WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Number 23 - 8 August 2009
NAME: FLORIN RADUCIOIU
DATE OF BIRTH: 17 March 1970, Bucharest, Romania
DEBUT: 24 August 1996, Premier League, West Ham United 2-1 Southampton
LAST GAME: 1 January 1997, Premier League, West Ham United 0-1 Nottingham Forest
There is no shortage of fond memories in the career that brought Florin Raducioiu Serie A glory with AC Milan and FIFA World Cup fame with Romania.
Yet there is one nagging regret in the mind of the 39-year-old - the spell at West Ham United he describes as 'a disaster'.
Bucharest-born Raducioiu arrived at the Boleyn Ground from Espanyol in July 1996, having scored his country's only goal at Euro 96. By January, however, he was back in Spain, having played just 12 games and scored three times.
Speaking from his home in Italy, he does not hide his dismay about his failure to make an impact in east London.
"I am very sorry about what happened. I was an important signing for West Ham at that time and I remember Harry Redknapp wanted me a lot and Ilie Dumitrescu was a good friend of mine and playing there. I made a mistake, I wasn't ready for English football."
Raducioiu had "big problems adapting" both on and off the park. His wife Astrid was pregnant - their elder son Andrea was born in Portland Hospital - and he fell out with manager Redknapp.
"The way of training was completely different and it led to problems. But it's 13 years ago now and I'd like to say a big 'Sorry' to the great fans at Upton Park. My character was a bit aggressive. I am 39 now and I can see the mistakes I made not only at West Ham but at Espanyol, at Milan, that's human.
"It was something between two people but I don't want to offend anybody at West Ham," he adds. "I had my faults, I should have worked much harder to adapt to the English system."
Yet the admission of blame ends there, with Raducioiu denying the much-publicised claim that he went shopping at Harvey Nichols rather than travel north for the League Cup fourth-round replay defeat at Stockport County in December 1996.
"It is not true that before a cup game I went shopping and left the team without a striker."
It was actually against Stockport that Raducioiu registered his first West Ham goal, in the 1-1 home draw that preceded the team's replay defeat. Yet he prefers to remember the first of his two Premier League goals, scored against Manchester United on 8 December that year. Just three minutes after going 2-0 down, Raducioiu halved the deficit in the 78th minute to kick-start a stirring comeback completed by Julian Dicks' penalty.
"I loved the way the stadiums were close to the pitch and I remember clearly when I scored against Manchester United in a 2-2 draw and I went to the fans and they started hugging me. I've not forgotten that."
Raducioiu, whose third and final goal in the claret and blue came later that month in a 2-0 win over Sunderland, recalls other positives - friendships with Dumitrescu, Slaven Bilic and Ludek Miklosko, the kindness of Peter Storrie, then managing director, not to mention the birth of his son in 'the most beautiful city in the world'.
He retains an obvious admiration for the English game.
"One thing in English football that Italy doesn't have is people going to the stadium without any fear, the whole family together going to see their clubs. That is something I really like."
West Ham are one of eight clubs Raducioiu represented in a career that began at Dinamo Bucharest and included spells in Italy - AS Bari, Hellas Verona, Brescia Calcio, AC Milan - Spain - Espanyol - Germany - Vfb Stuttgart - and France - AS Monaco. He retained a home in Monaco after hanging up his boots and embarking on unhappy spells as first an agent and then sporting director back at Dinamo Bucharest.
He is now taking his coaching badges at the Italian FA's training centre in Coverciano with a view to returning to football and moving back to Brescia, his wife's home city, permanently.
"It is about getting back on to the football pitch and that's what I like. I will complete the course next year and I would like to start coaching young players - a youth team perhaps, and then a bit older. I'd like to take it gradually."
The greatest memories of Raducioiu's life in football came at the World Cup in the United States in 1994.
"In '94 the Romania team were at their very best - [Gheorghe] Hagi, Dumitrescu, [Miodrag] Belodedici, [Dan] Petrescu, [Gheorghe] Popescu, myself."
Romania beat Colombia, USA and Argentina to reach the quarter-finals, where they went down on penalties against Sweden.
"We were unlucky. We would have beaten Sweden if we'd been a bit cleverer. We were the favourites and to beat Argentina - even without [the banned Diego] Maradona - and then lose to Sweden was painful."
Having scored twice against Colombia, Raducioiu netted both goals in the 2-2 draw with the Swedes, first equalising in the 88th minute, then giving his country an extra-time lead.
"We were losing 1-0 and came back and were winning 2-1 five minutes from the end of extra time. We lost on penalties but it was for us and for [semi-finalists] Bulgaria - another team from the east - a real success. For me too it was a great World Cup, getting four goals. It was effectively the best moment of my career."