1 and a half seasons with International Curtea de Arges, 1 and a half seasons with Pandurii Targu Jiu, 1 and a half seasons with Steaua – even statistically, it looked like this summer was the right time to move for Vlad Chiriches. Without a doubt the best and most exciting defender from Liga 1 and one of the very few Romanian players gifted with enough quality to make it big in the near future, the 23 years old is “on the verge” of a transfer abroad for more than six months now. Not sure if he knows it, but this is the biggest (mental) challenge of his still young career. Linked with several important names, including AC Milan, Chiriches started another season with the Romanian champions. Not a bad situation, after all, especially if the red and blue outfit qualifies for the Champions League group stage and looks likely to defend the title, but the “what if” syndrome takes full control of Romanian young talents who dream of a (big money) move abroad as soon as the media publishes the first transfer rumors.
“What if they’ll stop following / wanting me?” “What if I get injured? *knocks on wood* “What if I will never get this chance again?” Usually fueled and speculated by the agents, these questions torment only Chiriches, at this point, with Victor and Giovani Becali obeying orders received from behind bars, where their cousin, Gigi, will spend at least 3 seasons. Sorry, years. Although the quick selling of topscorer Raul Rusescu to Seville hinted that Steaua decided to cash in this summer and get the money to keep going from selling its best players, a change of strategy appears to have taken place and now Steaua gives everything to reach the group stage of the Champions League and the millions that come with this performance. The bad thing for Chiriches (and Tatarusanu, Latovlevici, Bourceanu and others…) is that there is no rush to sell and the centre-back carries a 8 million euros price tag that managed to scare away even the interested Russian clubs.
Intelligent and realistic enough, he knows he’s not worth that kind of cash. And it’s not only because of him, things might have been different if he would have been a national team player of Croatia or Serbia, not Romania… The problem is he’s now trying to live up to his asking price, at least this is what I saw in his first official games of the season. Which weren’t bad, far from it, but looking close enough you could see him desperate to stand out. A ball playing centre-back, Chiriches has also been used in the past as a full back or in central midfield (hints that he does lack the physical structure for his natural role?), but the problem is that he now looks determined to try a 3in1 role, pushing forward with the enthusiasm of an offensive fullback when he’s not stepping up from the back to dictate play from a deep position – bonuses to his defensive work in central defense.
Yes, the opponents barely posed any questions to Steaua’s defense so far, but this type of approach will soon backfire. You can see him misplacing passes in dangerous positions, you can see him gone missing from the area he was supposed to defend, you can see him (this is something new) easily unsettled by an aggressive striker who dares to hassle him. He is the elegant, ball playing centre back who can run from the back, go past five players and find the top corner of the net, the kind of rare defender maybe worth the 8 million. The problem is that Chiriches is that player once every 10-15 games and, in order to make the step abroad (my bet is Steaua will never get that money), he needs to be ” just” an excellent defender, very good on the ball, who doesn’t put the team at risk, for 10-15 matches.
In fewer words, he has to focus and focus on the right things. To improve where he needs to, not to become better at what he’s already good enough. To keep working and pushing himself now, when all seems too easy, and to enjoy himself when he moves on. And to find some patience and self confidence. That moment is just a couple of million Euros away…
Whenever I was asked about the level of Romanian football, I was pointing out to the 5-6 teams that, theoretically, were fighting for the title, a fact that was setting Liga I apart in Eastern Europe, where 2 or 3 teams usually race for the top spot. Unfortunately, it won’t be the case anymore, as well hidden financial trouble surfaced in several “big” clubs threatening their own existence…
As the new season kicks-off today, with Timisoara hosting Dinamo, in what was a while ago a hugely anticipated game, I will try to go quickly through the changes that took place this summer, to give you an idea of what the league should look like in the new campaign.
Title contenders: Steaua Bucharest, CFR Cluj
- Steaua Bucharest – the incarceration of Gigi Becali was and still is a problem for the reigning champions, who used to rely on Becali’s cash injections every once in a while, to keep things running smoothly. It won’t be the case anymore, so it all depends now on a) entering the group stages of the Champions League or b) selling the top players. After Raul Rusescu’s departure to FC Seville, Steaua decided to give it a go in Europe, putting on hold the otherwise imminent departures of players like Tatarusanu, Chiriches, Latovlevici, Chipciu or Bourceanu, all demanded abroad. If plan A succeeds, it is difficult to see this team challenged in Liga I, having every chance to defend the title won in style last year.
- CFR Cluj – probably the only other club ambitious enough, financially ready and well equipped to mount a title challenge. It will be tough, anyway, as CFR went yet again through massive changes especially in terms of personnel. Lots of players were simply released on a free transfer, with only Ivo Pinto and Bakary Sare sold for handsome fees to Dinamo Zagreb, and the new coach, Mircea Rednic, supervised the arrival of no less than 12 new faces… and counting. Although there’s quality in the staff, on the bench and within the team, it will take time to create a team, but CFR’s chances could be boosted by Steaua’s (logical) gamble of trying to focus on a European adventure in the first part of the season.
Teams fighting for a place in Europe: Vaslui, Astra, Petrolul, Dinamo
- FC Vaslui – in its’ short history, Vaslui had created a nice habit of always finishing the league on a higher position than in the previous season, but the wealthy owner Adrian Porumboiu decided it takes too much time, money and nerves to always unsettle the hierarchy and took a step back. This is why I am downgrading the yellow and green outfit this season, in spite of keeping the team at a competitive level, with some good free agents signed from abroad, to compensate the departure of Coman, N’Doye and Milanov, all regular starters last season.
- Astra – qualified for the first time in Europe last season, Astra kept basically the same team (can still sign one or two interesting names) and will probably experience less financial trouble than others. I don’t trust their coach, but I guess this goes for the owner as well, who has the bad habit of changing things at least 2-3 times per campaign. If he nails a good one and sticks with him, he has every chance of repeating last season’s feat.
- Petrolul – unfortunately, the club that benefits from the fantastic support of a passionate fan base failed to capitalize on a good season. The Romanian Cup winners didn’t work very well during the summer and the squad looks seriously weakened, so I doubt they can aim higher. It will be hard to win against them on “Ilie Oana”, but the 12th player, no matter how good he is, can’t enter the pitch and do the work of the first 11.
- Dinamo – Massive changes took place at the Bucharest club, but at least the Red Dogs reacted quicker than Rapid and balanced the club’s budget in time. Good players like Nica and Alexe left, but that’s the way to keep alive a club with little income and the experienced coach Gigi Multescu seems the right man to mix the old players with some new faces that could help the team this season and become transfer targets within a year or two.
Mid-table teams: Pandurii, Gaz Metan, Ceahlaul, Rapid, Otelul
- Once at least a team fighting for a place in Europe if not for the title, Rapid barely avoided the drop and will mix a lot of youngsters with the few experienced players that refused to abandond the derailed train will probably aim for a safe season, which will also be a test for the club’s much awaited new ownership. Financially safe, Pandurii and Gaz Metan should have no relegation worries, although the beautiful team from Targu Jiu created by Petre Grigoras is now history, with the coach and the best players allowed to leave in the last few months. Ceahlaul added some experience with the likes of Emil Jula and Gabriel Canu and will be an interesting first coaching experience in Romania for Vasile Miriuta, while Otelul‘s worries depend mostly on the club’s financial state.
Teams fighting to avoid the drop: FC Brasov, Universitatea Cluj, Viitorul Constanta and the four promoted clubs, Sageata Navodari, Corona Brasov, Poli Timisoara and FC Botosani.
The champions kicked off the season in style, winning 3-0 against the Cup winners, Petrolul. It might have been harder for the Bucharest side (Petrolul played in 10 men for more than an hour), but just as well the difference could have been bigger. With just one important player sold this summer, Laurentiu Reghecampf could focus on the players’ fitness, on helping the new faces blend in and on fine tunning a team that delivered not oly in Liga 1, but also on the European stage.
Steaua missed the injured Chipciu, who needs a few more months to recover from a nasty injury, so offered a start to the promising Gabriel Iancu as a number ten, a role he’ll be trying to keep from Nicu Stanciu, one of the players I enjoy following, and Mihai Radut, recalled after a loan spell with Pandurii. With Chipciu fit, there will be no less than four skillful players to deploy in what was Raul Rusescu’s favorite role, so there should not be too much fuss about his transfer to Sevilla.
With a solid back four to protect a composed Tatarusanu, guarded also by the complementary midfield pair formed by Bourceanu and Pintilii, Steaua can contain the opponent and inspire those going forward to create and attack at will. That will be key, as the red and blue outfit continues to lack a quality number 9. In the SuperCup, Nikolic started and even scored the opener, but he’s rarely on the same page with his teammates. Unfortunately, Piovaccari, who came on as a substitute, raised eyebrows on National Arena after missing a sitter and failing to make an impact. “He needs more time” was the quote to defend the former Sampdoria man (looking at his career stats, I wouldn’t call him like that), but even though switching clubs and leagues is always a challenge, we are not talking about a 20 years old. The Italian is an experienced striker who’s expected to deliver. Or, better said, Steaua needed to find one player this summer: a no 9 who is at least at the team’s current level, if not better.
But, of course, it’s too early for definitive sentences, so Piovaccari is expected to file an appeal and win… some games. Preferrably in Europe, as the Romanian league looks destined to finish for a second consecutive season at the feet of Reghecampf’s army. Only CFR Cluj, a club more inspired in terms of imports, might pose a serious challenge, but the big difference is that Steaua built what CFR tries to buy: a winning team.
When you have two clowns in charge, Romanian football can only be a joke. Unfortunately, it’s not a good one
If you wonder how on earth Victor Piturca, a recently convincted man, can still be in charge of Romania’s national team, the answer is quite simple, friends: his boss is no stranger to bending and even breaking the rules. Mircea Sandu is, for too many years now, in charge of FRF, the Romanian Football Federation, just like Dumitru Dragomir, the chief of LPF, the Professional Football League.
These two had a difficult problem on their hands, after last season, when four teams relegated, while Universitatea Cluj and Rapid Bucharest were not granted the license to play in Liga 1 next season, due to financial problems. As the team from Cluj attacked the decision in Lausanne and won, regaining the right to stay in the top flight as the 17th club, Sandu and Dragomir realized the option to cut down the league to 16 teams has been cancelled, so they needed to find the 18th team. And quickly, because the league starts on the 20th of July. What were the options? Well, they’re quite clearly stated in FRF’s book of rules, but when your nickname is The Godfather, you don’t need to look there anymore, do you? No, you can come up with this idea: we could organize a playout between Rapid Bucharest (who still shouldn’t play in Liga 1, as they never attacked the decision) and Concordia Chiajna (who, alongside CSMS Iasi, was one of the two relegated teams with a license for next season). The reasoning? We put together a team that had won on the pitch its’ right to stay in the top flight and one that was relegated on the pitch, but “avoided relegation” from the financial point of view. Basically, we make a mess of it and allow the clubs we want to compete for the place (and millions of Euros) at stake.
To be honest, this was probably the wierdest idea, yet it passed without problems and the two clubs will face each other on Saturday, with a place in Liga 1 at stake. Allowing Rapid (who recently changed ownership) this chance means throwing in the toilet your own Licensing manual, one that has relegated important clubs in the past and will probably be used to “kill” others in the future. Also, Concordia should have been matched with either CSMS Iasi or left in the second division, as the rules say, with a club from Liga 2 allowed to occupy the empty spot on sporting reasons. But that means following the rules. Following your own rules, the ones you ask everyone to obey, so that you can break them yourself…
Romania’s national team might be a joke, but you won’t feel like laughing if you look at those coming from behind, currently playing for the youth national teams. You just realize that it’s going to be a long time before you’ll see once again Romania playing at a decent level. Recently, the U16 coach, Adrian Bumbescu, has been sacked for some terrible results, including a 1-10 defeat to the
hands feet of the mighty Germans, and similar heads could continue to fall, but that won’t solve the main problem: the national team coaches (we could have better ones than those selected on dodgy criteria) get their players from the (not so) professional league and clubs. And those do little to nothing when it comes to nurturing and promoting young talent…
Because the sport newspapers are busy reporting Becali’s life behind bars and the drinking adventures of Gabi Tamas, I have to do that little bit of extra work to give you an idea about this. With the season over, I have looked at every Liga 1 club that had either very little or absolutely nothing to fight for in the last few rounds and this is an overview of the U20 players (would have had very little to write, if I had restricted the research to the U18 category) promoted and used in the final part of the campaign. Beware, the results are frightening…
- FC Vaslui
Final position: 5th
1. Alexandru Buziuc – born 1994, played 2 games as a substitute, for a total of 43 minutes spent on the pitch.
2. Adrian Nenita – born 1996, was offered a debut in the last round. Played 2 (two) minutes.
Final position: 6th
1. Alin Roman – born 1994, played 1 game. To be more accurate, played 17 minutes.
2. Dorin Rotariu – born 1995, played 7 games, but was a starter just once. In the other 6 games, was on the pitch for less than 20 minutes. Without any logic, he wasn’t used at all in the last 3 rounds…
3. Andrei Radu – born 1996, was offered a debut in round 32 and stayed just under 30 minuted on the pitch.
- FC Brasov
Final position: 7th
1. Florin Dumbrava – born 1995, was handed a debut in round 33 and played 14 minutes.
2. Rares Enceanu – born 1994. Made his debut in the top flight two seasons ago. In this one, played 4 times as a substitute, each time less than 30 minutes. Was among the starters only once and he scored 2 goals in that game. Obviously, in the following round, he was just a substitute again (we don’t want him to get too confident!) and played just 12 minutes…
- CFR Cluj
Final position: 8th
The former champion club and finalist in the last edition of the Romanian Cup didn’t use a single U20 player last season.
- Rapid Bucharest
Final position: 9th
1. Nicolae Vasile – born 1995, played 90 minutes 11 times this season.
2.Alexandru Ionita – born 1994, played 11 matches and was among the starters 5 times.
The use of these players came mostly as a consequence of Rapid’s bankrupcy and the reality that the team will be relegated at the end of the season, with no money or first team players…
- Gaz Metan Medias
Final position: 10th
Not a single U20 player used in the final part of the previous season.
Final position: 11th
1. Alexandru Tudorie – born 1996, played 32 + 12 minutes in the last two rounds. You do the maths, keeping in mind that this one is considered the hottest prospect of his generation.
- Universitatea Cluj
Final position: 12th
Champions of the U17 championship in the summer of 2012, Universitatea didn’t field a single U20 player in this second part of the season, although the club has the same fate as Rapid.
As you can see, I have not included here the clubs that fought for a place in Europe and those who battled against relegation. I went for clubs that had nothing left to fight as the end of the previous season approached, yet they simply avoided to hand debuts and offer playing minutes in Liga 1 to their most promising youngsters. These guys, some of them quite talented, have no other option than to play in the (terrible) youth league until they turn 19, afterwards, their only chance is to convince a coach that they’re ready to play senior football. So few of them make this step not only because most of the averafe quality of the majority, but because of a terrible mentality installed in football clubs, fueled by very poor coaches, who prefer the mistakes of mediocre older (foreign) players over those made by kids who “lack experience”. The youngsters have only one chance to change this: fake their ID’s like most of the African players, but in a different way: try to look a bit older!
Everybody was excited about the skinny forward from Constanta a few years ago and Inter moved quickly to get the signature of Denis Alibec, in spite of the failure to get anything out of Ianis Zicu, who was definitely more talented. I remember watching him playing for Romania’s U19, soon after his move to Milano, and his arrogance and selfishness were difficult to digest. Had a gut feeling he’s not going to make it and something similar I felt not long ago, when I’ve seen Chievo’s Adrian Stoian – praised in Italy for his quality and potential – pull on the yellow shirt nobody really seems to care about these days…
Years went by and Alibec failed to make it in Italy, although his performances with the nerazzurri’s Primavera certainly hadn’t gone un-noticed, Jose Mourinho wanting to have a look at the Romanian forward and offering him the chance to train with the seniors and even play. But, when everything seemed to go right, something changed the path of his career. He was sent on loan to Mechelen, in Belgium’s top flight, to get more experience among the seniors, but his difficult character was too much to deal with in what was supposed to be the quiet, calm environment that should have helped him blossom. Left the club after a fight with the coach and without a backup plan and a return to Romania, further away from the professional world, remained Inter only rehab solution. But Alibec isn’t surrounded by enemies and people who don’t see and appreciate his talents, as he probably thinks, and Gheorghe Hagi sacrificed a place in his newly promoted team, Viitorul Constanta, at the expense of one of his Academy’s better products (93 born Gavra barely got the chance to play last season). Alibec, “who seems to gain weight when he breaths”, played 23 matches in Liga 1 and, although his numbers might not be great, with 5 goals and 5 assists, he definitely impressed with a combination of physical strength and technical ability difficult to find in any other Romanian striker. This and Hagi’s word were enough for Steaua to really consider a move for him this summer, on condition Inter can be tricked to get nothing in exchange of what was considered now a player able to help the Bucharest side get into the Champions League’s groups stage. Talks were fueled by the press, but several Italian scouts were adamant the move would not go through, as “there’s interest for the player from the Serie A”.
They were right, Bologna moved for the 22 years old, who should have been more than happy at getting a second chance in Serie A. He’s not… “I’m sorry I have to leave behind my friends and my family. I hoped to be able to move to Steaua, but my faith is decided by Inter”, he stated to the press immediately after the deal was announced, without a second thought about the impact of his words on his near future. If a colder reception both from the staff, his colleagues and the fans should await in Emilia-Romagna, he should look back and think about his words. Or think about thinking before speaking. But the nightmare of having a second chance to impress in Serie A should not be long. He can wake up from it whenever he feels like it. It wouldn’t be the first time, he’s getting quite experienced at throwing away his chances to really make it…