Back in September, I made a Top 10 list of the Liga 1 exports in the summer of 2013. A list topped by Vlad Chiriches, who just had set a new record in terms of transfer fees with his move to Tottenham, a list that now, with half of season gone, deserves a second look. So let me walk you through the first five months spent by 10 ex-Liga 1 “stars” at their new clubs, in stronger leagues, competitive and professional environments, under pressure. Those who love to promote the Romanian league should look away :)
The most valuable, both in terms of quality and price, turned out to be also the one who delivers from the start. Vlad Chiriches, the ex Steaua defender and current national team captain, made a bright start in the toughest league, in an ambitious team packed with quality players, winning over the fans and making commentators like Clive Tyldesley say recently that he’s “a fine advert for Romanian immigrant labor”. Irony aside, he is indeed. And it’s enough to look below him in my Top 10 list…
With the exception of Portugese right back Ivo Pinto, who impressed with Dinamo Zagreb (although I’d place the Croatian Prva HNL below our Liga 1 in terms of competitiveness), there is nobody else who made the switch easy, with good results also on the pitch, not just in their bank accounts.
Ok, signing Denis Alibec was a gamble from Bologna, as the striker revived by Gheorghe Hagi and his club, Viitorul Constanta, disappointed upon his return to Serie A. He featured for just 2 minutes in the first part of the season, against mighty Juventus, but that was just a desperate use of a forward with good feet, but a mind that still looks unable to focus on football. Two other Romanian players moved to Italy last summer and both need (and unlike Alibec who is close to a transfer to Astra Giurgiu) and will have more time to adjust and prove themselves. Alexe struggles with struggling Sassuolo, featuring 6 times in the league, but just once as a starter, while Nica got a red card in his second and last appearance in Serie A for Atalanta.
Life isn’t easier in Ligue 1 either, where Dan Nistor and Aurelian Chitu started just once in half of season, each with a handful of appearances as substitutes for Evian and Valenciennes, respectively. The biggest disappointment though came from Raul Rusescu, who joined FC Sevilla as the top scorer of the Romanian league, but already left La Liga, moving on loan to Sporting Braga after a total of 7 appearances and 3 goals, but only 64 mintues of football in the Spanish top flight…
With Fatai unable to feature more for Club Brugge, in spite of a bright start (scored against Anderlecht in his first game), and Herea looking average in a league that, in theory, should have allowed him to impress, we can draw the line: just 2 out of 10 players stepped into their new clubs and claimed a place in the first eleven.
Not at all surprising is the fact that we’re talking about two of the most expensive deals. It might look strange that a proven scorer like Rusescu failed at Sevilla, but in fairness it was the Spanish club who got it wrong and rushed to gamble of a player that didn’t look ready for them! Saying that the Romanian was going to replace Alvaro Negredo was a (good) joke and the 25 years old’s signature was followed by those of Carlos Bacca and Kevin Gameiro. And while these two got playing time, Rusescu was following an intense fitness regime to help him lose weight and gain the pace and agility needed in La Liga…
On the disappointing side I’d put Alexe’s struggle, given his intelligence and first team experience, but he did join a newly promoted club and he’s the type of forward who can “enjoy” quite long periods of indifferent form, risks both himself and the club should have taken into account. Hopefully, he’ll have the time and the opportunities to come good, just like Nica, who has the fortune of being in a youth-friendly club…
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It was a summer to remember for Romanian clubs (although the newspapers haven’t noticed it just yet…)! With Chiriches finally moved to Tottenham, we have a new record transfer fee paid for a Liga I player. We also have 5 players signed by Serie A clubs, 3 gone to Ligue 1 and 1 in La Liga, none other than last season’s top scorer. Teams from Belgium, Croatia and Switzerland – good European stepping stones – have made their picks, with Russia and Turkey paying good money to either clubs or players (or both) to sign no less than 7 established footballers. And Steaua decided to keep some in-demand players to make it into the Champions League’s group stage, otherwise the numbers would have been bigger and the figures even more impressive. Below, you can find my top ten transfers of the summer, which is of course debatable, but I’ve tried to filter the twenty-something important moves using as filter the quality and potential of the player in question, age, level of the buying club and level of the league he’s going to.
I, for one, don’t remember a more prolific transfer window in recent years, in terms of fees paid for Liga I’s top names and number of exports, especially to top leagues from Western Europe. Is it just a coincidence or the Romanian league has gained a better reputation? If this would be the case, then we’d have another premiere on our hands, with the clubs’ performances in the internal and European competitions drawing attention, not the exposure offered by Romania’s national team(s). Take Gheorghe Grozav’s case, who was heavily promoted by Victor Piturca and only got a late move to Terek Grozny. Or Ciprian Marica’s, who is struggling to find himself a new club, just like Gabriel Tamas, released by WBA, or Gabriel Torje, who had troubles convincing another club to loan him, a full transfer being out of the question…
Do we have stronger clubs? I can only think of exceptions. Is Liga I more competitive? It surely was two-three years ago – remember the days when Steaua, Dinamo, Rapid, CFR and Vaslui were fighting to get the title from Otelul Galati -, but that race got less and less tensed, with Dinamo’s and Rapid’s financial trouble, and CFR’s and Vaslui’s loss of investment/interest. Do we sign / promote better players? I’d say mainly by accident, considering the amateur take on player recruitment and lack of funds, knowledge and dedication allocated to the youth sector (of course, I will keep Hagi’s Academy out of this!).
Having the chance to see most of the European leagues in the past couple of years, given my assignments in scouting, I think the answer to the question of attractiveness gets a positive note only when related to the level of leagues from Croatia, Serbia, Czech Republic, Poland, not to mention Slovenia, Hungary or Bulgaria. The gap is rather discrete, I must say, and a good player from Liga I is tested in an equally if not more competitive environment than in the mentioned countries, making him prepared enough for a step abroad, in the eyes of visiting scouts. Add some good runs in Europe, like CFR’s or Steaua’s and we’re only kept back by reputation. One that surely doesn’t speak in Romania’s favor, but can be changed by each and everyone who gets the chance to play abroad…
Either sell high or don’t sell at all – this was Steaua’s approach during the winter mercato, which closed in the top leagues without a concrete move for the highly rated Vlad Chiriches, Cristian Tanase or Raul Rusescu. Becali’s crazy asking prices worked this time in favor of the club that will have the strongest squad in the league and the best position possible to go for the Champions League spot that can be so rewarding, from the financial point of view. CFR Cluj, instead, decided to capitalize on their recent European adventure, and again, it was a wise move. Sell as high as possible, but sell nevertheless! Rafael Bastos, Modou Sougou and Luis Alberto left, a few other regular starters probably just missed out on a move and I am sure CFR regrets not having sold Pantelis Kapetanos, who was signed on a free transfer and has reached a age that will set his market value on a downtrend.
But January was a month that saw a lot of players from Liga I move abroad and I will try to make a short overview of those moves.
Position: Right winger
From: CFR Cluj
To: Olympique Marseille
The OM brand and the transfer fee in region of 4 million Euros make this the deal of the month. Sougou’s excellent pace will definitely help him adjust to the new league, but I wonder if he’ll ever be a consistent performer in a demanding championship and manage the pressure of every day life in such a well supported club – the opposite of CFR, who struggled lately even to sell out their Champions League matches. At 28, he’s there to help and there will be no patience or understanding for a player that has to deliver…
Moving to 1.Bundesliga is a great step for a player who spent a couple of years in Espanyol’s youth setup, but had to return to Romania to get over a long term injury and play senior football on a regular basis. He did it in impressive fashion – one of my favorite players in the league -, but as in other cases this move might find him unprepared. Not because of his skill, but mainly because he still looks a bit below weight and will surely need time & work to be able to compete. Even he’s given credit right away, he cannot go on for 90 minutes and I hope that – in the next few months – he won’t compromise his chance to have a solid 2013/2014 season. Excellent in 1-v-1 duels, he can play anywhere behind the main striker, but has recently surprised by saying that he feels best in a central position, as he made a name for himself starting his runs from the wings.
Position: Attacking midfielder
From: CFR Cluj
To: Al-Nasr Riad
Impressive at times, especially in this season’s Champions League run with CFR Cluj, the Brazilian went for the money and we might not hear much about him in the years to come. Not surprised he struggled to get a chance at a decent European club, he’s been an inconsistent performer in the 2 and a half years spent in Liga I after his arrival from Sporting Braga. A(nother) good deal for CFR, who cashed in over 3 million Euros for a player that came on a free transfer and helped the club do well in the league and on the European stage.
To: Standard Liege
Scoring 4 times in the second round of the current season brought Tucudean in the spotlight and the media presented him as the next big thing. In the following 16 appearances, he managed to find the net only twice more, stats that speak of a striker who is yet to mature into a reliable front man. Coming from a very wealthy family, the 1,87 powerhouse failed to convince at Dinamo, yet he gets his first break of his career with the transfer to Standard Liege. It probably wouldn’t have happened if Standard’s coach wasn’t Mircea Rednic, who thinks that he can get the big guy going. I doubt it, considering that the move to Dinamo from UTA and the chance to become a regular feature in the youth & senior national team failed to motivate him properly. I doubt that a bigger wage will do it…
Rednic swore he wouldn’t sign a player from Petrolul, the club he left to return to Belgium, yet he decided to go for one of the most talented and controversial figures in Romanian football. An authentic number 10, Cristea had everything to make it big, apart from the desire. Signed on loan with an option to secure a good wage for years of quality nightlife ;), he will probably try to show his class and certainly he was brought along by Rednic in the hope that he will deliver immediately. Might help in a couple of games, but so far never showed any awareness that his playing days are coming to an end.
“I said no to a written offer of 6 million Euros”, said a cocky Gigi Becali a week ago, so you can imagine the prices he’ll dream of and offer to the Romanian media now that Vlad Chiriches, the 22 years old centre-back, appeared on Milan’s radar. But even Becali’s fantasies shouldn’t be a problem if the Italians will be looking for Thiago Silva’s replacement, considering the huge transfer fee paid by PSG for the
unavailable Brazilian. The question is: can Chiriches step in and do the job of one of the finest central defenders in the world?
Let’s have a look at the stats: he’s got 68 appearances in Liga I – not the most challenging in Europe – and only 29 of them for a club that challenged for the title (and lost). To compare, Udinese’s Gabriel Torje had collected 125 matches in the top flight by the age of 21, before moving to Serie A (and failing to impress in the first season). Ignored most of the time by Romania’s youth national teams, he had recently earned his place in the senior team, collecting 6 caps under two different coaches. Ok, he’ll be playing there for many years to come, but apart from these matches he can only add to his international experience 2 other games played with Steaua in the Europa League.
Now let’s have a look at the player. If his name came up in Milan’s search for Silva’s replacement, it’s because he’s got a good age and is the type of ball-playing centre-back that can solve difficult situations with elegance and also start the build-up from the back.
And he’s from Romania and he shouldn’t be that expensive. The truth is, Chiriches has a technical skill that’s beyond doubt and has determined different coaches to use him with confidence both as right back and defensive midfielder, but his place is at the heart of the back four. He’s mature and assured and has impressed with his response to the biggest challenges of his short, but promising career, enjoying the big matches and displaying an impressive confidence against stronger and better opponents. In my opinion, he still needs to gain in strength and he can have problems against very quick strikers in the first five meters, but usually his positioning sense and ability to read the game avoid embarrassing situations. He’ll use both feet, which is a big plus, and is good, but not perfect in the air, and might also have a fight on his hands while playing against a big fellow, that’s why the intense work in the gym is a must, in order to become a more commanding figure at the back.
Now that I’ve offered a positive response to the question from the title, we can only ask ourselves if a Romanian version is enough for Milan and what’s the latest figure in Becali’s mind: 10, 15 million Euros? It’s also interesting to note that Cosmin Contra recommended Chiriches to Getafe recently. Contra who played for Milan as well…
He’s 27. In terms of goals scored last season and proven quality. Otherwise, he’s 31 years old. Which spells “he’s past it”, for those who look at the Romanian league generally to find that player that could generate a nice profit in the next two or three years. But Welsey’s performance doesn’t deserve to go un-noticed. Just like his club, FC Vaslui, which every single season managed to finish in a better position than in the previous one, the Brazilian forward offered more with every year spent in Romania, to live up to the expectations that come with one of the highest wages in Liga I. In 2009, he had 7 goals, adding another 12 in his second season, while in the third he scored 13, just like Galatasaray’s 6 million Euros buy from January 2011, Bogdan Stancu, and the current player/coach of Universitatea Cluj, Claudiu Niculescu.
In the last campaign, though, finished by FC Vaslui in second spot, a single point behind the champions from CFR Cluj, Wesley found the net 27 times (5 times from the spot) becoming only the second player in the past 5 years to score more than 20 goals during one season after the 2nd best all-time scorer in Liga I, Ionel Danciulescu (21 goals in 2007/2008).
Currently on vacation, the goalscorer used by Viorel Hizo, one of Vaslui’s former coaches, even as a defensive midfielder!, is now battling through the media with the owner Adrian Porumboiu. He speaks of the need for a new challenge, with Steaua banging on the door and, apparently, willing to offer more than a joke of a contract like a while ago, when Gigi Becali thought that the club’s name is more important than any installment fee, monthly wage or winning bonuses. That (still) works these days only for young Romanian players and Romanian coaches of all ages… Maybe someone in the club will find the courage to inform the mighty owner that last season Wesley scored more than Raul Rusescu (13), Mihai Costea (6), Leandro Tatu (3), Stefan Nikolic (2) and Florin Costea (1). Even if you add all their goals…
The problem is no other club from Liga I can afford Wesley. Wages aside, the player cannot be allowed to move without a decent transfer fee and leaving aside some interest from Turkey – which I’m personally aware of – nobody seems willing to pay more than 1,5 million Euros in the first season for a proven, mature & quality player with, unfortunately, only two or three decent years ahead of him. If Wesley is wise enough to accept this, he can go on to be not only one of the best (if not the best) paid footballers in Romania, but also remain for a very long time the most efficient foreign goalscorer in Liga I. He’s at the 59 goals mark and hopefully we’ll keep on counting.
PS Oh, and speaking of a new challenge, FC Vaslui will play in the preliminary rounds of the Champions League…
Tottenham Hotspur is either the club or the kind of club that is currently in talks with ASSE, according to a fresh statement released on TV by Nicolita’s agent, Traian Gherghisan. “In December, two big clubs came after him, but Saint-Etienne’s president refused. Now, he will probably accept, as we’re talking about one of the important teams from the Premier League.”
Bought from Steaua a year ago for 700.000 Euros, Banel Nicolita adjusted really well to Ligue 1 and could now generate a profit of more than 2 million Euros. The Romanian right winger, now 27, has featured in 19 matches for the French outfit, scoring three goals and providing 6 assists, coping really well with the physical side of the game – one of his strongest points. Gifted with a great engine, work-ethic and a fantastic humble attitude, he’s not good enough, in my opinion, in terms of skill and vision to make such a huge step, so I could see him playing for a mid-table team from the Premier League, not at a higher level. But I’ve been wrong before… :-)
With Gazzetta dello Sport reporting this morning that Pavol Farkas, a 27 years old Slovakian centre-back from FC Vaslui, was passing a medical in Verona and was about to sign for Chievo as a free agent, more interesting news than an under-rated player from Liga I moving for zero Euros to a Serie A club arrived in the afternoon.
Paul Papp, the young Romanian international who started at right-back for the national team in the recent friendly win versus Switzerland, will also play for Chievo next season. With the transfer details still kept secret, this definitely looks like a wise move by the “gialloblu”, who add a quality defender to their roster and have a very good chance to make a nice profit within the next two years.
23 years old in November, Papp recently broke into the national team, collecting 8 caps, and has featured in 74 Liga I matches, scoring 6 goals. He also played 2 games in the Champions League preliminary rounds and 4 other matches in the Europa League group stage.
Strong and athletic, good both in the air and on the ground and gifted with enough technique to be considered a decent solution at right back at NT level, Papp is a central defender that has all the qualities to impress in Italy. It would be best if he could play regularly in the middle, although the Italians do like to use strong players on wide positions, but either way the player’s chances to keep on featuring on a regular basis for Romania’s NT will receive a significant boost. And, in the end, this could only pay back Chievo, who took advantage of Lazio’s indecision and moved at the right time to get a defender with a lot of potential, who could make another step forward in the near future.