The champions have started in style. No worries in Liga 1, where Claudiu Keseru managed to score six in one game (in theory, Pandurii is one of the decent clubs, but in practice they often try not to upset a top business partner like Steaua) and very few teams will be able to pose a real threat during the current campaign. On the European stage, all going as planned so far and the red and blue outfit are 90 minutes away from another profitable presence in the Champions League group stage, having already a one goal advantage over Ludogorets, thanks to their top performer, Alexandru Chipciu.
So, results are here right away, in spite of the lack of experience of Costel Galca, money isn’t a problem, the fans are behind the team (all over the country). All seems well, especially as in a dozen lines I didn’t mention Gigi Becali. But, oops!, the name is here now, yet the man is still behind bars (alongside his right hand Mihai Stoica), and the problem that could affect Steaua’s promising season arises.
Not only Becali took out of the club’s account a big chunk of the over 10 millions euros profit registered last season, but he also kept a firm grip on the club, seriously restricting Steaua’s movement on the transfer market, where important departures (past or imminent – Tanase and Latovlevici have been repeatedly linked with foreign clubs) need(ed) to be adressed.
The problem is that the club’s structure is poor, it also only exists to approve and execute the owner’s wishes and Steaua’s view of the market is as narrow as the space between two bars. Without Stoica, there’s nobody both informed and confident enough to take an unknown name to Becali, so the club’s recent targets have been only current or past Liga 1 players.
Of the team that battled it out with the likes of Chelsea or Schalke, a handful of key players are gone. With Tatarusanu (Fiorentina), Chiriches (Tottenham), Gardos (Southampton), Bourceanu (Trabzonspor) and Pintilii (Al Hilal), the very backbone of the team was extracted and, in spite of all the income, Steaua failed to add players with either similar quality or at least potential. But the reason isn’t just the reluctance to spend some money. In fact, the Bucharest outfit went after players of proven value, but in the only league Becali knew: the Romanian first division. A league that had already offered its best products to the club in recent years, a league that struggles to produce new talent at a good rate.
That’s why Steaua signed Arlauskis (former league winner with Unirea Urziceni), Luchin (former Dinamo Bucharest player, signed from Botev Plovdiv), Breeveld (Pandurii) and Lemnaru (Universitatea Cluj, a player Galca doesn’t even like). And that is the only reason why the club makes no secret in its intention to bring back to Liga 1 Jeremy Bokila, a striker who impressed with Petrolul, before moving to Terek Groznii. He’s the main and last target once/if the Champions League group stage is reached, although he’s been a flop in Russia and, more importantly, Terek can afford to speculate Steaua’s desperate approach and ask for a lot of money (approx 2 million euros) for a fringe player.
Steaua is definitely weaker than last season, although Galca does some good work on the training pitch, yet the downfall of the solid team lead to important success by Laurentiu Reghecampf might not catch the eye that quickly. The group stage of the Champions League is only 90 minutes away, while the route to another league title remains accessible. A defeat (with the wrong scoreline) in Bulgaria could expose though the fact that Becali was wrong to take away from his club exactly what he’s missing the most: the freedom. The freedom to move, to dare, to act.
The friendlies against Albania and Algeria were indeed useful. They should have helped some clubs figure out if they should sign free players like Pantilimon, Tatarusanu, Nicolita, Rat or Marica and other clubs if it’s worth spending money for the signatures of Grigore, Pintilii or Tanase (I’d advise them for free against such a move…).
They also helped Piturca introduce some new faces into the team, like the very young Manea of the better-looking-with-each-season Matei, but they probably failed to convince the stubborn coach that this 4-2-3-1 turning into 4-1-4-1 lacks the right players to provide better results than we’ve seen in recent years.
I’ll just lay down my arguments:
– we’ve been searching for years for a right back and all we’ve came up with was Astra’s Matel. The 16 years old Manea is just a promise, while putting Chiriches there (like it happened vs Algeria) simply makes no sense.
– on the left side we have the ageing Rat, now 33, and not even a convincing backup solution in Latovlevici.
– we don’t have a no 8 type of midfielder, apart from PAOK’s Lazar. In front of the defense, Piturca uses Bourceanu and Pintilii; a poor choice, as having there two players with the profile of a no 6 simply keeps your team highly ineffective in keeping possession and building-up he game. Not to mention that their passing skill and vision also affect Romania’s ability to counter.
– we don’t have wingers who can combine pace, skill on the ball, finishing ability. All of them have either one or two of these vital assets. Chipciu, for instance, is one of them… and plays in the middle.
– our wide midfielders are Popa (who only has pace), Nicolita (who only has the will to run), Tanase (who can’t use his left foot and his brain), Maxim (who has skill and some pace, but feels better in the middle).
– we don’t have a number 10 (Chipciu is a winger turned into a supporting forward) or, better said, we don’t want a number 10, because we only counter.
– we don’t have the striker able to play alone upfront. Marica will speculate every once in a while a lucky ball behind the defense or an error from the opposition, but he cannot win aerial duels, hold up the ball, allow the team to come in support. He’s not the right type of forward for such a role.
If any of the above makes some sense, it’s bad. In fact, it’s really bad. Because I am not even a coach. I do, however, judge the players’ performances, ability and potential for a living and I can tell you this: in spite of Piturca’s efforts to promote different players (remember Grozav, who only convinced Terek and in the end failed to make it even there?), Romania’s poor looking 4-2-3-1 gets back at the very players that fail to make it work. And makes them look limited, inconsistent, promising at times, but eventually unconvincing.
While others prepare for the World Cup, Romania defeated Albania 1-0 after yet another mediocre performance, in the build-up for the probably easiest ever qualifying campaign for the European Championship. Still, Victor Piturca, the manager who still has a job only because the new head of the Romanian Federation refused to pay him 300.000 Euro, the price for an early termination of his contract, stated afterwards that Romania has the ability to defeat any team. Probably by boring it to death.
Piturca will also show great proud for his incredible courage of fielding the 16 years old Cristian Manea in a friendly, meaningless match, the Viitorul defender breaking a very old record about the youngest player to feature in Romania’s senior team.
The truth is, Piturca, as always, is not really keen on rebuilding this team. He sticks pretty much to the same players and he keeps on using the national team as a stage for players who really need these caps to get new contracts at club level. It’s no coincidence that 5 out of 11 starters are currently out of contract. And I also take this opportunity to present Piturca’s starting eleven vs Albania in a different key, based on club performances in the season that recently ended.
And a bit of math: average age of this starting 11 is 26.3 years. Without Manea, it’s 27.4 years!
Goalkeeper: Tatarusanu (27) – Champion with Steaua. Will probably sign with Fiorentina, as a free agent.
Right back: Manea (16) – Youngest ever player to feature in Romania’s senior team. Avoided relegation with Viitorul in the last round of the season.
Central defender: Chiriches (24) – Not so sure about his future with Tottenham, 6th in the Premier League, in spite of some bright performances.
Central defender: Grigore (27) – Won a Europa League spot with Dinamo. Will move to Toulouse, on a free transfer.
Left back: Rat (33) – Avoided relegation with Rayo Vallecano. Currently out of contract.
Defensive midfielder: Bourceanu (29) – Contribution to Steaua’s title and Trabzonspor’s Europa League spot.
Defensive midfielder: Pintilii (29) – Champion with Steaua. Wants to leave the club.
Right winger: Nicolita (29) – Average season with St. Etienne and Nantes. Currently out of contract.
Supporting striker: Chipciu (25) – Champion with Steaua.
Left winger: Maxim (23) – Avoided relegation with VfB Stuttgart.
Striker: Marica (28) – Avoided relegation with Getafe. Currently out of contract.
No worries, I also am quite sure Piturca will be able to take Romania to Euro 2016. But mostly because this one, with 24 teams at the start, will be almost impossible to miss.
It was called “The transfers file” and, strictly linked to an investigation lead by Gazeta Sporturilor, ended up today, after eight long years, with eight important names sent behind bars, for money laundering and tax evasion. The biggest of all: Gheorghe Popescu, former Romanian international, former Barcelona captain, who was days away from taking over the presidency of the Romanian Football Federation…
“I would have sold players to Bin Laden back then, it was all about getting money”, stated Cristian Borcea a while ago in front of judges who have felt everything, from mockery to fear, during this long period, from the persons pleading their innocence. Borcea was a key shareholder with Dinamo and just like George Copos, who took Rapid from glory to agony during his tenure as club owner, had retired from the spotlight, laying low, hoping it will all go away.
Others haven’t. Brothers Victor and Ioan “Giovani” Becali went on pulling strings on the transfer market, Mihai Stoica was in charge of Steaua, while Gheorghe Popescu had all but moved his family pictures into the office that Mircea Sandu is preparing to leave. Surprisingly, the race for the presidency of the FRF lost its front-runner at the last minute and for a very long time.
Here’s the list of the definitive sentences heard today:
- George Copos (former owner of Rapid Bucharest) – 3 years and 8 months
- Mihai Stoica (current Steaua sporting director) – 3 years and 6 months
- Cristi Borcea (former shareholder at Dinamo Bucharest) – 6 years and 4 months
- Ioan Becali (FIFA agent) – 6 years and 4 months
- Victor Becali (FIFA agent) – 4 years and 8 months
- Jean Padureanu (former president of Gloria Bistrita) – 3 years and 4 months
- Gheorghe Popescu (former international, lobbied Florin Bratu’s transfer to Galatasaray) – 3 years and 1 month
- Gigi Netoiu (former shareholder at various clubs) – 3 years and 4 months
All were involved in deals that saw player sold abroad, smaller transfer fees entered in the clubs’ books and part of the real fees ran through personal off-shore accounts.
Here’s the list of transfers that lead to the above sentences:
- Iulian Arhire – from Otelul Galati to Pohang Steelers (1999)
- Ionel Ganea – from Gloria Bistrita to VfB Stuttgart (1999)
- Cristi Dulca – from Rapid to Pohang Steelers (1999)
- Cosmin Contra – from Dinamo to Deportivo Alaves (1999)
- Bogdan Mara – from Dinamo to Deportivo Alaves (2001)
- Paul Codrea – from Dinamo to Genoa (2001)
- Florin Cernat – from Dinamo to Dynamo Kiew (2001)
- Nicolae Mitea – from Dinamo to Ajax (2003)
- Lucian Sanmartean – from Gloria Bistrita to Panathinaikos (2003)
- Florin Bratu – from Rapid to Galatasaray (2003)
- Adrian Mihalcea – from Dinamo to Chunnam (2004)
- Dan Alexa – from Dinamo to Beijing Guoan (2004)
Today’s decisions came as a shock for those involved in Romanian football. Lighter sentences for a couple of those involved and no punishment at all for the likes of Mihai Stoica and Gheorghe Popescu were expected. Well, sometimes, unlike Romanian football, Romanian justice can be unpredictable…
Steaua lost their captain, Petrolul signed Mutu, Astra gets Romanian backup from Serie A – all eyes have been on the front three this winter and there’s enough excitement as the restart of the league nears. With two games in hand to be played in February, Steaua will probably rearrange order at the top before the former rivals from Ploiesti get to play their first official matches, but it should only make things more exciting. So here’s a look at the good and bad moves from this season’s title contenders:
Important players in: Claudiu Keseru (Bastia), Lucian Sanmartean (FC Vaslui)
Important players out: Alexandru Bourceanu (Trabzonspor)
With two games in hand, which will be played before the restart of the league, Steaua not only has the chance to get back on top of the standings, but also to be the first to get used to official matches. It will surely come handy, as the Bucharest side had a terrible pre-season, as far as results are concerned.
With just one important loss, the captain Bourceanu, sold for a handsome 1.4 million euro fee, difficult to obtain for a player running out of contract, Steaua only hopes to regain the fitness level and enthusiasm that impressed the most in Reghecampf’s regime, as the winning team is still there: a reliable keeper, a solid back four, the intelligent Pintilii, the number of offensive choices to rotate in search of the best output…
Signed from Bastia, Keseru should add competition and quality upfront, in spite of the media’s haste of labelling him as a flop based on his pre-season performances, ignorring the fact that very few players actually impressed for Steaua during their two training camps on Spanish soil. The late signing of veteran winger Lucian Sanmartean is though a sign of fear, but, at the same time, Steaua’s fear should be a concern for their title rivals, who could have done with a more relaxed reigning champion…
Can go well if… Steaua was just a machinery running out of gas.
Can go bad if… The motivation isn’t just the same. Too many regular starters will be thinking about the summer mercato. The defense will be left only with the protection of Pintilii, as Reghecampf has enough reasons to replace the departed pitbull with a more offensive midfielder.
Important players in: Paul Papp (Chievo), Denis Alibec (Inter/Bologna), Laurentiu Iorga (Otelul Galati), Stefan Popescu (Ajaccio)
Important players out: -
Not rated among the contenders at the beginning of the season, Astra managed to gain a lot of points and respect during the first half of season. The wealthy owner and an old fox in charge of the club have made up for the coach’s lack of experience with a winning team, which can still come to work against the club as the finish line will get closer and the pressure will reach levels never touched before by Daniel Isaila and most of his players.
Still, Astra’s winter mercato has been solid, with two Romanian players with a point to prove brought back from Serie A clubs and all the key players kept on the roster without problems. The squad looks stronger, is hungry for success and looks surprisingly relaxed. With no pressure from the fans or the media, the club recently moved from Ploiesti to Giurgiu, already played Steaua twice, failing to defeat the champions, but their strength has always been to crush smaller opponents
Can go well if… The chance to go all the way will keep on inspiring the team & won’t instill fear. The inexperienced Daniel Isaila has that special something to take up such a challenge and see it through. Budescu will create play and score goals at the same rate as in the 1st half of season.
Can go bad if… The owner won’t be able to control his level of interference.
Important players in: Adrian Mutu (Ajaccio), Ianis Zicu (Gangwon), Gerson Ferreira (Ferencvaros), Toto Tamuz (Ural)
Important players out: Hamza Younes, Alexandru Benga, Ferebory Dore (all to Botev Plovdiv), Damien Boudjemaa (Slavia Prague)
Mutu’s arrival was the winter mercato’s big and unexpected hit. Image, mood, perspective – all changed for Petrolul, but things are not as bright after one month, with the financial support of the Local Council currently on hold, some interest from abroad in Cosmin Contra’s work and an intense transfer activity that can work both ways… Petrolul might have signed one/two (falling) stars, but was forced to sell a proven goalscorer like Younes and no less than 3 other players who, for bad or worse, did play an important part in the team’s excellent 2013.
With fantastic support and a winning aura at home, Petrolul will have to do better on the road and start turning more draws into wins. The extra class in their attacking midfield might help out, but will the defense be able to hold on?
Can go well if… Mutu and Zicu will be in the mood to show their class. The away form will improve. The attack will compensate for the defensive fragility and lack of backup.
Can go bad if… Financial problems will surface right away and the ownership won’t be able to hide them well enough until the summer. The lack of a balanced squad (poor backup un the flanks, average quality in central defense, no proven goalscorer available for the lone striker position) will be exposed.
The reigning champions, the only Romanian club to win a European trophy, a constant presence on the European stage, the team with the largest fan base in the entire country and the only Bucharest “giant” still performing these days organized a try-out for kids born in 2002, 2003 and 2004. 14 turned up. A shocking number really, not only for Steaua, but for Romania. Still, the red and blue outfit, who is trying to revitalize its youth sector with Italian coach Massimo Pedrazzini in charge, must take a big chunk of the blame.
Having a wealthy and impatient owner – he’s taking a course on this, now that he’s behind bars – has worked against Steaua in recent years. Used to pick the best talents from all over the country, Gigi Becali’s favorite toy made one attempt to build a proper academy some years ago. Of course, it was burning some stages and basically missing the point, as 16-17-18 years old were bought and integrated into the youth teams, so it’s no surprise, really, that Becali pulled the plug once he saw that a dozen of youth international actually went on to waste their talents under poor guidance and with no early shot at senior football.
Now, after years of mediocrity, some heavy defeats in the youth leagues and a desperate move made to avoid embarrassment in the UEFA Youth League, there’s really no surprise that a message on the club’s website and Pedrazzini’s personal Facebook page (this is another story…) failed to erase the feeling that Steaua, as shiny as the first team looks, provides a bleak future for your kid. The lack of strategy, know-how and patience within the red and blue structures means drastic measures can rock the “academy” at any time, out of the blue. Add to this the chances close to zero to make it in the senior team and it’s obvious why even kids (and dads) who do love Steaua understand that there’s a more concrete opportunity to see such a dream fulfilled by learning the game someplace else. From this point of view, this is a club worth loving from a distance. A 5 star hotel – by Romanian standards – to enjoy as an adult, not a home to grow up in…