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Can FC Vaslui beat the odds?

July 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Trashed by Rapid Bucharest in the opening round of the new season, FC Vaslui got the needed wake-up call ahead of its debut in the Champions League’s preliminary rounds. Against a direct 4-3-3 deployed by former national team coach Razvan Lucescu, Hizo’s men often struggled and the defense simply failed to protect a young keeper who looked as a liability whenever he was in goal, in place of the more experienced Dusan Kuciak.

The club’s owner, Adrian Porumboiu, says that the players were already thinking of Tuesday’s game against Twente, and you could see that in the performances of two key players, Wesley and Adailton. The problem is that, even if the two Brazilians will play closer to their potential tomorrow, the back four and the central midfielders will be under pressure to deliver a more focused and effective performance. Or maybe that’s why Porumboiu “would accept even a loss in the first leg, as long as we manage to score.”

Twente are favorites, agreed, but I expect a better game from Vaslui, who last year created enough problems to French champions Lille. They’ve played for more than a year with pretty much the same team, so Friday’s loss might have been just the worse we’ll see from this team during the current season. I expect a game with goals at both ends, with the experience and quality of the offensive trio formed by Sanmartean, Wesley and Adailton to create a lot of problems for Twente, who should be really careful not to give away too many free-kicks in their third…

Pantilimon has agreed terms with Udinese!

July 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Linked with the biggest of clubs in the past, Pantilimon can hope for a more reasonable asking price given Timisoara's problems

According to Costel Pantilimon’s agent, Florin Manea, the recent trip to Italy was a success, as the player was impressed with Udinese’s plans with him and agreed personal terms, returning to Romania to pack his bags. I know, Marian Iancu, Timisoara’s boss will try to complicate things a bit, hanging on for some more cash, in the hope that the transfer fee will go over 2 million Euros, but my advice would be to work harder for a percentage of the player’s future transfer.

Reasons? Udinese is an expert club in selling for a lot of money, Timisoara would have no use at the moment for the money to quickly rebuild their squad, as they will have to get used with second division football, after the latest decisions taken against them, and “Panti” is, as Italians like to say, “un portierone”.

Spotted at Aerostar Bacau in the third tier, some six years ago, by Timisoara’s current chief executive Gheorghe Chivorchian, Pantilimon was bought in exchange of around 50.000 Euros and you could say that he has fulfilled his potential, fighting for a place in Romania’s national team only with Steaua’s Ciprian Tatarusanu. At 24, he’s not just impressive in size (2,02 m / 103 kg), but boasts experience at all levels, with international matches, games in the preliminary rounds of European competitions (two seasons ago, he was in goal for the successful and incredible double  that eliminated Shakthar Donetsk from the CL!) and the not that challenging Liga I.

He’s good, but he’s far from the finished article, something the Italians will certainly look after as soon as they get him, although bluffed a bit in the meeting with the player and the agent saying that they might lose their no. 1 before the start of the new season. Above all, he still needs to improve his concentration & his handling, not to mention the guts to leave the line for the high balls he should easily collect, given his size.

Updates should be available in the next couple of days, so you should

The Romanian league starts today. Here are the title contenders!

July 22, 2011 Leave a comment
  • Otelul Galati

Last season: 1st
Squad quality: Average
Key player: Gabriel Paraschiv
Hot prospect: Laurentiu Bus
Strengths: Teamwork / Work ethic
Weaknesses: Lack of firepower / The presence in the Champions League’s group stage

The champions have a slim chance to win another title. Although the Supercup (1-0 against Steaua) showed that nothing changed with Dorinel Munteanu’s team in terms of players, tactics and hunger for success, the Champions League will surely affect their concentration in Liga I and will leave its mark on a reduced roster. Plus, the bigger clubs will make sure that Otelul will not pull another stunt like they did last season, when their title chances were rated at 67/1 by the bookies.

Keep an eye on Laurentiu Bus, a small attacking midfielder who already decided the Supercup with a very nice goal, another one of Marius Stan’s top signings from the second division, but expect Otelul to suffer when they’ll be missing the impressive veteran Gabriel Paraschiv.

It might not be a winning season for Otelul, but it will surely be one to remember!

  • FC Vaslui

Last season: 3rd
Squad quality: Good
Key player: Wesley
Hot prospect: Razvan Neagu
Strengths: Squad cohesion / Quality attackers / Hunger for success
Weaknesses: No winning pedigree

Since Adrian Porumboiu took over the club, FC Vaslui finished every season in a higher position and I have to say that the tradition has every chance to be respected. The club has been banned from signing new players and this brought a stability that should help them not just in Europe, but also in the first part of the season, when they’ll be matched only by Otelul and Dinamo in terms of team cohesion. If something goes wrong, Vaslui could fix it anyway, as the wealthy owner will have a chance to prove himself between the 10th (when the transfer ban will end) and the 20th (last day of summer mercato in Romania) of September.

The team relies on an excellent attacking trio formed by Wesley, Adailton and Lucian Sanmartean, but Romanian youngster Razvan Neagu, who had an off-year in his development, impressed in pre-season and might add something upfront.

  • Rapid Bucharest

Last season: 4th
Squad quality: Very good
Key player: Danut Coman
Hot prospect: Sabrin Sburlea
Strengths: Top competition within the team / Crowd support at home
Weaknesses: Inconsistent form when playing away / Completely reshaped midfield

Razvan Lucescu returns at club level, after an experience with the national team that should serve him well. Last time he was in charge, Rapid recorded the best ever performance in Europe, but now the club will give it all for a title that, if it has a chance to return to Bucharest, than this is the best equipped club of the “big guns”.

Rapid lost some quality players like Costin Lazar, Juliano Spadacio and Marius Constantin, but they’ve made good moves on the market, adding the likes of Alexa, Apostol and Deac, all national team players, without spending much. They might need some time to gel, but they’ll be very difficult to break down, will remain a force at home and, with more consistency, they could be going all the way.

  • Steaua Bucharest

Last season: 5th
Squad quality: Good
Key player: Ciprian Tatarusanu
Hot prospect: Raul Rusescu
Strengths: Top defense / Club stature
Weaknesses: Huge pressure / Lack of support at home

It was all looking good for Steaua, after the arrival of Ronny Levy, but the Supercup showed exactly the same team that disappointed last season. Well organized at the back, but lacking creative midfielders and prolific forwards, this club has big chances to disappoint once again, especially after the decision to abandon the stadium that has recorded basically every success achieved by the red and blue outfit.

Ciprian Tatarusanu might play his last season for Steaua, as he should move abroad soon enough, and I’ve decided to “gamble” on Rusescu (yet another transfer from the dead and buried Unirea Urziceni), as I consider Florin Gardos more of a certainty, after his excellent first season in Liga I.

  • Dinamo Bucharest

Last season: 6th
Squad quality: Good
Key player: Gabriel Torje
Hot prospect: Cristian Balgradean
Strengths: Top quality in the last third
Weaknesses: Lack of support at home / Inexperienced coach / Poor teamwork

The club lost contact with the fans, had a summer in which Liviu Ciobotariu (finally confirmed as head coach) looked like he was preparing the team for another coach and will start a season without the same hunger for success. There are problems in the board and the players often look to be playing for personal success only, hoping for moves away that obvious talents like Gabriel Torje or Marius Alexe are yet to complete.

In spite of its strike force, Dinamo should struggle with the same fragile defense and a very thin midfield line that will be lacking steel and ability to protect the unreliable back four.

  • CFR Cluj

Last season: 10th
Squad quality: Good
Key player: Ricardo Cadu
Hot prospect: Sergiu Bus
Strengths: Ambition to succeed again / Quality midfield
Weaknesses: Lack of cohesion

CFR had a terrible season, but finally looks once again eager to fight for the league. They have in Jorge Costa an ambitious coach and the sort of person that can dominate a dressing room disrupted in the past couple of season by the Portuguese legion. It’s still there and with a number of new faces, but the key is to get team captain Cadu in the right state of mind.

CFR doesn’t look at all short in terms of quality and quantity, but the team might need a couple of months, if not more, to gel and become a force. Of course, if the club made the right moves on the transfer market…

P.S. You should also check this interview, to have a better overview of the league, ahead of the new season.

 

Three players that could help Bucharest have its revenge

July 14, 2011 1 comment

After yet another poor year, the Capital clubs Dinamo, Steaua and Rapid have renewed their hopes of returning to greatness. Let’s take a look at three names that need to (finally) deliver, if the Bucharest big shots are to stand a chance against the always ambitious and recently better organized teams from the rest of country.

  • Name: Marius Niculae
  • Club: Dinamo Bucharest
  • Position: striker
  • Age: 30

The former Sporting Lisbon forward has failed to deliver since his return to Romania. He spent the second half of last season playing (and scoring) for Kavala – 4 goals in 12 appearances, in the Greek SuperLeague, but the club refused to make the deal permanent. Back in Bucharest, Niculae had to accept a wage cut and it will be interesting to see if he cares indeed for Dinamo or he’s just saying what the constantly decreasing number of fans love to hear.

With the best active scorer in Liga I by his side – Ionel Danciulescu, now 35 years old, scored a total of  193 goals in the Romanian top flight – and fueled by the most promising wingers in the country, Gabriel Torje and Marius Alexe, Niculae should deliver more goals than excuses in what promises to be another inconsistent season for the Red Dogs.

  • Name: Cristian Tanase
  • Club: Steaua Bucharest
  • Position: attacking midfielder
  • Age: 24

If Steaua wants to have a better season, a player like Tanase definitely needs to start looking like a genuine number 10. A right footed attacking midfielder who settled for a position on the left wing, the Romanian international has often drifted from inconsistent to simply useless, since his big, sorry, huge money move from FC Arges, three years ago. Numbers speak for themselves: one goal scored last season and a total of five in over 120 matches in Liga 1!

Predictable, lacking determination and the mentality (not the quality) to step up and act like the decisive player he was supposed to be, he fails to pose a threat with his shot, doesn’t get into scoring positions and simply cannot deliver quality balls in the last third.

With such a “discrete” no. 10, it’s no wonder Steaua struggled to fashion goalscoring chances and find the net even in the easiest of games. Now, under yet another coach, but involved in a playing style that should suit him even better, Tanase has the chance to prove a point. Otherwise this might just be his last season at the once great Bucharest club, although I get the feeling that the red and blue outfit has started to get used to the mediocrity of recent years

  • Name: Ciprian Deac
  • Club: Rapid Bucharest
  • Position: left winger
  • Age: 25

One of Felix Magath’s flops, Deac comes after a poor season with Schalke 04, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if the chance to take showers alongside the likes of Raul and Huntelaar has convinced the Romanian international that he’s among the greatest players alive. Presented by Magath as a number 10 – still amazed by that statement! – Deac will certainly have enough chances to redeem himself in the one year long loan deal. Razvan Lucescu used to play him in the national team even when he was severely lacking match fitness, but the blonde winger certainly has a tough job ahead. Rapid parted ways with the likes of Cesinha and Juliano Spadacio, two of the best left footed players this league has seen in recent year, and will find it hard to accept another year without a serious title challenge.

Ready to turn on the gas!

July 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Eric de Oliveira failed to force a transfer in the Ukrainian first division. He probably doesn't regret it anymore...

They had finished last season in 7th place, just missing out on a place in Europe, but Cristi Pustai’s men were rewarded in the end, as Gaz Metan Medias was granted the access to the Europa League preliminary rounds after FC Timisoara failed to get a licence and was withdrawn from Europe as well as the Romanian top flight.

Gaz Metan will face on Wednesday KuPS Kuopio, a Finnish club now lying in 7h place in the league, in a game that will mark the club’s debut in the European competitions.

“We’ve been working to get here for the past 4 and a half years”, said the Maths teacher that has recently agreed to continue his work at the club, although a few months ago he was hinting towards a move away from Medias, considering this the end of a cycle.

In my opinion, he’s intelligent enough to find ways to continue the development of this small, yet serious club, and this European adventure should bring enough motivation in a group of players that hasn’t gone through major changes, Pustai sticking to the right kind of strategy in a transfer market that needs a lot of work and some investment, in order to add quality, not quantity.

Gaz Metan’s “major” sigining is Ciprian Petre, a 30 years old winger, who should have done better in his career, but could still add something to this team. He likes to play on the left side, but is right footed, so Pustai could use him on both flanks, even though I believe his aim is to try and develop the talented Paul Parvulescu in a role that suits him better. Used a lot as a left winger, Parvulescu has the potential to become a very good attacking left back and Medias could have a very dynamic and dangerous duo on that side, if these two little guys connect.

These European games should also test the quality of Brazilian ace Eric de Oliveira, who has tried everything to move forward in his career, after proving himself in Romania, but Gaz Metan’s staff somehow managed to trick him into signing a new deal.

The 25 years old attacking midfielder has scored an amazing 15 goals and provided a dozen assists last season, compensating the absence of an efficient goalscorer, and I expect him to be raring to go in Europa League, hoping to convince on this stage even better than he did in Liga I.

Two other players to keep an eye on: the skipper Cristian Todea and Florin Bratu. Both are way past their prime, but would love a classy final show. Todea is a vital player in the middle, one of the best anchormen in the league for years, while a well prepared Bratu should definitely enjoy the service he can get from Gaz Metan’s talented dwarfs: Eric de Oliveira, Alex Muntean, Paul Parvulescu and Ciprian Petre.

Remember Unirea Urziceni? Well, you might as well just forget about it!

July 9, 2011 1 comment

They were once hot. Now they are simply not… there anymore. The unknown Romanians that might have raised both of Ancelotti’s eyebrows, if they would have made it through that Champions League group featuring Seville, Rangers and Stuttgart, in 2009, have decided to leave. For good. As a club, Unirea Urziceni, yes, that was the name!, has ceased to exist.

Relegated last season in the second division, the 2009 champion and 2010 runner-up in probably not the best league in the world (Romania’s top tier that is!) has officially announced its retirement from all competitions. No reasons and, don’t worry, no questions asked. Ok, we’re talking about the club that collected a record eight points in the group stage, something no other Romanian team seems capable to achieve in the near future, but let’s not forget that Unirea’s rise started with the former Chelsea man Dan Petrescu at the helm and the magic was gone, once SuperDan realized that the only way was down deciding to move to, errr, Russia’s second tier, in search of another maybe similar adventure.

If there’s a guy who could write the true story of Unirea Urziceni that’s Epaminonda Nicu, now 31, the sort of player with an odd enough name to stand out when playing some mediocre football in the Romanian third tier who went all the way to the Champions League, often captaining the side throughout this short, yet magnificent story.

He could explain how the owner with the lowest profile, Dumitru Bucsaru, used a few millions borrowed from Steaua’s vocal owner, Gigi Becali, to build a stronger and more successful team. Or name all the players that he had to welcome to the 20,000 souls town of Urziceni. Or explain why Petrescu is destined to either go very far in his coaching career or to the nearest hospital, after a spoiled game by either the refs or his own players. Or tell some incredible stories about the perfect season, in which they left all the big clubs fight each other to the death, while sneaking up on the first and last title in Unirea’s history, which has now come to an abrupt end.

It was predictable, as last season all the important players were offloaded, and inevitable. Bucsaru had paid his debt to Becali, won games and titles he had never dreamed to go near, and realized that the only way for Unirea was downwards. Quitting while he was way ahead made perfect sense. This is football, these days, both in Manchester and Urziceni. Strictly business, right?

Categories: My offside trap

Unirea Urziceni no longer exists as a club!

Yes, the mighty Unirea Urziceni. The team that progressed from third division to the Champions League (with defender Epaminonda Nicu playing at all levels!) to record the highest number of points collected in the group stage by a Romanian team has officially retired from all competitions. Basically, the team that was defeating Rangers at Ibrox with an incredible 4-1 and collected eight points in a group that also featured Seville and Vfb Stuttgart, has ceased to exist. Most likey, it will not be missed, as the team that once thrived under the strict command of former Chelsea man Dan Petrescu rarely had a sold out stadium in the 20,000 souls town of Urziceni. Unirea has every chance to be remembered, though, so here, here and here are a few pieces of mine for those willing to take one more look at the club’s good old days…

Meet "The lonely wolf", Unirea's most devoted fan, who should start looking for another club to support...

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