Title contenders: CFR Cluj
They won the league last season, after a mad campaign, when no less than six clubs fighting for the top spot. Not at all impressive in terms of tactics, Andrea Mandorlini managed to deliver (the championship was followed by the Romanian Cup) and extend his contract for one more season, when his rotation policy will make some sense, having to play in the Champions League group stage, as well. CFR tried to use its’ advantage of having cash to spend on transfer fees, not just wages for free players and their agents’ comissions, making one loan deal permanent – Piccolo – and signing Bjelanovic, an experienced striker demanded by Mandorlini, and Hora, a promising winger.
Players in: Sasa Bjelanovic (striker, 31, Vicenza), Felice Piccolo (central defender, 27, Empoli), Dominique Kivuvu (central midfielder, 23, NEC Nijmegen), Nuno Pereira Diogo (central defender, 29, FC Brasov), Ionut Rada (central defender, 28, Al Nasr), Ioan Hora (right winger, 22, Gloria Bistrita), Rafael Bastos (attacking midfielder, 25, Sporting Braga), Diego Ruiz (striker, 30, Kasimpasa, returns from loan), Rade Veljovic (striker, 24, returns from loan), Emmanuel Kone (midfielder, 24, returns from loan), Paul Batin (striker, 23, returns from loan).
Players out: Nicolae Dica (attacking midfielder, 30, loan expired), Davide Bottone (central midfielder, 24, loan expired), Claudinei Aparecido “Nei” (striker, 30, loan expired), Nelson Cabrera (central defender, 27, loan expired), Roberto De Zerbi (forward, 31, loan expired), Sixto Peralta (central midfielder, 31, released).
Initially, CFR took care of the players who were loaned last season and paid just for Piccolo’s transfer, who gets along well with team captain and defensive partner, Cadu. A good decision, just like the one to let go Nicolae Dica, an impressive name just on paper and when the TV graphics were presenting the teams. Bjelanovic is certainly an interesting buy, while Kivuvu looks also like a buy, in spite of the player’s arrival on a free transfer. The midfielder was monitorred and probably convinced earlier, so this was also a calculated move from CFR, as was the addition of Hora, who had a solid season with Gloria Bistrita and suits Mandorlini’s favorite tactical setup. Of all departures, Peralta’s could prove the biggest lost, but the bookeepers will be happier than the fans to see the man earning 375.000 Euros per year move away from Cluj. A good summer campaign from CFR’s staff, lead by club president Iuliu Muresan, who wanted to be sure that Mandorlini has what it takes and even something more to defend the title and also get a couple of results in the Champions League.
- Coach: Andrea Mandorlini (joined the club in November 2009)
- Preferred system: 4-3-3
- Ideal first eleven: Nuno Claro – Panin, Cadu, Piccolo, Edimar – Kivuvu, Muresan, Culio – Hora, Bjelanovic, Deac
- Realiable subs: Tony (right back), Leonardo Veloso (left back), Dani (central midfield), Bud, Kone, Traore (strikers)
- Key player: Gabriel Muresan. Cadu was also an option, with his ability to step up and convert penalties that bring trophies (it’s at least strange how many titles were decided through a penalty kick awarded to CFR in decisive matches!), but the anchorman is key with his ability to organize play and protect the defense, in a calm and commanding display. Excellent in the air, strong in the tackle, able to find the net with his powerful long range efforts, Muresan often leaves the impression that he dictates all that takes place on the pitch. Around him!
- Underrated player: Emmanuel Kone. The young Ivorian wide midfielder spent a year on loan with International Curtea de Arges and I was expecting to see him welcomed back and involved more in Mandorlini’s plans. Surprisingly, he’s not, even though Sven Goran Eriksson rates him higher than Lacina Traore, but CFR will do well to keep him. I’m sure he’ll prove pretty useful very soon, given the lack of solutions in midfield, if we leave aside the three regular starters.
- Liability: My first thought was to go for Mandorlini’s favorite player, Deac (a bit of controversy never hurt a blog!), but Nuno Claro’s performance from the Supercup offered me the opportunity to point out the much praised Portuguese keeper as the number one threat for CFR’s goal next season. He lacks consistency, makes poor decisions under pressure, has poor understanding with the defenders and the odd mistake comes way too often.
What to expect:
They’ve moved very well on the transfer market, have experience, morale and a quality roster, with no less than six forwards who could play anywhere in Romania and are often linked to important clubs from abroad. At this point, if CFR fails, it cannot be but Mandorlini’s fault. I admit, with this strong squad, it will be hard for him to mess it up, at least in Liga I, but my feeling is that he won’t be in Cluj next summer, celebrating. The team is still trying to adjust to his beloved 4-3-3 and played often miserably last season, with the players making the difference in CFR’s favor on their own. Or the refs! Favorites to win the league, I agree, but I doubt that everything will favor them, like the previous season.