Romanianwas a key member to the success of Steaua Bucharest and has translated that to the Pro League, writes Jonathan Wilson.
Mirel Radoi's is a passion that still burns bright
Some players come to embody a club. It is not just to do with longevity, although obviously that helps, but about sharing a certain spirit and style.
Mirel Radoi, whose performances at the back of midfield seemingly have Al Ain on their way to a second successive Pro League title, spent eight years at Steaua Bucharest in which he became not merely a key player but also the godson and adviser to the owner and came to be the soul of the side.
Steaua may be the most vaunted club in Romania, but the 1986 European champions are uneasy grandees, seemingly locked in a constant struggle with themselves and their self-destructiveness.
Radoi, industrious and tempestuous, fitted the template perfectly.
His commitment to the club was undoubted, often helping financially former players who were struggling - perhaps most notably the late Stefan Sames.
Radoi was repeatedly linked with moves to glamorous western European clubs - with Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Paris Saint-Germain and Inter Milan all apparently ready to sign him only for injury to strike. It was perhaps the move to Inter that fell through in the most ludicrous - and yet typical - circumstances.
Talks had begun between Inter and Gigi Becali, the Steaua owner.
Steaua, though, unexpectedly lost a game away against Gloria in Bistrita and a furious Radoi punched the dressing-room door, smashing the glass and sustaining cuts so bad that he required hospital treatment.
Born in Dobreta-Turnu Severin, a small city on the Danube in the south-west of Romania, Radoi started playing football seriously at the age of eight, initially as a goalkeeper and then as a defender. Although he has played as both a centre-back and a full-back, it was the holding midfielder role he began to occupy with his local side CS Turnu Severin that he came to prefer.
He was spotted by the great former Universitatea Craiova striker Sorin Cartu, then the manager of Extensiv Craiova, who was so impressed that he used some of his own money to help finance the deal. He soon collected on his investment, since one season in the second division was enough to catch the eye of Steaua, who signed Radoi in 2000 when he was 19.
Initially, he was overawed.
"I couldn't believe I was there," he said. "I was standing with [Mioodrag] Belodedici, [Eugen] Baciu and [Iulian] Miu - players I had only seen on television."
So quickly did he settle, though, and so quickly did his personality become apparent that within a year he made captain.
His influence grew. He advised Becali to sign the current captain Alexandru Bourceanu.
"He's better than [Gennaro] Gattuso," Becali quoted him as saying. "And you know why? Because Bourceanu doesn't fly in irrationally, he just tackles when he knows he'll get the ball".
Radoi was also reported to be a driving force in Cosmin Olaroiu's return to the club as manager in 2006.
It was Olaroiu who then took him to Saudi Arabia with Al Hilal in 2008; realistically, he was probably the only coach who could have persuaded Radoi to leave Romania. The partnership has been hugely successful: after winning a Romanian championship together, they won two league titles in Saudi Arabia and then, reunited in Al Ain, they won the Pro League together last season.
"He is a valuable player and has consistently contributed in every game," said Olaroiu earlier this year.
Age has perhaps matured Radoi a little - although only a little; last year he picked up two red cards, taking his tally for his career to six. The move away from Romania helped to add a little perspective, soothing the famous old temper.
The old energy and will to win, though, burns as bright as ever.
"He's a team man and very hard working player," said Helal Saeed, the Al Ain midfielder. "He gives 100 per cent on the pitch and motivates everyone around him to do the same.
"He is always there to help others during the training by passing on all his experience and providing valuable tips to his colleagues, particularly the youngsters. He's an excellent personality and has great leadership qualities.
"He gets along well with everyone in the team, both on and off the field. He has that knack to motivate the others during the games. He will run any distance to support his team."
He may not be as glamorous as some of his teammates at Al Ain, and it may be that the likes of Asamoah Gyan, Omar Abdulrahman and Alex Brosque take most of the headlines, but Radoi's will to win has become as essential for Al Ain as it was for Steaua.
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