It’s that time of the season again! The time when the title contenders feel they’re losing chances and the teams fighting to survival feel they’re losing hope. So they all go for the easiest way to “produce a positive shock” for the team…
Steaua‘s Gigi Becali was the first to move and he got rid of Ilie Stan after he managed to collect only one point from the games versus Targu Mures (0-1) and Gaz Metan Medias (0-0). Mihai Stoichita‘s return is such a bad idea, that the poor coach (well, not that poor, because he’ll train everywhere and in any conditions for the right price) has slim chances even to finish the current season. He has been successful in the past, but that’s old history. In recent history, he’s just someone who will obey the orders coming from above and who will try to win the league with Steaua, even though in autumn 2011 he was giving up a fight for survival with the current bottom placed team, CS Mioveni.
At the other end of the table, Petrolul Ploiesti has lost two “six-points games” against Concordia Chiajna (3-4, at home, after leading 3-1 with 7-8 minutes to go) and Ceahlaul Piatra Neamt (1-2, away, after another lead at HT – yeah, I know the odds for these kind of results…) and the manager Valeriu Rachita decided to take a step back and look for another solution on the bench. That solution is Gheorghe Multescu, an experienced coach who will have to perform a small miracle, as you can see for yourselves in the current standings.
The third move comes from Astra Ploiesti, a mid-table club that has one of the wealthiest owners in Liga I, Ioan Niculae. This guy has a history of bad choices when it came to turning his team into a contender for a place in Europe and Antonio Conceicao, who was sacked after only a couple of months in charge, is just the latest example. Now, Astra hired Mircea Rednic, a coach who won the league with Dinamo and Rapid, and also named in charge of the club a certain Dinu Gheorghe, former Rapid and FC Brasov president, who refused to get involved again with Rapid and also Steaua, earlier this month. That’s a very strong partnership, but knowing Niculae and also Rednic, I doubt this marriage is going to deliver and/or last…
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It’s suicidal! Which, in footballing terms, means it’s the safest path to the second division. Nobody would dare to build an all-Romanian team, with the lowest average age in the first division, before the start of the season and not move a muscle in the three months long winter break spent on a place that yells at you “you’re going down, you fool!”. Sportul Studentesc are doing exactly that – and, trust me, it’s not the first time I’ve seen it! – and in 2012 has three wins out of three, the last one on the ground of the (now former) league’s leaders, Dinamo. They’ve climbed a few places in the standings and have determined a few other teams look at the relegation battle from a different perspective.
The owner of this team is Vasile Siman, the guy you don’t want to call, if you want one of his players. He’ll slap a 1 million Euros price tag on the forehead of any 19 years old that only played a handful of first division games without blinking. Try to negotiate and he’ll leave you at the table, probably with check to cover all by yourself. So, it’s best to order something light. This strategy has allowed this owner – who rarely buys a player and covers sometimes the often unpaid wages by offering to the squad mobile phones, coats and pickles – to make a huge profit by selling for millions players like Gigel Bucur, Ionut Mazilu, Costin Lazar (all playing abroad now) or George Galamaz. He’s so difficult to discuss with that Dacian Varga could only go to play on loan at Kuban Krasnodar. Twice. Now, the winger who was a regular in a play-off side from the Russian first division is back at the struggling Romanian first division club. And not playing…
Yes, Sportul won 3 out of 3 in 2012 without two of their three stand-out players, Dacian Varga and Costin Curelea (the striker all the big Romanian clubs wanted this winter, but couldn’t afford). The third is Viorel Ferfelea, the fragile number 10 who captained the side against Dinamo, scoring twice in the first three matches of the year. Who are the others? Well, guys like Patriche, Stancu and Farmache are the most experienced in Liga I, after moving through different clubs before returning to Sportul (if I’m not mistaking, Stancu and Farmache were playing in the season when Sportul scared the shit out of the big clubs finishing fourth – a feat which caused so much upset that the club became the first ever to be denied a license for the following season, being relegated!). The others are either recruits from second or third division clubs (Lazar, who offers the assist for the 1st goal vs Dinamo and scores the 3rd, was considered too poor by Petrolul Ploiesti, the club that raised him) or products of a renown youth setup, which offers poor training conditions, but has the satisfaction of seeing its’ best youngsters immediately offered a chance to shine for the seniors.
The best example? Razvan Popa, who’s only 16 and had started football at Steaua Bucharest, was handed a debut on Sunday. He played less than a minute, but if you ask Siman, he’s worth at least half of million. It’s a crisis, he understands that clubs cannot pay the same crazy amounts as before, but you’d better act quickly, as you don’t want this kid to score his first goal in the top flight…
Matteo Gritti and Idan Baruch have caught the spotlight after only two rounds played in 2012 in the Romanian top tier, but for the wrong reasons. Both goalkeepers have signed for struggling clubs and their “performances” managed to affect not only their teams’ results, but also their image.
The Italian Gritti, who plays for Petrolul Ploiesti, let in four goals in 180 minutes, against top opponents like Vaslui (1-2, at home) and Rapid (0-2, away), but those received on Sunday evening, in Bucharest, have been related to a story that accuses the 31 years of match fixing. Swiss journalists insist that the outcome of the match was already decided and that the player is part of a network that influences the outcome of games for betting purposes and that an investigation is taking place for months on this topic.
Gritti’s performances cannot be compared though to what the Concordia’s keeper, Baruch, did against FC Vaslui, after a good first performance against Otelul Galati, won against the former champions with 1-0. The goalie from Israel – who last season played in Romania’s second division for FC Snagov, a team suspected of dirty business after some very strange results & high scoring games – offered a rare “show” and allowing three goals in 45 minutes… These images need no more comments. Ok, maybe one: if both scenarios are true, Baruch really needs to start learning from Gritti, otherwise he’ll have a hard time making a career…
A draw at home against Universitatea Cluj meant that Rapid started the year by dropping two valuable points and I think this is a first confirmation that nothing really changed over the long winter break. We’re talking a strong, hard to break down team, that can easily go on an unbeaten run in the league, but will probably end up drawing more matches than winning. Instead of looking for a reliable striker and a creative midfielder, the two things this team badly needed needs in terms of personnel, the Bucharest side was very discrete on the market and with just some decent investment could have left Razvan Lucescu with no excuse for not mounting a more serious title challenge in this second half of the season.
Rapid parted ways with Cassio Vargas, the Brazilian striker who in his first year managed to score only in the home games, while this season he did even worse, failing to find the net in 9 outings, playing 5 of those league matches for almost 90 minutes. The only other player with a decent status who left in the winter breal was Iulian Apostol, who Lucescu Jr. used to call to the national team, but lately failed to make him useful even for the third placed team. If Apostol was replaced by Milos Pavlovic, from FC Vaslui, who is not quite the same type of player, being very limited when it comes to building up the play, Rapid should have done better in adding some more firepower, as Sabrin Sburlea is not a central striker and the veteran Daniel Pancu needed some serious help / backup upfront. The only offensive signing is Alexandru Ionita, now 23, who comes after a very bad spell with FC Koln and is back home in search of match fitness and confidence, something that won’t do much good to a team that badly needs goals, to turn frustrating draws into vital wins. Ionita played as a sub versus Universitatea Cluj and got some deserved criticism from both fans and the media, but the worst news is that Pancu suffered a long term injury and will probably miss for a couple of months – a huge blow for Rapid, who really needs either Sburlea or Ionita to use this opportunity and prove themselves.
Strenghts and weaknesses
Marcos Antonio, the Brazilian centre-back, is probably the most consistent and reliable foreign player that ever step foot in Liga I and he will make sure the excellent goalkeeper that Dani Coman still is has very good protection. The central midfield adds extra steel, but fails to help the team in attack (the prolific Ovidiu Herea, currently injured, being the exception), yet it’s almost impossible now to point out a midfielder able to take out his man and offer a quality through ball. Felipe Teixeira might be that man, but he’s been very inconsistent, just like Stefan Grigorie.
So, we have a very solid team at the back, a group of experienced players already adjusted to Lucescu’s tactical plans (who needs to become more adventurous to turn from a contender into a winner), but not enough creativity and ability to turn chances into goals when going forward. If this team manages a good run of results early on, there might be a chance for a come-back, but they will probably drop too many points along the way to hope for more than a place in Europe…
For almost an entire year, Gabriel Bostina has been playing a double role for Universitatea Cluj. Unfortunately for him, the position acquired in the club’s board didn’t earn him any favors from the technical staff, who recently punished the central midfielder. Twice. First of all, Bostina lost the armband during one of the training camps from Antalya for some unknown disciplinary problems and now the player & vice president has suffered further embarrassment being sent to train with the reservers “for an unlimited period”.
Currently injured, he failed to show up for the weekend training sessions that were going to be supervised by the club’s medical staff, so the former Otelul, Steaua and Dinamo man is now part of a team that plays in the Romanian third tier. The decision belongs to Ionut Badea, the coach, and the club owner is yet to take a stand. Wouldn’t make sense to see the vice president banned as well from the board meetings and ask to babysit the other members’ kids while the grown-ups discuss professionally about the club’s present and future?
Just one point behind Dinamo, CFR has failed to impress me in the first half of the season, not to mention their first game of the year, won 1-0 versus FCM Targu Mures. Still, what will happen if this teams finally clicks? The manager Jorge Costa has changed from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 to make better use of the available players, but there are question marks regarding their back four, especially on the flanks, as well as their attack. The schedule could favor them though, as they’ll play away only against FC Vaslui and Dinamo, but the consecutive matches between rounds 23 and 25 (vs Otelul, Vaslui and Rapid) should find them in top shape…
Two Brazilians have been released and Costa will have problems replacing at least one of them. If Pantelis Kapetanos, once a reliable goalscorer for Steaua, has already netted a winner vs Targu Mures, playing instead of Weldon (7 goals in the 1st half of the season), a certain Nicolas Godmeche has been signed to replace Renan Garcia, who now plays for Sampdoria.
The Red Dogs spent the winter with their noses in front of a group of at least four other teams convinced they can fight for the title until the very end and have started the year with an important win, 2-0 against Gaz Metan Medias. The club made a bold decision by renting the National Arena for this match (Dinamo’s average attendaces at home have been nothing short of embarrassing) and the players and the fans had a really good first meeting which could pay dividends for the rest of the campaign.
7 players have left the club this winter, but only 2 departures could have an impact on the first team: Zie Diabate, the starting left back, was sold to Dijon, and the promising (for a few years now) Liviu Ganea was allowed to move to a rival like CFR Cluj, as the young forward was refusing to extend a deal that was going to expire in the summer.