With LaLiga being temporary suspended, here at Villarreal CF, we've decided to periodically relive moments, teams and people which have stood out in the club's history. This Friday, we look back at Gica Craioveanu, one of the most important footballers in the Yellows' recent history.
Gheorge Craioveanu (Romania, 14th February 1968) was the Submarine's first big star in the top flight. An example of commitment and dedication, the Romanian striker took centre stage for key moments during his four seasons wearing yellow, where he won the hearts of the Villarreal support.
To step up to the top flight for the first time ever, Villarreal strengthened with experienced players, who had featured in the elite of Spanish football. One of them was Gica Craioveanu, who arrived at El Madrigal after three seasons at Real Sociedad.
Despite being a new signing, the Romanian didn't need time to adapt, showing his goalscoring prowess from day one. Craioveanu is the man who has the privilege to have scored the Submarine's first goal in the top flight, at the Santiago Bernabéu no loess. The Yellows faced Real Madrid on Matchday 1 and Gica scored within three minutes with an unstoppable header. The match ended 4-1 to Los Blancos, but that early goal gave euphoria to the Villarreal fans.
Craioveanu's high point of his career in yellow came on 13th December 1998 at the Camp Nou. Villarreal CF beat FC Barcelona (1-3) for the first time ever, in one of the club's most memorable games. Two marvellous strikes by Craioveanu gave the Submarine the win in the azulgrana's coliseum. With 15 minutes to go, Gerardo sealed the victory against a Barcelona side that had stars such as Rivado, Patrick Kluivert, Luis Figo and Pep Guardiola. Giovanni, with eight minutes to go, got the home side's only goal to make it 1-3.
In their debut Primera División season, with nearly halfway gone, Villarreal were 13th, seven points from safety. A more than notable start, that sadly didn't keep them up, after a negative second half of the season with only two wins. The Yellows finished 18th and had to play a play-off against Sevilla to decide who won at El Madrigal (0-2) and at the Sánchez-Pizjuán (1-0), condemning the Submarine to relegation.
After a year full of promise, Villarreal returned to Segunda División, where they stayed for just one season. Craioveanu stayed with the club for the 1999/00 campaign, becoming one of the heroes of the second promotion to Primera. In the top flight once more, he stayed with the club for two further seasons, reaching 133 goals with the Submarine and scoring 30 goals.