cesena. Ok, so it was a team from the second tier, but Pancu became a basic man in the squad. He played in all 34 matches, putting in three goals, but Cesena end up on a 16 place that brought a painful relegation in the third flight. So the Romanian left and guess where he came… Yes, you are right, back to Rapid. Another spell under the Grant Bridge ended in 2002 with another Romanian Cup and Super Cup and after playing 44 games in the first league. 26 in the first season, when he managed to score 13 goals and 18 a year after. In this last one, he gave in 15 goals (!), becoming second top scorer of the championship, without playing almost a half of it!
When he recovered after the injury, Rapid could not held him anymore, so Besiktas came in with an offer and Pancu switched to play in Turkey. That way, he missed the Romanian title won by Rapid in 2003, but he became winner of Superlig in a season that will remain in the history of the team from Istanbul forever. With Mircea Lucescu as a coach (the same that brought Rapid the title in 1999, when also Pancu was an indispensable man), Besiktas won the championship with a record of 85 points, suffering only one defeat. The Romanian midfielder was set to play in the Champions’ League and stayed on the pitch the full 90 minutes of the historical victory on Stanford Bridge. Besiktas beat Chelsea 2-0, with two goals scored by Sergen Yalcin in the first half and by holding a strong resistance after they remained in ten man (50th minute). Pancu continued to play for the Turkish squad for two more years and became a real hero when he was a goalkeeper in the last 10 minutes of a derby from Fenerbahce’s pitch. When Pancu settled between the posts the score was 2-3, but Cordoba was sent off. Fener equalized from the spot, but Daniel had some brilliant saves and his team would eventually score the winner. Still, all his performances weren’t enough and when he started his fourth season there, things got a bit gray and he agreed for a loan at another team for the end of the 2005-2006. And where else could he go if not in Giulesti again? The old saying, home, sweet home, fits perfect again. That, as you well know, it was the season when Rapid reached the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup, but Pancu could not play in that competition, because he already played for Besiktas. He helped the Romanians with two goals in 13 matches, including one of the 2-0 victory in the away match against Steaua. Rapid didn’t manage to win that title, but finished second. The last time, until our days.
Pancu was too good to remain and play in Liga I, because Turkish fans wanted him back. But he won’t go to Besiktas again, signing with Bursaspor instead. There, he stayed two seasons, playing quite modest, and without any achievement he come bach to Rapid. Having 31 years, it seemed like he was about to end his career in Giulesti. More than that, he scored three important goals in only seven matches. Initially, he got guarantees that he will remain under the Grant bridge, but at the end of 2007-2008 season he was pushed to sign with Terek Groznii, from the first Russian league. That time it was when he said that he won’t come to Romania and play for another team excepting Poli Iași. 33 games and 10 goals in Russia brought him in 2010 a transfer to Bulgarias more succesful team of all time, CSKA Sofia. Pancu wasnțt so lucky there and stepped out after just three batles. And he again came to play in his nativa country. Not in Iași as he promised and nor at Rapid, as we hopped so, but at FC Vaslui. In the first match of the 2010-2011 city, Pancu did not play against Rapid on Giulesti, but all the supporters from the stadium chanted his name for a long period of time.
As he failed to succeed at Sofia, he did the same thing at Vaslui and after a half of year it was time to leave. At the beginning of 2011, Pancu was already 33 and few thought that he has to continue playing. But he looked more stubborn than ever and signed with a team. And not a second league team as you might imagine, but with one from the first league, the one that has the sweetest name: Rapid Bucharest. Yes folks, we witnessed the fifth spell of Pancu at Rapid. He signed even though he would eventually receive the smallest salary from the team, because that was a insignificant thing for him. He remained on the bench for some time, but when he came in against Poli Timisoara he scored an important goal that sealed a 3-2 score, which became the first defeat in that season for the squad from Banat. But Pancu would not stop with this goal and score two more until the end of that championship, one against Pandurii and his first on Ghencea. Coincidence or not, both brought 1-0 victories that proved to help Rapid in the end to sit on the fourth place.
Having the 77 number on the back of his shirt, Pancu wasn’t so pleased and at the beginning of the season 2011-2012, he took advantage of Raduta’s departure and took his no 11. He started the new season also as a reserve, but when he entered he did it good as he scored another winner in the third match day, in the last minutes of the game with Petrolul. Another three points brought by the veteran, and a good reason to receive a place in the starting lineup against Concordia. It was another match that would be remembered for a long time. The striker celebrated on 17 August his 34th birthday and four days later, when the game took place, Pancu made himself the best gift: a 2-0 victory! And with both goals scored by him, Daniel got back with nine years, when, against UMT, it was the last match in which he scored more than one goal for Rapid in the Romanian first league!
Many smilled when Razvan Lucescu was about to call him from this spring match against Bosnia, because Pancu played his last game under the national flag in 2005. So what? He only played four years in Romania’s jersey (2001-2005), but he managed to gather 27 selections in which he scored nine goals, remarkable achievements if we realize that at the national team he did not play as advanced as he was at Rapid. So, if he had success than, why can’t he have right now, when he scores goals after goals? But it’s just a small detail, as Pancu mentioned that his only purpose is to play until Rapid wins another Romanian title. I don’t know if this will happen, but I do know that Pancu is one of Rapid’s biggest legends. Maybe he is not considered to be a legend of all Romanian football, but this really doesn’t matter, because Rapids’ players had always been different!