Manea’s record cannot hide the truth about Romania’s national team

June 2, 2014 1 comment

While others prepare for the World Cup, Romania defeated Albania 1-0 after yet another mediocre performance, in the build-up for the probably easiest ever qualifying campaign for the European Championship. Still, Victor Piturca, the manager who still has a job only because the new head of the Romanian Federation refused to pay him 300.000 Euro, the price for an early termination of his contract, stated afterwards that Romania has the ability to defeat any team. Probably by boring it to death.

Piturca will also show great proud for his incredible courage of fielding the 16 years old Cristian Manea in a friendly, meaningless match, the Viitorul defender breaking a very old record about the youngest player to feature in Romania’s senior team.

The truth is, Piturca, as always, is not really keen on rebuilding this team. He sticks pretty much to the same players and he keeps on using the national team as a stage for players who really need these caps to get new contracts at club level. It’s no coincidence that 5 out of 11 starters are currently out of contract. And I also take this opportunity to present Piturca’s starting eleven vs Albania in a different key, based on club performances in the season that recently ended.

And a bit of math: average age of this starting 11 is 26.3 years. Without Manea, it’s 27.4 years!

romania cristian maneaGoalkeeper: Tatarusanu (27) – Champion with Steaua. Will probably sign with Fiorentina, as a free agent.
Right back: Manea (16) – Youngest ever player to feature in Romania’s senior team. Avoided relegation with Viitorul in the last round of the season.
Central defender: Chiriches (24) – Not so sure about his future with Tottenham, 6th in the Premier League, in spite of some bright performances.
Central defender: Grigore (27) – Won a Europa League spot with Dinamo. Will move to Toulouse, on a free transfer.
Left back: Rat (33) – Avoided relegation with Rayo Vallecano. Currently out of contract.
Defensive midfielder: Bourceanu (29) – Contribution to Steaua’s title and Trabzonspor’s Europa League spot.
Defensive midfielder: Pintilii (29) – Champion with Steaua. Wants to leave the club.
Right winger: Nicolita (29) – Average season with St. Etienne and Nantes. Currently out of contract.
Supporting striker: Chipciu (25) – Champion with Steaua.
Left winger: Maxim (23) – Avoided relegation with VfB Stuttgart.
Striker: Marica (28) – Avoided relegation with Getafe. Currently out of contract.

No worries, I also am quite sure Piturca will be able to take Romania to Euro 2016. But mostly because this one, with 24 teams at the start, will be almost impossible to miss.

Romanian football played behind bars: 8 heavyweights sentenced to prison

March 4, 2014 4 comments

It was called “The transfers file” and, strictly linked to an investigation lead by Gazeta Sporturilor, ended up today, after eight long years, with eight important names sent behind bars, for money laundering and tax evasion. The biggest of all: Gheorghe Popescu, former Romanian international, former Barcelona captain, who was days away from taking over the presidency of the Romanian Football Federation…

“I would have sold players to Bin Laden back then, it was all about getting money”, stated Cristian Borcea a while ago in front of judges who have felt everything, from mockery to fear, during this long period, from the persons pleading their innocence. Borcea was a key shareholder with Dinamo and just like George Copos, who took Rapid from glory to agony during his tenure as club owner, had retired from the spotlight, laying low, hoping it will all go away.

Others haven’t. Brothers Victor and Ioan “Giovani” Becali went on pulling strings on the transfer market, Mihai Stoica was in charge of Steaua, while Gheorghe Popescu had all but moved his family pictures into the office that Mircea Sandu is preparing to leave. Surprisingly, the race for the presidency of the FRF lost its front-runner at the last minute and for a very long time.

Here’s the list of the definitive sentences heard today:

  • George Copos (former owner of Rapid Bucharest) – 3 years and 8 months
  • Mihai Stoica (current Steaua sporting director) – 3 years and 6 months
  • Cristi Borcea (former shareholder at Dinamo Bucharest) – 6 years and 4 months
  • Ioan Becali (FIFA agent) – 6 years and 4 months
  • Victor Becali (FIFA agent) – 4 years and 8 months
  • Jean Padureanu (former president of Gloria Bistrita) – 3 years and 4 months
  • Gheorghe Popescu (former international, lobbied Florin Bratu’s transfer to Galatasaray) – 3 years and 1 month
  • Gigi Netoiu (former shareholder at various clubs) – 3 years and 4 months

All were involved in deals that saw player sold abroad, smaller transfer fees entered in the clubs’ books and part of the real fees ran through personal off-shore accounts.

Here’s the list of transfers that lead to the above sentences:

  • Iulian Arhire – from Otelul Galati to Pohang Steelers (1999)
  • Ionel Ganea – from Gloria Bistrita to VfB Stuttgart (1999)
  • Cristi Dulca – from Rapid to Pohang Steelers (1999)
  • Cosmin Contra – from Dinamo to Deportivo Alaves (1999)
  • Bogdan Mara – from Dinamo to Deportivo Alaves (2001)
  • Paul Codrea – from Dinamo to Genoa (2001)
  • Florin Cernat – from Dinamo to Dynamo Kiew (2001)
  • Nicolae Mitea – from Dinamo to Ajax (2003)
  • Lucian Sanmartean – from Gloria Bistrita to Panathinaikos (2003)
  • Florin Bratu – from Rapid to Galatasaray (2003)
  • Adrian Mihalcea – from Dinamo to Chunnam (2004)
  • Dan Alexa – from Dinamo to Beijing Guoan (2004)

Today’s decisions came as a shock for those involved in Romanian football. Lighter sentences for a couple of those involved and no punishment at all for the likes of Mihai Stoica and Gheorghe Popescu were expected. Well, sometimes, unlike Romanian football, Romanian justice can be unpredictable…

Astra and Petrolul went all-in. Can Steaua defend the title?

February 13, 2014 2 comments

Steaua lost their captain, Petrolul signed Mutu, Astra gets Romanian backup from Serie A – all eyes have been on the front three this winter and there’s enough excitement as the restart of the league nears. With two games in hand to be played in February, Steaua will probably rearrange order at the top before the former rivals from Ploiesti get to play their first official matches, but it should only make things more exciting. So here’s a look at the good and bad moves from this season’s title contenders:

Steaua
Important players in: Claudiu Keseru (Bastia), Lucian Sanmartean (FC Vaslui)
Important players out: Alexandru Bourceanu (Trabzonspor)

Bourceanu leaves a hole in Steaua's midfield.

Bourceanu leaves a hole in Steaua’s midfield.

With two games in hand, which will be played before the restart of the league, Steaua not only has the chance to get back on top of the standings, but also to be the first to get used to official matches. It will surely come handy, as the Bucharest side had a terrible pre-season, as far as results are concerned.

With just one important loss, the captain Bourceanu, sold for a handsome 1.4 million euro fee, difficult to obtain for a player running out of contract, Steaua only hopes to regain the fitness level and enthusiasm that impressed the most in Reghecampf’s regime, as the winning team is still there: a reliable keeper, a solid back four, the intelligent Pintilii, the number of offensive choices to rotate in search of the best output…

Signed from Bastia, Keseru should add competition and quality upfront, in spite of the media’s haste of labelling him as a flop based on his pre-season performances, ignorring the fact that very few players actually impressed for Steaua during their two training camps on Spanish soil. The late signing of veteran winger Lucian Sanmartean is though a sign of fear, but, at the same time, Steaua’s fear should be a concern for their title rivals, who could have done with a more relaxed reigning champion…

Can go well if… Steaua was just a machinery running out of gas.
Can go bad if… The motivation isn’t just the same. Too many regular starters will be thinking about the summer mercato. The defense will be left only with the protection of Pintilii, as Reghecampf has enough reasons to replace the departed pitbull with a more offensive midfielder.

Astra Giurgiu
Important players in: Paul Papp (Chievo), Denis Alibec (Inter/Bologna), Laurentiu Iorga (Otelul Galati), Stefan Popescu (Ajaccio)
Important players out: -

Not rated among the contenders at the beginning of the season, Astra managed to gain a lot of points and respect during the first half of season. The wealthy owner and an old fox in charge of the club have made up for the coach’s lack of experience with a winning team, which can still come to work against the club as the finish line will get closer and the pressure will reach levels never touched before by Daniel Isaila and most of his players.

Still, Astra’s winter mercato has been solid, with two Romanian players with a point to prove brought back from Serie A clubs and all the key players kept on the roster without problems. The squad looks stronger, is hungry for success and looks surprisingly relaxed. With no pressure from the fans or the media, the club recently moved from Ploiesti to Giurgiu, already played Steaua twice, failing to defeat the champions, but their strength has always been to crush smaller opponents

Can go well if… The chance to go all the way will keep on inspiring the team & won’t instill fear. The inexperienced Daniel Isaila has that special something to take up such a challenge and see it through. Budescu will create play and score goals at the same rate as in the 1st half of season.
Can go bad if… The owner won’t be able to control his level of interference.

Petrolul Ploiesti
Important players in: Adrian Mutu (Ajaccio), Ianis Zicu (Gangwon), Gerson Ferreira (Ferencvaros), Toto Tamuz (Ural)
Important players out: Hamza Younes, Alexandru Benga, Ferebory Dore (all to Botev Plovdiv), Damien Boudjemaa (Slavia Prague)

Leadership and goals, that's what Petrolul expects from Mutu.

Leadership and goals, that’s what Petrolul expects from Mutu.

Mutu’s arrival was the winter mercato’s big and unexpected hit. Image, mood, perspective – all changed for Petrolul, but things are not as bright after one month, with the financial support of the Local Council currently on hold, some interest from abroad in Cosmin Contra’s work and an intense transfer activity that can work both ways… Petrolul might have signed one/two (falling) stars, but was forced to sell a proven goalscorer like Younes and no less than 3 other players who, for bad or worse, did play an important part in the team’s excellent 2013.

With fantastic support and a winning aura at home, Petrolul will have to do better on the road and start turning more draws into wins. The extra class in their attacking midfield might help out, but will the defense be able to hold on?

Can go well if… Mutu and Zicu will be in the mood to show their class. The away form will improve. The attack will compensate for the defensive fragility and lack of backup.
Can go bad if… Financial problems will surface right away and the ownership won’t be able to hide them well enough until the summer. The lack of a balanced squad (poor backup un the flanks, average quality in central defense, no proven goalscorer available for the lone striker position) will be exposed.

Dreaming to play for Steaua as a kid? Grow up!

February 10, 2014 Leave a comment

The reigning champions, the only Romanian club to win a European trophy, a constant presence on the European stage, the team with the largest fan base in the entire country and the only Bucharest “giant” still performing these days organized a try-out for kids born in 2002, 2003 and 2004. 14 turned up. A shocking number really, not only for Steaua, but for Romania. Still, the red and blue outfit, who is trying to revitalize its youth sector with Italian coach Massimo Pedrazzini in charge, must take a big chunk of the blame.

steaua

Having a wealthy and impatient owner – he’s taking a course on this, now that he’s behind bars – has worked against Steaua in recent years. Used to pick the best talents from all over the country, Gigi Becali’s favorite toy made one attempt to build a proper academy some years ago. Of course, it was burning some stages and basically missing the point, as 16-17-18 years old were bought and integrated into the youth teams, so it’s no surprise, really, that Becali pulled the plug once he saw that a dozen of youth international actually went on to waste their talents under poor guidance and with no early shot at senior football.

Now, after years of mediocrity, some heavy defeats in the youth leagues and a desperate move made to avoid embarrassment in the UEFA Youth League, there’s really no surprise that a message on the club’s website and Pedrazzini’s personal Facebook page (this is another story…) failed to erase the feeling that Steaua, as shiny as the first team looks, provides a bleak future for your kid. The lack of strategy, know-how and patience within the red and blue structures means drastic measures can rock the “academy” at any time, out of the blue. Add to this the chances close to zero to make it in the senior team and it’s obvious why even kids (and dads) who do love Steaua understand that there’s a more concrete opportunity to see such a dream fulfilled by learning the game someplace else. From this point of view, this is a club worth loving from a distance. A 5 star hotel – by Romanian standards – to enjoy as an adult, not a home to grow up in…

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  • The King’s speech. Starring a certain Gheorghe Hagi…

    February 5, 2014 Leave a comment

    hagiGoing to Turkey once, years ago, I was stopped at the security check on Ataturk airport and asked to go inside a booth for a body search. It never took place, as I’ve spent a couple of minutes talking about Hagi. And the officer there wasn’t even a Galatasaray fan…

    They love him. They really do. And those who don’t sing their love for him, because they support Fener of Besiktas, respect him.  I sometimes wonder if it’s the same in Romania. At times, I’m convinced we don’t. Experts in mocking those doing better than us, we’ve found Hagi’s weakness: his speech. Aware that a man so good on the ball can’t be that good with words, we laugh at his interviews. We’ve reduced his fantastic personality to some phrases. We’ve decided to ignore all his  ideas and projects and have a good long look (and laugh) at his words. I admit, he can be funny. Hell, I even use one of his funniest expressions every once in a while, for a good laugh…

    The question is: if I will ever have the chance to meet him, will I be able to find my words? Will I be able to avoid embarrassment and put together a few words? I hope so. At least three of them are necessary. Because I do love him for the fantastic player he was. And for the honest and humble person he is. And for blessing a nation with his skill and for the way he keeps forgiving us for laughing at his continuous attempts to keep on doing some good to Romanian football…

    Today, the great man turns 49. La multi ani, Gica! We do love you, it’s just that, for some reason, we either don’t know or don’t want to show it…

    Chiriches – the only quality Romanian immigrant who left Liga 1 last summer

    January 5, 2014 Leave a comment

    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 :)

    TOP 10

    chirichesThe 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…

    rusescu

    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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    The Romanian version of “the false 9″

    December 28, 2013 Leave a comment

    Look at the top scorers from Liga 1, with half of season gone, and you won’t see a striker up there. Liviu Antal, a winger, and Eric de Oliveira, a number 10, are leading the charts with 11 goals. That’s a personal record for the FC Vaslui player and a sign of revival from the Brazilian who just got named for the second time the best foreign player in the league. The top three is completed by Astra’s Constantin Budescu, an attacking midfielder who’s enjoying his best season – so, obviously, has to take a lot of stick from Astra’s owner. :) Strikers do follow, don’t worry, but the first one on the list, in its high section, of course, is… Tunisian: Petrolul’s Hamza Younes. We finally find a prolific Romanian striker in the top flight: he’s Szabolcs Szekely, a 29 years old who’s hardly national team material, even though he netted 9 times for the newly promoted club from Timisoara.

    rusescuOk, so Romania lacks a good number 9 in the league, but let’s not forget we had a striker with over 20 goals last season, so let’s have a look abroad… Gone to Sevilla for a decent amount of money, Raul Rusescu played just over 300 minutes and scored 3 goals, ending up on loan to Sporting Braga. But Rusescu was never a real option for Victor Piturca, who relied on two names: Ciprian Marica and Bogdan Stancu. The former Schalke striker signed late with Getafe, but with no real competition within the team collected already 10 appearances in La Liga, scoring just once in the process. Stancu’s doing better, enjoying a decent season in the Turkish league, with 7 goals for Genclerbirligi, but he’ll always be the first to blame after a bad result, Marica’s charisma and clever online presence proving quite useful…

    So, with the “established strikers” misfiring both at home and abroad, the obvious solution would be to gamble, something Piturca used to be good at (until caught cheating in casinos…). But can you ask the national team coach to do that with a player like Sergiu Bus, a 21 years old who scored 7 times this season for a newly promoted club, when his own team refused to give him a proper chance to prove himself? Yes, CFR Cluj has a young striker on its books, but would rather loan him no matter where, although there would be a market for a player of this profile. In the past, it used to make sense, with strikers like Kone or Lacina Traore on the books and the team fighting for the title. But now, when CFR’s top scorer is Ogbu, a 24 years old Nigerian, with 4 goals in half of season, and a 7th place in the standings, you might think that something’s not right. I’d say it’s the strategy and it applies to almost the entire first division, but the owners and the fans would rather stick to the usual suspects… CFR just changed their coach and Piturca is not too comfortable either, so we might just need a few more years (or decades?) to realize we could also do with some proper football players…

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