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Liga I resumes: a look at the realistic title contenders

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

…and we’re off! We’re strating with a game decided even before it took place, but we’re off! It has been an interesting winter in Romania, with some important moves on the market. Steaua and CFR Cluj cashed-in big time on their most promising players, Bogdan Stancu and Lacina Traore, with another very good forward by Liga I standards, Ribeiro Moraes, leaving Gloria Bistrita and the country. Even though we haven’t seen any outstanding signings, this should be a very interesting second half of season, with the first division perfectly divided in two categories: title contenders (yes, CFR Cluj, currently in 8th place, still hope to win the league!) and relegation candidates. We have no mid-table teams, a category that should be defined during next month, when we’ll see who had either their hopes or fears killed in the first couple of matches.

Can Otelul hold on and detonate another bomb, just like Unirea Urziceni did two years ago?

Otelul Galati

Otelul kept all the players, which might look good and show ambition, but this was the perfect moment to profit from the rise of Cornel Rapa, the 21 years old right back who’s now an option for the senior national team. They might not get the best price in the summer, unless the excellent physical preparation and tactical discipline from the first half of season will deliver until the end. The league leaders have been discrete as always on the market, signing a second division player and a rather unknown Serbian centre-forward, Bratislav Paunosevac, who could make an impact considering that Otelul lacked options upfront last year. And also generate some profit from a future sale – a trademark buy for the experienced president, Marius Stan. Although they managed to get three points already, Dorinel Munteanu’s men are expected to struggle, with all the stronger clubs taking measures, which translates into extremely motivated opposition in every single game and some dodgy refereeing when it matters. Would be a real surprise to see them holding on until the end…

Poli Timisoara

Undefeated in 18 matches, The Viola will start losing games, as Dusan Uhrin Jr., who returns as a coach, for the fans’ delight, has been asked to take a different approach – try to go for wins and push for a league title that’s in reach.  As usual, Timisoara signed a lot of players, releasing the always over-rated Hristu Chiacu and loaning to Urziceni Ioan Mera, a centre-back that would have had little chances to feature, considering the competition. The experienced Sorin Ghionea was signed on a free transfer, with Nikola Ignijatevic coming from Red Star Belgrade to cover for Sepsi’s imminent departure. Tosaint Ricketts is expected to add pace upfront, something badly missed after Timisoara sold Gigel Bucur to Kuban Krasnodar more than a year ago. This is a solid team all over the pitch and a real title contender, although they miss the players and the coach who can cope with a level of pressure that will increase with every round.

FC Vaslui

Looking at the club’s activity on the market, you might get the wrong idea. The club released Burdujan (forward), Pancu (attacking midfielder), Hugo Luz (left back), Haisan (goalkeeper) and punished severely the Brazilian Gerlem (left midfielder), all of them useful players, who could have helped at least as reliable backup solutions, and couldn’t sign a single name, given the transfer ban that will expire only in June 2011. Still, the old dog Viorel Hizo should be satisfied both in terms of quantity and quality, while these departures could make those who stayed and are a bit more confident about their places in the team to act more responsible and focus on delivering what would be an outstanding and, given the recent investment, a deserved achievement for Porumboiu’s club.

Rapid Bucuresti

In some games, they have played excellent football, looking very strong especially at home, where they simply lay siege on the visiting teams and eventually break them, with the support of one of the hottest crowds in the league. Unfortunately for them, the away form remains a problem at Rapid, no matter the quality of the team or the name of the coach, it has to be down to mentality. I was surprised to see that the club didn’t adress the squad’s biggest problem: adding another quality striker, as the Brazilian Cassio delivers only at home and the talented Sburlea’s too inconsistent and yet to turn into a poacher. They’ve released a few players – Cesinha could have turned some games around! – and signed three players that should add even more strength and quality in defense (the Bugarian international Vidanov) and midfield (the Brazilian Olberdam and the fans’ favorite player, Daniel Pancu). They’re very strong, but the 10 points gap demands from Rapid exactly what they’ve missed in the first half of season: consistency.

Liga I resumes with a cancelled match!

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

The excellent coach Petre Grigoras has every reason to feel frustrated, after more than two months of winter training

It’s been official for a couple of days now, but that doesn’t mean anything in Romania, as definitive sentences have been more than once revoked. It didn’t happen for Pandurii Targu Jiu, though, who failed refused to find an agreement with Dinamo over an unpaid debt and has not been scheduled for what was supposed to be the first official match of the year. A much anticipated one, considering that the visitors were the league leaders Otelul Galati, a team nobody wants to see in the same spot, at the end of the season.

Media attacks followed, with most of the other title contenders stating that this was a clever way to fix a match, especially after Pandurii’s boss revealed that the club refused to pay, being trapped between two decisions: the Football Professional League forces them to pay for a transfer that has been considered void in a civil court, while the authorities have warned the club that it’s illegal to pay for something that hasn’t been done by the law.

The fact is that Pandurii lost 0-3 tonight’s game with Otelul and there are big question marks about what’s going to happen, as this case might get very ugly and affect more than the current season. Pandurii’s next match is against Dinamo and Condescu says that paying that money now would only confirm that they had refused to play with Otelul and favor the leaders. But I doubt that they’ll be sticking with this decision and accept to go down without a fight. Let’s not forget that we’re talking about the club that should have gone down twice in recent years, but managed to find a way to keep their Liga I place even when they finished the season below the line…

Steaua, Dinamo and Rapid add foreign quality to their defences

February 20, 2011 1 comment

Three central defenders have signed for the Bucharest clubs, but every single transfer has a rather debatable reasoning:

A rotation player for Unirea Urziceni, Mehmedovic has had his share of quality matches

Ersin Mehmedovic to Dinamo – the Red Dogs have had such a poor defensive record in the first half of the season that any addition would seem good enough. Moti, who was once considered Serie A material, has been out of form for more than a year, but Garat, Grigore and Scarlatache were so poor or inconsistent that he never lost the first spot in the pecking order of a former defender, Ioan Andone, who is now in charge of the team. Signing the towering Serbian centre-back seems, from this point of view, justified, but the 29 years old, who comes after two great years and a miserable half of year with Unirea Urziceni, will only provide backup to the first choice pair: (the newly and contested international) Dragos Grigore – Cosmin Moti. So, why not promote a young(er) lad, considering that Dinamo’s most realistic chance to earn a place in Europe remains the Romanian Cup? It’s even harder to explain it, as we were experiencing the rejuvenation of the pack, in all the other areas…

The 30 years old's move to Steaua was done with the help of his former manager, Victor Piturca

Valentin Iliev to Steaua – The Bulgarian has played a solid first half of season in Romania, for Universitatea Craiova, and moves to Bucharest for not-such-a-free transfer, as he gets a hefty 250.000 Euros bonus on the spot, a trick to make him look like he’s not earning than the rest of the squad, with his 10.000 Euros/month deal that stretches until June 2012. In truth, Steaua’s chiefs are only fooling themselves. They’re dribbling their own decision to cut down wages, which forced good players like Kapetanos or Angelov away from the club, and preparing to replace a high earner like Geraldo with another one, of the same age, but, in my opinion, not in quite the same class. Not to mention that, at the moment, Steaua’s options for the role were probably the best in the league, with the experienced Galamaz and Geraldo plus the new sensation, Gardos. And should I say that the club’s biggest problems are at the other end, with Bilasco, Surdu, Burdujan and Dica yet to click and offer some guarantees that they’ll be able to provide the much needed goals for an improbable title challenge?

Now at Rapid, Ivanov should start resenting the red, a color associated with both Steaua and Dinamo

Pavel Vidanov to Rapid – another Bulgarian, another solid defense, but at least this signing makes some sense! Vidanov is 22 and, as a senior international (4 caps for Bulgaria), can be considered a bargain at a price way under half of million Euros. In fact, it could turn out to be an excellent deal, although I expect him not to be rushed into the team, where he’ll find quicker some space on the right side, rather than in the centre, where Marcos Antonio and Marius Constantin have done great in the first half of season, plus worked together the entire winter break.

Gaman and Barboianu can be considered free players. Universitatea’s boss, fined and suspended for 6 months!

February 17, 2011 Leave a comment

The third meeting that judged the case filed by the two Universitatea Craiova players ended with a favorable result for Valerica Gaman and Stefan Barboianu. The two defenders are no longer under contract with Universitatea, although the club has the right to appeal this decision in the next five days.

With Gaman missing out on a move to Vitesse Arnhem, a few weeks ago, but still in demand both in Ukraine and Romania, the negotiations that already took place are expected to enter the final stage. Barboianu, a versatile full-back and former U21 national team player, shouldn’t have too much trouble in finding quickly another team either.  Still, I doubt that Craiova’s owner, Adrian Mititelu, who was fined and suspended for half of year, after his repeated attacks in the media, will accept defeat without another fight. If he was able to present five years long contracts signed by the players a day before they left the training camp without notice, in the middle of the night, I’m sure he’ll think of something else and try to turn things in his favor. And don’t think it’s impossible, we’re in Romania!

A Portuguese answer to a Romanian problem: if you’re good enough, you can skip training!

February 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Rui Duarte (left), not showing his "I love to skip training" shirt

It’s not news anymore, but it’s another interesting story, which says a lot about the game in Romania and the struggle to behave like professionals. Rui Duarte arrived in Romania from Estrela Amadora back in 2008, when, thanks to CFR’s rise, it was not just trendy to buy players from the Portuguese market, but also the almost guaranteed way of adding quality to the roster, without spending a lot of money. It was cheaper to buy from a mid-table team playing in Liga Sagres than from a newly promoted squad in Liga I or even a second division club, the lack of common sense and realism when it comes to discussing a transfer fee being still an issue in Romanian football.

For less than half a million Euros, FC Brasov managed to buy the player that went on to establish himself as the best right back in the league, an award claimed on a regular basis, year after year, and the move to one of the Bucharest clubs made perfect sense, from this point of view. Those who like to look at football as a business, where players are getting paid to work like almost any other professional out there, have always looked at Rui Duarte from a different perspective, though. The Portuguese full-back had developped a habit of returning late for almost any holiday, but this was overlooked, as FC Brasov was considered a mediocre team, with no quality backup solution to take a stand against this practice, and, for some reason, Rui Duarte would have stopped acting like an amateur  once he had made a move to a truly professional club. Like Rapid? Neah, it doesn’t fit the profile, although we’re talking about a title challenger. Rapid is 11 (eleven) days away from the first official game of 2011 and what does the board do? Organize a trip to Portugal, to convince Rui Duarte to return to the club! After missing the entire winter preparation, he is kindly asked to come back and make every single team-mate look like an idiot, for wearing themselves out for two months, to secure a place in the first eleven. Something Rui Duarte doesn’t have to do not because he’s an excellent player – by the way, he’s not! -, but because he got some interesting results to the repeated tests conducted on the guys allowed to run first division clubs, either as board members or as part of the technical staff. They are always ready to make a compromise, yet never understand why the lack of professionalism is such a common disease even at Liga I players, either homegrown or signed from abroad. The thought that it might be actually their fault probably never crossed their rested minds…

Ribeiro Moraes Junior to Metalurg Donetsk!

February 11, 2011 1 comment

Gloria Bistrita’s president admitted that today the two clubs agreed terms and, with the player’s father at the same table – the discussion took place just outside the pitch that hosted today one of Gloria’s friendly matches! – we can say it’s a done deal already. Metalurg will pay 1.2 million Euros, taxes included, and makes this the best ever deal done by the Romanian club, considering that, a year ago, Gloria was paying 20.000 Euros to secure the player’s services! In the meantime, the Brazilian striker produced excellent numbers, with 18 goals scored in 32 appearances, in the two halves of seasons spent in the white and blue outfit, playing for a rather mediocre team.

Ribeiro Moraes Junior needed just one year to prove that he's too good for this league!

A complete forward, Ribeiro Moraes Junior has a nice combination of skills, being able to score with both feet, with his head, through well-placed free-kicks. He can link-up play upfront, play as a second striker or even alone upfront. Bistrita’s number 10 looked destined for a move to Steaua this winter, especially after he signed a contract with Ioan Becali, but the Bucharest side never met Gloria’s asking price, trying to bargain and losing, in the end, a very, very good player, at least by this league’s standard.

It’s an excellent deal for Metalurg, as well, nevermind the paid fee, it should generate good results on the pitch and even some profit, after one or two seasons, and it speaks about the club’s progress, considering that the last forward bought from Romania was the never outstanding Ciprian Tanasa, signed in March 2009, who has a record of 13 goals in 45 matches and turned 30 this year…

Timisoara looks ready to part ways with Laszlo Sepsi!

February 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Sepsi vs. Messi. The good old days, when playing on loan for Racing Santander

Nikola Ignjatijevic, from Red Star Belgrade, is a Poli Timisoara player and has time until June 2011 to land a better and longer deal with the Viola outfit. The 27 years old is described as a solid left back, good on the ball, who can deliver quality balls from the flank and also pose a threat with his shooting ability (thanks, Dusan!), so, he’s definitely a good addition for Poli.

Ignjatjevic had entered the last six months of his deal with Red Star and had lost his spot in the team, after the arrival of Dusko Tosic, so it was a nice move for the Romanian club. What’s left in the dark, though, is the current situation of Laszlo Sepsi, who was bought from Benfica for a lot of money and has filed a request to be released by the club. Poli’s board members didn’t look very confident when asked to comment, trying to touch a soft spot with their full of regrets statements, so I expect the 23 years old to become available on a free transfer, in the near future. That would turn his transfer to Poli from a hit into a terrible decision, but won’t help much his career either, given the timing and the lack of options to move to a better club immediately. And that’s too bad, as Sepsi is among the top 3 left backs in the league and at a very good age to make the next step and continue his development…

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