Title contenders: Steaua Bucharest
Fourth place last season wasn’t that bad, considering the poor quality of the team and the huge conflict between the fans and the club’s owner, but Gigi Becali realized that he needs to change not for Steaua’s sake, but thinking about the lost money in recent years, where he dictated everything at the club, making a mockery of what still is the team with the biggest fan base in Romania. That’s why he accepted Victor Piturca’s conditions, including the toughest of all: keeping his big huge mouth shut. The former national team coach took up the manager’s role – Premier League style – supervising the training sessions conducted by Eugen Neagoe, former Pandurii coach, bringing back former Steaua players and offering them jobs in the youth academy, installing Emerich Ienei (the man that brought Steaua the biggest European trophy in 1986) as club president, getting the fans back in the stands and behind the team. He did so many important things for the club that missing out on the title this season shouldn’t matter that much. But I’m sure this is unacceptable for the ambitious Piturca…
Players in: Stanislav Angelov (central midfielder, 32, Energie Cottbus), Iasmin Latovlevic (left back, 24, FC Timisoara), Cosmin Matei (central attacking midfielder, 19, Farul Constanta), Geraldo Alves (central defender, 30, AEK Athens), Yordan Todorov (right back, 29, Lokomotiv Plovdiv), Novak Martinovic (central defender, 25, Pandurii), Alexandru Pacurar (central midfielder, 29, Pandurii), Razvan Stanca (goalkeeper, 31, Pandurii), Florin Gardos (central defender, 22, Concordia Chiajna), Dorel Stoica (central defensive midfielder, 32, El Ettifaq), Mihai Radut (central attacking midfielder, 20, International Curtea de Arges), Octavian Abrudan (central midfielder, 26, FC Brasov).
Players out: Arman Karamyan (forward, 31, released), Artiom Karamyan (left midfielder, 31, released), Petre Marin (left back, 37 , Unirea Urziceni), Zhivko Zhelev (central defender, 31, Inter Baku), Gora Tall (central defender, 25, APOP Kinyras – loan expired), Pepe Moreno (striker, 29, Independiente – loan expired), Pawel Golanski (right back, 28, released), Stelios Parpas (central defender, 25, AEL Limassol), Ovidiu Petre (central defensive midfielder, 28, Al Nasr), Alexandru Tudose (central defender, 23, Gloria Bistrita), Juan Toja (left midfielder, 25, Aris Salonic).
Massive changes in Ghencea, where Piturca wanted and had every reason to create a new team. Among the rare important losses is Ovidiu Petre, but the manager had on the anchorman role his favorite player already lined-up, Dorel Stoica. For the rest, he went on to bring on a mixture of young & promising players like Radut and experienced guys like Angelov, which proves that his goal is building a new squad, without sacrificing this season’s trophies at stake. Interesting fact, Steaua relies on the same forwards from last year, even though Pantelis Kapetanos doesn’t seem to fit the lone striker’s profile preferred by Piturca, which means that Bogdan Stancu should enjoy the best season of his career and start fulfilling his potential. But what if he doesn’t or gets injured? Back to the Greek one more time? What does this guy has to do – this year, against all odds, got to play in the World Cup! – in order to start a season as the number one choice for the centre-forward role?
- Coach: Victor Piturca (new)
- Preferred system: 4-1-4-1
- Ideal first eleven: Tatarusanu - Emeghara, Abrudan, Geraldo Alves, Latovlevici - Stoica - Nicolita, Radut, Angelov, Tanase - B. Stancu
- Reliable subs: Stanca (goalkeeper), Pacurar (central midfielder), Szekely (right winger), Kapetanos (centre forward).
- Key player: Dorel Stoica. Able to play in central defense, the 32 years old was convinced by Piturca to sign for Steaua, even when the manager wasn’t sure that he’ll return to Ghencea. Deployed in front of the back four, Stoica has the ability and the experience to protect not just the back four, but also the “front four”, as the line of midfielders will have to think how to open up the opposition’s defense, not be afraid that a missed pass or a miscontrolled ball could expose their own defense. In his own half, Stoica will win balls in the air, shut down channels, anticipate the midfielders looking to drop into space, but once Steaua regains possession, he will organize the build up, draw the back four as high as possible and eventually pose a threat with his long shots, especially from free kicks.
- Underrated player: Pantelis Kapetanos. The Greek isn’t a pleasure to watch, I agree, but he’s been a very prolific scorer even when Steaua was playing miserably - I wonder what he could do in a team that has superior possession and creative midfielders able to increase the number of scoring opportunities. His presence at the World Cup will keep him out of the team in the first month, but once “Kape” is fit, Stancu’s age and (unfulfilled) potential won’t be enough to keep him in the first eleven, ahead of this modest, hard-working and effective front man.
- Liability: Ciprian Tatarusanu. Promising, definitely gifted, looks to me like the kind of keeper that will need to turn 30 to be really something. But I might judge the guy a bit too hard and based mainly on last season’s performances, when Steaua’s defense was a joke.
What to expect:
A serious title challenge from a club offered by its clown of an owner to a very ambitious manager, Victor Piturca, who changed absolutely everything at Steaua and now it’s only a matter of time until the results will show that this is the way to run a successfull team. It will be hard to win the title right away, mainly because the league changed a lot in recent years and this isn’t just an affair between the Bucharest sides, but the fact that all the other title contenders point towards Steaua when asked who’s the favorite proves that the name still weights enough to crush the clubs that only recently enjoyed the sweet taste of success.