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Hagi’s club, Viitorul Constanta, promoted to Liga I!

June 2, 2012 1 comment

Hagi’s “talent factory” just got a new quality certificate.

It all started three years ago, when the legendary Gheorghe Hagi started to develop his football academy, just outside Constanta. Three years and around 10 million Euros later, the results are outstanding and show that a serious approach to youth development will pay dividends. The Academy has now almost 30 players getting regular call-ups to Romania’s youth national teams (Alexandru Buzbuchi, George Serban, Adrian Putanu, Bogdan Tiru, Gabriel Iancu and Cristian Gavra – all recently involved in the Elite Round played by the U19 in Serbia, against the hosts, Germany and Hungary) and today another important event took place.

Viitorul Constanta, the platform offered to the growing talents of the Academy to prove themselves among the seniors, won 2-0 against Sageata Stejaru (goals by the young internationals Putanu and Iancu) in the last round of the Liga 2 season and earned a second consecutive promotion. The blue and white outfit will be playing first division football next season and it’s another fantastic achievement for Hagi’s club.

Of course, this is the real test for the project and Hagi must be strong enough to resist the temptation to try and fight the usual faces of the first division using their weapons. He needs to stay faithful to the excellent work done so far and keep on offering the chance to play at a higher level to the most talented 17, 18 and 19 years old from his Academy. Viitorul doesn’t need to do more than stay up in the clubs’ first season on this stage and should stay focused on the club’s main goal: promoting the excellent prospects who are already coming to age. There’s the risk of going back to the second tier after one year, but let’s not forget the not so old adventures of Sportul Studentesc, who even fought for the title a few years ago using only Romanian players – most of them very young -, a club Hagi’s quite familiar with…

CFR wins the league after a crazy win versus local rivals from Universitatea

May 20, 2012 3 comments

A mad title race came to an end on Friday evening, when CFR Cluj had to replay the game versus Universitatea. With Steaua and FC Vaslui hoping to get this one wrong and leave it all for the final round, CFR felt that everything will fall apart as the home team managed to get a two goal advantage, before things turned – once again – in their favor.

Some will say it’s no coincidence that a referee’s call made it possible, with Adrian Cristea booked for a second time and sent off after a too aggressive way of protecting the ball, but let’s make it clear: in Liga I, nobody should point the finger and accuse an opponent of trying to influence the outcome of a game in their favor. They are all trying in some way and at their level of influence, pushing the referees, asking and looking for all sorts of favors, trying to get the other team’s footballers to either play with less determination or ready to die on the pitch. So, especially those from Steaua, Vaslui, Dinamo and even Rapid who are now accusing CFR of getting their dirty hands on the third title in the club’s history should keep quiet and accept they’ve lost a battle in which they used pretty much the same weapons.

I’m not saying it’s nice or good for Romanian football and I’m hoping to see the day when at least some of the guys involved in what happens behind the scenes will pay. It won’t come soon, not with Mircea Sandu running the Federation and Dumitru Dragomir pulling the strings in the so-called Professional Football League – read the article written by the excellent Jonathan Wilson  for The Guardian -, but as we say over here hope dies last.

So, congrats to CFR Cluj for their win and let’s hope that everyone, and especially the new champions, will focus a lot more on football and their own teams. They looked mediocre for most of the season and massive changes need to take place if they want to compete in Europe in autumn. FC Vaslui did great, considering their transfer ban, but their stars are one year older and the added frustration could lead to the departure of some of the finest attacking players Liga I has seen at least in recent times. Steaua, Dinamo and Rapid once again pushed the self-destruction button and continue to look as expensive toys of spoiled kids, who deserve to suffer bitter defeats. They won’t learn from them, but they surely look good dejected, after making a mockery of their teams, coaches, players and fans throughout the season…

Steaua wins against Dinamo. Great result for the fans, but will it matter in the title race?

Bulgarian centre-back Valentin Iliev, who is running out of contract with Steaua and has been linked with a return to CSKA Sofia in the summer, is the hero of this much anticipated derby, which filled the stands of the impressive National Arena. The 31 years old scored a brace that was enough to seal the win, after Rusescu’s penalty had cancelled the opening goal scored by Alexandru Curtean, after a nice move by Marius Alexe. With Vlad Chiriches again impressive at the back and Cristi Tanase posing a threat with his runs, Steaua ended the game with 22 shots and had almost twice as many clear cut chances to score.

Dinamo paid in the end for a very poor game from central defender Dragos Grigore, while upfront Marius Niculae looked to be struggling physically and lost his breath, feet and ideas on several occasions, and Dario Bonetti, the coach, didn’t miss another chance to have a shot at his players after the match, an approach that won’t help him stay too long at the red and white outfit.

After this huge win for Steaua’s fans (and terrible defeat for Dinamo’s :-) ), there are only two points that separates them and FC Vaslui from the first spot, but unfortunately for both teams it’s all in the hands of league leaders CFR Cluj. Betting on the outcome of the title race remains very tricky and all eyes will be on tonight’s Cluj derby, hosted by Universitatea. After the interrupted match on the 8th of May, the decision was to replay the game from the first minute. Strange call, with no logic, as far as I’m concerned, as the incidents took place when CFR was leading 1-0 and the fights started because of Cadu’s goal celebration, but now both Steaua and Vaslui will hope for a favorable outcome, considering the fact that the title race ends in defeat for them in case CFR manages to get all the three points…

Derby of Cluj ends in violence after 30 minutes!

May 8, 2012 2 comments

Vital game for CFR Cluj tonight, with four rounds to go in the Romanian top flight, as Universitatea, the local arch-rivals await. Fans of the Red Caps burn CFR’s flags on their way to the brand new Cluj Arena, but the goalkeeper of the home team, Mircea Bornescu, will do something worse only 30 minutes after the first whistle. Bornescu lost it and went after CFR’s captain Cadu , who converted a penalty and went behind the goal for a wild celebration. The kick started a fight that forced the ref to send off both players and stop the game for 15 minutes, but Cadu was once again attacked on his way to the dressing room and CFR’s coach Ioan Andone refused to let the players come back on the pitch, asking for the game to be stopped, as he considered the environment too dangerous…

Bornescu’s crazy act will do CFR a great favor and will add to a rivalry that didn’t need another sparkle. Not to mention the controversy added to another title that is now only three steps away from Arpad Paszkany’s club.

Concordia Chiajna, Reghecampf’s small miracle and ticket for a bigger club

April 25, 2012 2 comments

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…

Laurentiu Reghecampf and his wife, Anamaria Prodan, have quickly rebuilt a doomed squad.

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.

Adi Rocha comes after a long spell on the sidelines, which ruined his adventure at Energie Cottbus.

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.

After league leaders CFR, the second placed team, Dinamo, changes the coach!

April 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Bonetti returns to Dinamo, but Dinamo has little chances to regain the top spot.

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 Cluj tops the league in Romania, but sacks Jorge Costa!

April 8, 2012 1 comment

Jorge Costa had been in charge since May 2011.

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”…

Read more…

2 days gone, 3 new coaches in Liga I!

March 29, 2012 1 comment

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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Sportul wins with young, Romanian players. Who would have thought this could work?

March 19, 2012 5 comments

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.

Vasile Siman running a profitable business with an unappealing "merchandise": young, unproven Romanian players.

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… ;-)

Title contenders: Rapid Bucharest

March 8, 2012 2 comments

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.

Transfer activity

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…

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