Title race preview: CFR Cluj
Position last season: 1st place
CFR was one of the least impressive champions in recent years and I would rate the team below the likes of Unirea Urziceni and Otelul Galati, considered huge surprises when they won the league, although they did possess two vital attributes: physical preparation and tactical discipline.
Brought to avoid what looked like a probable poor end of the season, Ioan Andone didn’t manage to take more out of the team than his predecessor, Jorge Costa, the former fierce FC Porto defender. The squad looked old, slow, predictable, lacked style and impressive performers (Greek striker Pantelis Kapetanos would be the exception from the rule), but somehow the most effective team in recent years in terms of winning trophies managed to add another title to its’ ever growing cabinet.
Important transfers out: Beto (goalkeeper, key player), Sixto Peralta (central midfielder, key player)
Beto was in Portugal’s squad for Euro 2012 only as a backup, but he was the only player from Liga I present at the final tournament, and CFR couldn’t extend the loan from Porto for a second season. It’s a blow they’ve covered with another Portuguese goalie, but they’ve lost a player used to be part of a winning team with one that barely avoided relegation with FC Brasov.
Peralta’s another big name and, in spite of the criticism he got sometimes, I still consider him the midfielder with the best vision and intelligence that has been seen in Liga I in recent years. Slow and not too sharp from the physical point of view, the Argentinian was an asset for CFR, who tried to get rid of him – or at least his big salary – in the past too, but realized back then that it would have been a mistake. One that they’ve made now, probably, not just by releasing him, but by failing to add to the roster a central midfielder capable to organize the build-up by looking forward, not backwards or sideways.
Important transfers in: Felgueiras (goalkeeper, FC Brasov), Diogo Valente (left midfielder, Academica Coimbra), Laszlo Sepsi (left back, Poli Timisoara), Adam Vass (central midfielder, Brescia)
Specialists in the Portuguese market, CFR looks like they’ve corrected a mistake by signing the promising goalkeeper from Brasov, who didn’t miss a single minute last season, producing some solid displays along the way. Usually, they were the first to spot talent in Liga Sagres, but they did well to get Felgueiras in goal now, a position covered by inconsistent performers in recent times.
There are other positions that would have needed at least an injection of enthusiasm, if not quality. Not just the full-backs, but also the central midfielders look average and, generally, the midfield line lacks creativity and pace, but CFR hopes that Sougou, who started brightly the previous campaign, will get some help from Diogo Valente.
Anyway, CFR kept the investment in players to a minimum for yet another summer, even the brighter names coming on a free transfer. Ok, they were encouraged by the results that came along in spite of their discrete involvement, but looking at the good deals they’ve done in the past (Lacina Traore, Alvaro Pereira), it’s a surprise to see they’ve stopped trying to find investment opportunities in the market, if not players that could help them win other trophies…
My prediction: Unless Andone managed to click with the roster available during the summer break and found a tactical setup that could take the best out of some worn-out players – and I’d start the list with the captain, Cadu – CFR has little chances to repeat last season’s feat. Knowing the ambitious owner and that financial resources should be available considering the discrete presence in the market in the past two campaigns, we should expect some important changes halfway through the season, so a late and strong challenge for the league could be on the cards. So, let’s not write off the title holders, not after they showed that they could win the title even playing badly…