Rum times

Walter Zenga's short time as a manager in Romania looks set to end soon, as Ben Lyttleton notes

When former Italy goalkeeper Walter Zenga was appointed coach of Romanian side FC National last summer, he explained that one attraction of making a fresh start was to help him get over a broken heart after his split with Italian actress Hoara Borselli. Four months later, Zenga, rumoured to have had a fling with Madonna after Italia 90, cannot wait to leave Bucharest and he looks set to do so at the end of the season. The reason? Another woman. A drugs bust. And a potential smear campaign.

It may be a little unfair to blame Zenga’s latest squeeze, professional tennis player Raluca Sandu. Raluca, daughter of Romanian FA president Mirceas Sandu (he disapproves, by the way), dumped Ion-Ion Tiriac, son of legendary tennis coach Ion, to snare Zenga. The pair soon became Bucharest’s top celebrity couple, Posh and Becks with bats’ wings.

Everything changed on the last Thursday in November. Zenga and Raluca went out for dinner with his assistant coach Alessandro Ciullini and two Italian TV journalists. They ate at Trattoria il Calcio, a restaurant owned by the club chairman Gino Iorgulescu. They then went to the members-only section of a trendy nightclub called Office, where another National coach, the former Chelsea midfielder Dan Petrescu, and his wife Dana joined them.

Around midnight, armed police burst in and headed straight for Zenga’s table, finding a wrap of cocaine under the table and another behind his chair. The Italian was searched before being taken to the police station.

Raluca recalled: “There were a lot of police. I have no idea why they came straight to our table. Nobody in our party likes to take drugs, but unfortunately Walter and I were asked to give statements to the police.”

Petrescu was the only person who seemed to enjoy the episode. “It was fantastic,” he enthused. “It’s the first time I’ve seen the police do some­thing like this, and it was just like being in the movies. I was not afraid, as I knew that my wife and I are clean and have never tried drugs. Walter,” he added helpfully, “was very nervous but I explained he had nothing to worry about and so he co-operated.”

Zenga and Raluca were released the following morning without charge. It then emerged that Ion-Ion Tiriac was also in Office that night with his new girlfriend, pop star and Playboy model Ileana Lazariuc. A police spokesman confirmed that they had received a tip-off from someone inside the club, and the press had a field day. One newspaper alleged that Ion-Ion had called the police, another that he had per­sonally planted the cocaine at Zenga’s table.

Ciullini had no idea whether Zenga had been set up: “I don’t know whether they were looking for young people with money to spend on drugs or someone in particular. But I am sure that Walter was not the man the police were after. I was shocked that they found some­thing by where we were sitting.”

Zenga was shaken by the sorry affair and was only talked into staying at the club after lengthy discussions. A few days later, he re­leased a statement. “In my whole playing car­eer and throughout my life, I have never tried to take any drugs,” he said.

“This whole episode has destroyed me. It could ruin my image across the world and es­pecially in Italy, where my children live. I’m afraid to think that they could even believe such horrible stories about me. My only worry is how to improve my work every day and get good results for the team. I am innocent.”

Zenga has been spotted walking around the club with tears in his eyes. One Nat­ional player walked into the coach’s office and found him “crying like a desperate man”. Olaroiu has since revealed that Zenga has “almost admitted” that he will leave at the end of the season. By then he will probably be happy to go back to Italy, broken heart and all.

From WSC 192 February 2003. What was happening this month