In 2008, Steaua needed a favorable result in Universitatea Cluj – CFR Cluj and the club’s owner, Gigi Becali, sent 1,7 million euros in a suitcase to Cluj, to offer extra motivation to the home team. Teia Sponte, one of Steaua’s officials, was caught with the valuable package and Becali ended up in jail for a couple of weeks, before being released and judged as a free man for almost four years. Accused of trying to bribe players, he defended himself by saying it was a reward, that it was money which would have lead to a better performance from a team, and after a very long trial he was recently declared innocent alongside all the others involved in the case. Among them, the current national team coach, Victor Piturca.
Of course, the story got a lot of coverage in the Romanian media and I’ll make an exception this time – as you noticed, I’m trying to stay away from all these extra-football stories here and focus on the game – because there is one angle all the journalists have missed. In 2008, when everyone came to court to answer the prosecutors’ questions, Piturca (among others) defended Becali when he was denying the accusations, and said that the suitcase wasn’t sent there to influence the result of the above mentioned match, but as payment for some real estate deal Becali was doing in Cluj. Is it only my impression that Piturca lied under oath? And, I’m not very good at this ;-), but isn’t it a crime to do so? I mean, in a normal, civilized country, not Romania…
Do look again at the provisional standings after 10 games from the second half of the season! The team in second place, proudly representing a village with just over 8.000 souls, had 10 points after 17 rounds and was looking destined to get back to the second division. Not a lot of people was going to miss Concordia Chiajna, but a few months later now a lot of people would like to come across what has become one of the most effective teams in Liga I…
The club that runs on the Local Council’s money and under the direct command of the village’s mayor Mircea Minea made the right call last December, when Laurentiu Dinita was replaced by Laurentiu Reghecampf, who came along with his wife, Anamaria Prodan, who works as a FIFA agent. The squad suffered massive changes, with 13 players released and 15 brought to try and help the club avoid relegation, 7 of them coming from the second division outfit FC Snagov – one of the clubs Reghecampf had worked for as a coach in the past.
Among them was a certain Idan Baruch, a goalkeeper that offered a terrible and very dubious display versus FC Vaslui, in the second official game of the year, a match that made everyone think that Concordia’s players will only try to make some money before they leave the top flight.
That match was followed though by an excellent run of 4 wins and 1 draw in 5 games, including another incredible result (4-3 away at Petrolul, after being 1-3 down, with three goals scored in the final six minutes!), before the green and white outfit suffered the second defeat of the year against Dinamo. Immediately, they were back among the “relegation favorites”, but six days later another huge result came along and lifted them above the line: a 4-2 away win against now former league leaders CFR Cluj! Before Steaua’s visit to the small stadium just outside Bucharest, Concordia can collect 6 other vital points, versus Vointa Sibiu and CS Mioveni, and Reghecampf could welcome the team he’s already been linked with from an excellent and totally unexpected position…
Reghe, the coach
With a career that saw him leave Steaua after three years and move to Germany, where he played for Energie Cottbus, Alemannia Aachen and FC Kaiserslautern, Reghecampf had two spells as a coach with both FC Snagov and Universitatea Craiova (which he helped once avoid relegation) and a short one with Gloria Bistrita, but for some reason he always failed to stay put in one place, in spite of some promising results. He’s now linked with Steaua Bucharest, but it would be a mistake to pay too much attention to Gigi Becali’s daily TV appearances, although the 37 years old is definitely aiming higher and, if he ends this season above the line, it would be a small miracle that could get him either a good move in the near future or at least buy him a lot more time at his next club.
Who are the new stars?
With eight goals between them, Brazilian forwards Alex (21 years old) and Adi Rocha (26 years old) have impressed in their first matches in Liga I, adding pace and the skill that’s still missing among the rest of the team lead by Vlad Munteanu, a wide midfielder (now 31 years old), who spent the past six seasons in the Bundesliga (with a short spell to Auxerre, in 2008), playing for the likes of Energie Cottbus (just like his coach), Wolfsburg, Arminia Bielefeld and FSV Frankfurt. The team’s captain is Iulian Mamele, a 27 years old central defender playing his first season in the top flight, but one of the nicest surprises comes from 24 years old right winger Adrian Popa, who under Reghecampf scored 2 goals and offered 4 assists, drawing quickly the interest of title-chasing clubs like FC Vaslui.
Dario Bonetti’s first game in charge wasn’t great. Dinamo lost against Gaz Metan Medias and the last 10 minutes were really difficult, as the home side managed to make it 2-1 and needed one more goal to overturn the 0-1 defeat suffered in the first leg.
The Italian decided to make small adjustments to the 4-4-2 that had failed to deliver under Liviu Ciobotariu, after some impressive displays and results in the first half of season. First of all, he added a second defensive midfielder, Dorel Stoica, who did three good things: 1. protected the back four well enough even if he didn’t look in top physical shape (both goals came from set plays); 2. allowed Djakaridja Kone to act higher up the pitch and use his energy and muscle to block the opposition’s build-up strategy earlier than usual; 3. scored Dinamo’s only goal, decisive for the step to the final. This lead to the usual playmaker, Catalin Munteanu, who also suffered an obvious dip in form, to move on the left wing, where he found more space and time to dwell on the ball and look for options, as well as send some quality crosses – something nobody else does at the moment for Dinamo.
The most important move made by Bonetti was the use of Marius Alexe in a different position, who moved from left midfielder to second striker – a role that (in my opinion too) suits him better, making him less predictable in movement and allowing him to get more scoring opportunities.
Even though it had little effect in last night’s game, this decision can have major implications not just for the young player who has been in disappointing form in the season he was supposed to prove himself too good for Liga I and ready to move abroad, but also for the team. If he will keep on playing there, there will be little to no space for Ionel Danciulescu, the veteran striker who is the club’s second scorer this term and the active player with the highest number of goals scored in the Romanian first division. This isn’t a surprise, as Danciulescu, who has scored over 200 goals in his Liga I career, had been forced by the same Italian coach to leave Dinamo a few years ago and move to Hercules Alicante, in the Spanish second division, a club he has helped at that time to gain promotion in La Liga.
David Conn’s excellent piece from The Guardian on the rise of Swansea is definitely worth a read. You can find it here and I will draw now a parallel. Using less words and a large number of spelling and grammar mistakes, I’d like to offer you the story of Petrolul Ploiesti, one I know in detail, as we’re talking about the club from my home town.
It all started years ago, when Liviu Luca, the leader of one of the biggest unions in Romania, got hold of the club without paying a dime, switching one day from sponsor to owner without anyone opposing what seemed like a natural move at that time. It was a good period for Petrolul, who had just won their last domestic trophy, the Romanian Cup. Years went by and during a season that saw the team finish the first half in second place just to give up the fight in the spring, “offering” points to all those in need, it became clear that sporting success is not among the owners’ priorities.
Luca, just like Ninth Floor did with Swansea, publicly asked for 1 US Dollar to give up the club, at a meeting with the local journalists. The owner of a newspaper, now running for mayor in Ploiesti, Iulian Badescu, wrote a letter of intent that very day and presented an official offer. Of course, Luca (who once asked his players to fix a match, having a gun on the table!) was bluffing and the club remained one of the means to use the union’s money in a way that, in the end, got him in trouble with the law… Bad call for Luca, worse for Petrolul, whose fans had to wait for years to see once again a glimmer of hope when another journalist, Dragos Patraru (my cousin and best friend), initiated a local movement called “Petrolul e al nostru” (Petrolul is ours), hoping to get the club back from the current shareholders and offer it back to the city.
Over 15.000 signatures (in a city with a population below 200.000) were raised with the help of enthusiastic fans who took the streets every day for weeks and the Local Council was forced to discuss the possibility of acquiring back the club. Getting together incredibly rich union leaders with desperate for votes and money politicians wasn’t the best idea though, but everyone, including those who supported the movement with their signatures and efforts, refused the suggestion to start from scratch and build a new, solid structure, taking only the club’s name from the current owners and cutting all the other strings. They wanted first division football, as quickly as possible. So, the two parties shook hands and… became best friends.
Three years after that moment, the shareholders are the same, but the money to run the club come from the Local Council. As if this wasn’t enough, the old stadium was replaced by an attractive new arena and offered for free to a private club, completely supported with public funds. Oh, I forgot, the club is in debt – almost 3 million Euros – and the transfer from the current owners to the Local Council cannot be completed until the debt is cleared. The owners don’t want to do it, while the Local Council cannot do it :). Starting from scratch was the best idea, but, hey, Petrolul’s in the top flight, although not for very long, given the current position in the standings…
The yellow and blue outfit, in the current setup and ownership uncertainty, looks once again doomed. The club might avoid relegation, but unless a radical change takes place and a new, solid foundation is laid, will lose the fight with the mediocrity that comes with sheer amateurism. Too bad for the idea and the fans that were the force able to move things, the pressure firmly applied on the politicians who ran the city and Petrolul’s true engine that helped the three times Romanian champions climb back from the third division to the top flight. The supporters who were promised to have a say have been tricked. Those loyal and influential were offered jobs within the club, giving up the idea of having a representative in the club’s board and act like a supervisor for the masses, ensuring nothing that could affect the club’s present and future stays behind closed doors. But who would want that to happen? Not a politician, nor a union leader who’s in serious trouble with the law or the dubious business man who has been trying to control things from a distance in the past couple of months, for the simple reason that he’s already the owner of another Liga I club.
What makes the difference between Petrolul and Swansea? Simple: the Yellow Wolves are still being used by those who run the club, while the Swans are already used to running the club. Who said football is not about the fans anymore?
If CFR Cluj got rid of Jorge Costa after a 0-5 defeat at home against another title contender, Dinamo Bucharest took the same call after a 1-3 defeat at home against Petrolul, a team that struggles to avoid relegation. In both cases, the boards went for coaches who have been previously in charge of the two teams, but if Ioan Andone has won a title with CFR, nothing notable springs to mind when you think of Dario Bonetti’s first spell with the Red Dogs.
Apparently recalled only to help as a supervisor of Liviu Ciobotariu, the Italian has to step in now that the coach refused to work in the new structure, but it’s clear from his and the board’s statements that this was the initial idea anyway. It’s not a wise move at all and, as I said in this earlier preview, Dinamo’s chances to win the league will suffer once the shareholders will give up on their surprisingly discrete role from the first half of the season…
Instead of giving a wake-up call to the players – veterans Catalin Munteanu, Ionel Danciulescu and Marius Niculae, who were in top shape until December, were offered new deals in January and their performance instantly dropped afterwards -, the board sacked a humble, but dedicated young coach, who had created a functional and, at times, attractive 4-4-2.
This move will anger the anyway disgusted fans, the very influential agents Victor and Ioan Becali, as well as a club legend like Cornel Dinu, and with so much unrest withing the club’s ranks I doubt that Bonetti’s arrival could have a positive effect on a team that was cruising in Liga I in the first half of the season and now will have to chase CFR, but also keep an eye on their biggest rivals, Steaua and Rapid, who took advantage of the recent unconvincing displays and results.
PS If I were Mihai Stoichita, the recently appointed coach of third placed Steaua, I’d start praying that the next league game versus Otelul Galati will end with a satisfying result for the never satisfied owner, Gigi Becali…
CFR’s first defeat in 2012 proved fatal for the former FC Porto defender, who was heading for a first title, but won’t be there to enjoy a win that’s still likely, as the club holds a five point advantage at the top of the standings. Defeated 0-5 at home versus Rapid, Jorge Costa has been released a day later and on Sunday evening, the name of his replacement was already known: Ioan Andone.
“It’s the perfect choice!”, says the media and, although it does feel very wrong for the Portuguese coach who is packing his bags, it looks right for the guy who’s stepping in with nine rounds left to play in Liga I. Andone is the coach that helped CFR win its’ first title back in 2008 (made the double, actually, that year!), but was sacked six rounds into the following season, due to a poor start in the league! The coach lost the chance to guide the team into the group stage of the Champions League, where the Romanian champions went on to meet Chelsea and Bordeaux and stun AS Rome. That call came only a couple of weeks after club owner Arpad Paszkany was showing his support for Andone, saying that “he’ll grow old at this club”…