From a scared, foreign kid in Rome to Lazio's most battle-tested centurion: Stefan Radu is silently a historic Serie A player

From a scared, foreign kid in Rome to Lazio's most battle-tested centurion: Stefan Radu is silently a historic Serie A player

It almost seems that the top players along the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller and especially Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have privatized record-setting in football. Yet every once in a while a reminder comes up that shows football is still solely about the pitch and the work put in.

Last year Lazio was pushing Juventus for the title for the longest time before Inter stole its spotlight in the end. The side has won two Italian cups in the last eight seasons, three in the last 12. Being the second most winningest Italian side after Juventus in the last eight seasons, getting two Supercups as well.

Playing in the Champions League this campaign, getting to the knockout stages as well. While the club president Claudio Lotito has lowered the club's debt by €104,000,000 since 2004 without major player sales that await, showing calm stability in the Rome club.

Under the headlines regarding the still current Golden Boot winner Ciro Immobile and the future of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, an unlikely hero reached the peak at Olimpico. With the late March game against Udinese saw Radu equal the tally of the former most-capped player Giuseppe Favalli who stopped at 401 games for the Biancocelesti. After the international break, Radu separated himself at the top getting to the 402nd and now 403rd appearance in a Lazio shirt, against Spezia and Verona. All three games being victories.

"All the matches were special for me. There are emotions before each of them: when you enter the pitch every match has a story. I keep all 401 appearances close. I don't want to choose the favourite. If I have to choose the final of the Coppa Italy against Roma," stated Radu upon equalling Favalli's record.

Arriving in 2008 from Dinamo Bucuresti for a fee of €4,750,000, Radu paid off for Lazio beyond everyone's, including his own expectations.

"I am proud to have achieved this record in appearances. I never imagined reaching Favalli’s appearances with Lazio. I remember when I arrived in Rome. I was a lonely and scared kid. I was received very well immediately, and gradually I became part of the Biancocelesti family. My children were born in Rome, and this is their home," explained Radu.

The central defender had the luck to find fellow Balkan players in Rome upon arriving, Aleksandar Kolarov of Serbian and North Macedonian Goran Pandev, who showed him the ropes. Making a switch from a CB to the left-back easier.

"When I arrived at Lazio, Pandev and Kolarov taught me a lot. They made me join the group quickly. My natural role is at the heart of the defence. Then I was moved to left-back."

In those 403 matches, Radu scored eight goals, getting 21 assists, mostly from his time as a left-back. Fittingly, he is also the foreign player who has reached the most wins for Lazio in the three-point era with 161. Closely followed by Senad Lulic at 148 and then Sergej with 101.

As far as his cap record, Radu can feel quite safe for the time being. The third man on the list behind the dethroned Favalli is the Italian-English player born in 1945 Guiseppe Wilson with 394 caps. The fourth spot belongs to a more familiar player for modern audiences - Paolo Negro with 377. The only active player in the top 10 is the current captain Senad Lulic who got to 362 caps.

Both these centurions, Radu and Lulic, are playing towards the end of their contracts, coming in the summer of 2021. But the Romanian is feeling fit and ready to push on for years. While at the same time inherently questioning the rhetoric that long careers and training to the fullest don't go together.

"At the end of 2019 I thought about quitting. Only my agent knows this. I told him that I would only play for Lazio and for no one else. I am proud of this choice. I live in the moment. I still don’t think about the future because I want to play. Physically I am fine; I always train to the maximum. The retirement can wait."

Lazio is yet to extend their trust in Stefan Daniel Radu who played in 24 games this season, 1,870 minutes while battling two medium-impact injuries. Even though the man known as Stefan in Italy, and Daniel in Romania, has even said farewell to Romania in order to focus solely on the club, getting only 13 caps total for his country.

With the former assistant manager Adrian Mihalcea stating the importance Radu had in that short career.

"Hats off to your career! I also played in Italy, but not at his level. It was a great loss not to have him on the national team. Everyone wanted to bring him, all the coaches who led Romania. He was a player who would bring peace to the national team. He has reached a great maturity and could help the team," said Mihaalcea before adding he believes Lazio would extend his contract for being the longest-serving player.

The 34-year-old Radu is well aware on his impact on the dressing room and as Lazio should expect big-name players like SMS to move out this summer, they need an anchor of keeping Radu.

"I have always felt good with my teammates. I am a locker room man because I always want the good for the team. When you arrive at Lazio you immediately understand the particular environment. Here you always have to think about winning because the fans are very demanding."

The man who enjoyed three Italian cups with Lazio, in 2009, 2013, and 2019, alongside three Supercups in 2009, 2017, and 2019, has enjoyed his time under Simone Inzaghi's baton.

"The finals of the Inzaghi era have all been beautiful. They are games made to win. We have lost a lot, but we have won the ones that considered us underdogs. We overturned the odds, especially against Juventus. In those matches, we showed everyone that we were a great team."

With the fans still absent or few in Italy, Lazio must extend Radu's contract as that's how big clubs treat their legends. Which Radu certainly is at Lazio, even though he never reached a near-star status in the eyes of opposing fans.

"I get chills when the fans shout my name in the stadium. Last year the Olimpico was almost always sold out. Those moments have remained with me because playing at home makes us feel protected."


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