Undefeated in the league after 14 matches, Steaua’s situation might not look that bad from a distance, in spite of the club’s failure to impress in a Champions League group they’ve entered with high hopes. Still, the club is in a bad period and both the team’s performancea and results confirm it: Steaua struggles to win matches. In Liga 1, it happened last on October 27 (4 consecutive draws followed). In the Champions League, it never happened. Of course, an optimistic approach would be to note the fact that Reghecampf’s men are also hard to beat, with the last defeat dated on the first day on October, a 0-4 at home against Chelsea, but the Bucharest side is starting to look worried. The arrogance is gone and the horrible performance of the referee that helped Steaua earn a point away at Otelul last Sunday means the club is taking measures. Not the right ones, in my opinion, and this was the last thing we needed in a league that’s going from bad to worse each year…
Steaua’s recent decline, one than can be stopped quickly, with some good calls and some money spent during a winter break, but only if the club identifies its’ real issues and finds the right solutions:
- The team is weaker than last season: the departures of Chiriches and Rusescu, the long term injury of Chipciu and the fitness problems of Pintilii meant an obvious lack of quality, which wasn’t addressed through a clever transfer activity.
- Poor summer mercato. Steaua cashed in big on the above mentioned players, nailed a huge income from the Champions League, yet refused to spend enough and, in consequence, failed to invest properly to strengthen the team. Signing Pantelis Kapetanos, a striker the club had released on a free, without a second thought, a few years ago, was a stunning decision, just as spending around 1 million euro for Vaslui’s Fernando Varela, a defender signed to replace Chiriches, but who fails to even bother Florin Gardos, who stepped in admirably to partner Lukasz Szukala.
- Poor quality upfront – no wonder Steaua’s hard to beat, but struggles to win games, at the same time. There’s been some recent praise for Federico Piovaccari, but the striker loaned from Sampdoria has only 6 goals in Liga 1 and 1 in the Champions League. Behind him, usually operate Tanase, Stanciu and Popa, who netted… 7 times in Liga 1. Steaua desperately need Chipciu to regain his match fitness, but will also need to replace the likes of Kapetanos and Tatu with some real football players…
- Lack of hunger in most of the key players, who only think about their next move. Tatarusanu, the goalkeeper, Bourceanu, the captain, Georgevski, the regular right back, are entering the last six months of their current deals and they’re not going to stay. In turn, Steaua convinced Tanase to extend his deal, instead of finding a buyer for him and the inconsistent Latovlevici, as both players have reached a limit they obviously cannot break.
- There’s no more bad cop / good cop work within the club, with the owner still behind bars and the manager, Mihai Stoica, unable to be the good guy who can solve the players’ problems and ask from them to give back more, in return.
As 2013 comes to an end, GSP prepares to reward those who impressed in Liga I. As always, there is room to discuss about their nominations, considering that a youngster like Dinamo’s Dorin Rotariu, who featured in just 25 league games this year (starting in 11 and playing for 90 minutes only 3 times!) is in the race for the “Romanian best player of the year” award, but there is one category that got my attention.
The paper published today a list with the top 3 foreign players in the past 5 years and is very interesting what happened with them, although they impressed over here.
2008 was CFR’s year. Sebastian Dubarbier, an Argentinian winger who was too quick for Liga I, but proved a bad piece of business for Lorient, who spent a lot of cash by there standards in January 2010. A series of loans followed, to Tenerife and Cordoba, and the left footed player finally got a shot at first division football in a top league, once he left Ligue 1 and moved to La Liga, with Almeria.
He had defeated in 2008 his fellow countryman Juan Emmanuel Culio, signed by Galatasaray in 2010, used for 15 matches and then loaned to other two Turkish teams, before allowing him to move to Spain’s Segunda, at Deportivo. Third placed Yssouf Kone had an even worse faith, struggling to move away from Romania and failing to get back to playing football, after his transfer to Valerenga.
In 2009, the versatile Pablo Brandan impressed under Dan Petrescu, helping Unirea Urziceni win the title, but not even 1 and a half years with Steaua convinced a European club to gamble on the former Alaves player, who moved to China. The top 3 was completed by two forwards, Wesley and Pantelis Kapetanos, the most prolific foreign players in the league’s history. The Brazilian was going to become a regular presence in this category, while the Greek striker’s career took a rather interesting turn: although a proven goalscorer with Steaua, the Bucharest side surprisingly allowed him to move for peanuts to a rival, CFR Cluj. His career stalled, yet, for some reason, his former club tried to undone that mistake by taking him back last summer.
2010 was an all-Brasilian year, with current Pandurii star Eric de Oliveira impressing in a number 10 role for Gaz Metan Medias and finishing above Junior Moraes and Wesley. Caught in the middle of a dispute between his former and current club and probably badly advised, Eric forced his escape and did some serious damage to what could have been a better career. He moved to Ukraine and played just 6 games for Karpaty, accepting a return to Medias in 2012, in an attempt to get back on track, something he is finally achieving now with Pandurii, two full years after his best season in Liga 1, in which he scored 15 goals in 31 games.
Junior Moraes and Wesley struggled to convince Western Europe and the former Gloria Bistrita striker initially failed to make an impact with Metalurg Donetsk, but scored 16 goals in 24 games for CSKA Sofia and got himself a second chance with the Ukrainian club.
Third placed Wesley was going to finally win the award in 2011, a second consecutive all-Brasilian year, a feat he was going to repeat in 2012, before getting a great contract from… Al-Hilal. In 2011, he was better than his ageing team-mate Adailton and Marcos Antonio, who was going to get a shot at some top football in the 1.Bundesliga, but proved a terrible signing for FC Nurnberg. Last year, Wesley finished above three players from CFR Cluj, Modou Sougou, Rafael Bastos and Mario Felgueiras, with only the second placed hired by a well-known European name. Olympique Marseille signed him for quite a lot of cash… only to release him after half of season, loaning him to Evian.
Now, some conclusions:
- If you’re a foreign player looking for a stepping stone in Romania, you should try and get a deal with CFR Cluj or FC Vaslui.
- Liga I loves attacking players from abroad, something that can be speculated from a financial point of view, something Kone, Wesley and Kapetanos proved very good at. If you’re not that young anymore, this is a good place to come for some local glory and European currency.
- Left footed players do make a better impression!
- It’s best if you come from South America.
- Just one famous club signed someone from Liga I and it looks like OM quickly realized it was a mistake…
- If you’re a foreign player trying to get to a top European club via Romania, you should…. think twice.
We are two goals away from the Brazilian World Cup. And we’re playing at home, pushed by 55.000 souls. It doesn’t look that bad, really, yet there’s an overwhelming feeling that everything was lost in Athens and we’re only waiting for a painfully long confirmation, in Bucharest, on a cold Tuesday night that has so little to do with what awaits the winner in Rio, in the summer of 2014. I’ve not jumped ships, I have been pessimistic about Romania’s chances all along, but in Romanian. Now it’s time to be in English as well, so here are a few thoughts on why this now or never game has so little chances to finish with a dream result.
selection and match strategy, unaware that the key absences (Tatarusanu, Chiriches, Pintilii) weaken precisely the defense he decided to put so much emphasis on once again, unable to react to the opposition’s tactics of outnumbering our central midfielders with the use of both wide forwards and opening up highways on both flanks for the advancing fullbacks, the coach was left to blame poor marking at set plays and a first goals scored from an offside position.
Now, he gets a hand with his team selection, as Tatarusanu and a masked Chiriches are back, but the loss of two central midfielders (Bourceanu and Lazar) will pose new questions to his ability to select a winning 11. On the other hand, he faces again the type of game he hates and never propery prepared his team for: the one that he’s supposed to win by opening up the opposition’s defense.
There’s an obvious lack of quality as far as players are concerned, I’ve said it before, we don’t really deserve to go to Brazil with this lot, but there’s the feeling that blame rests on the Piturca’s shoulders once again, both with the lot he assembles every time and with the choices he makes when it comes to picking the starting eleven.
Let’s start with Athens.
He picked Lobont in goal ahead of Pantilimon (according to his selection, the Manchester City shot stopper is Romania’s fourth option, although he recently got the nod – albeit temporarily – ahead of England’s number 1). The veteran from AS Roma, with no official games under his belt, no hunger and little authority, failed to make up for the team’s defensive errors and can only get praise for stopping Greece from netting the fourth goal.
In central midfield, he paired Bourceanu with Cocis, not Lazar, losing chemistry and technical ability, mocking an entire country with his choice and shocking Cocis himself, who stated afterwards that he never expected to start this game.
Upfront, behind Marica, he used Torje on the right, who was a regular starter in this campaign, but lost touch with regular football at club level, picked Stancu ahead of Maxim and, as usual, started with Tanase on the left. Picking Stancu ahead of Maxim, who’s one of the most in-form players at club level and has been a hit in the Bundesliga since he joined Stuttgart, is the main criticism Piturca faced during and after the match. I think that’s not the best approach to the matter, and not just because Stancu scored the away goal that still has a (slim) chance to make the difference. He does fit the game strategy Piturca picked for this game, he has a good fitness and form level, has not played that bad recently for the national team. Actually, Stancu deserved to start, so I would say that the best line of criticism is this: leaving Maxim out was a mistake, as he can just as well play on either flanks, where both Torje and Tanase have disappointed, both before and during the Athens encounter.
Let’s move to the second leg, where Romania is expected to start with Tatarusanu in goal, a back four of Matel, Goian, Chiriches and Rat, Cocis and Gardos in central midfield, Nicolita, Maxim and Stancu behind Marica.
We get back two players that are vital for our chances to keep a clean sheet, but we are weaker than ever where often a football match is won, as the absence of Bourceanu and Lazar (both suspended) forces Piturca to do a rare thing for him: think outside of the box. The pair Cocis – Gardos is odd to say the least. Gardos has played there years ago, but he’s a central defender. Cocis has played there days ago :), but in truth he’s the type of all round midfielder that can play everywhere, but is yet to find his best role on the pitch. And he’s 30 years old… They never played together either and this pairing puts Piturca on the spot for yet another reason: why did he call up Ovidiu Hoban – who is average and out of form, let’s be honest – if he doesn’t find him up for this game? He is a defensive midfielder, the only available defensive midfielder, yet he’s not Piturca’s third choice, he’s his fifth!
We move further up the pitch and finally find Maxim among the expected starters, deployed behind Marica, which pushes Stancu wide to the left and pushes Tanase further left, on the bench :). The pressure will be huge for Maxim, whose trickery and cheeky backheel touches have produced nothing but disappointment so far for the national team, on the rare occasions he was give the nod. Yes, let’s be honest and say that Maxim plays better for Stuttgart than for Romania, and let’s stay honest: it happens because Stuttgart tries to play football, while Romania only tries to stop the opposition from playing football. Now, all eyes are on him and Piturca himself showed once again his terrible man management skills, by saying “Maxim will have the chance to prove me wrong in the second led”, a pathetic and useless attempt to divert the blame for not offering his most talented attacking player more than 5 minutes in Athens.
It’s an all or nothing game, with an ideal scenario of scoring twice and keeping a clean sheet. Not an impossible feat, but a highly unlikely one given all the above arguments. Greece has not impressed me – they also got punished from a set play, in spite of a huge aerial advantage -, but I can’t see Romania able to turn things around. Everything looks lined up against us, from tradition to deal with such games, to the quality of the roster, the obvious limits of the coach and the lack of solutions to line up a competitive starting eleven even in perfect conditions, not only now, when so many problems will influence Piturca’s choices. To be honest, in spite of my belief that we don’t deserve to go to Rio, I would be obviously disappointed if we’d miss out on yet another final tournament, but I’m gutted that nothing will change for us while the current coach remains in charge. And, according to his contract, that’s at least until 2016…
The rivalry between Steaua and Dinamo might have been created by the communist regime, but it lasts way beyond that dark period, when the two clubs were wrestling for trophies using all means at hand. Now, it’s all about financial strength and it was no surprise to see Dinamo struggle to keep up with Becali’s high investment in players (and the great decade of Arpad Paszkany’s CFR Cluj), but the gap seems to get bigger with every season.
After a long process, the Red Dogs finally changed ownership and Ionut Negoita decided to try and hurt Steaua using a wiser and cheaper plan, aware that he lacked the financial strentgh to fight Steaua on the transfer market: Dinamo was ready to invest small money and pay low wages for young players with potential to follow the path of Marius Alexe or Constantin Nica, both raised by the club and sold this summer to Serie A clubs. That required some good work in scouting and recruiting, top coaching and a lot of patience. Well, after 8 rounds, when Negoita decided to release the experienced coach Gheorghe Multescu, as “the team needs a wake-up call”, it became clear, at least to me, that the Bucharest side lacks all of the above… And that Dinamo’s bosses didn’t read Soccernomics :), a book that makes some interesting points regarding how much can a coach raise the level of a team or how much results depend on the wages the players are getting…
In truth, it wasn’t Multescu’s fault that in this first couple of months Dinamo struggled, looked average most of the times and promising once or twice. The work in recruitment was extremely poor, with unproven African players (Fai, Zougoula, Pape), rejected Romanian players (Grecu, Mardare) and poor foreign players with some experience in Liga I (Durimel, Thomas, Hasanovic) unable to add quality. Some promise arrived from the youth team, as Romania U19 international Dorin Rotariu netted his first goals in Liga 1, and maybe this is Multescu’s only fault: he gave more credit to the club’s new signings rather than to the 17-18-19 years old raised in the club’s youth system. And, having seen them, I can say that there’s more talent there than on a transfer market Dinamo has no ability to exploit.
Apart from that, it’s all down to the management, who asked for a reconstruction, but also for a European spot at the end of the season. In light of this firm goal, Multescu was on the wrong path, having collected 9 points in 8 rounds, but how can you ask for both, considering that Dinamo has failed repeatedly to finish among the top teams in recent years, when there was no reconstruction in place? That’s just nonsense and the new coach, the inexperienced Flavius Stoican, will realize it soon enough. Dinamo’s problem is that the new board won’t…
Just to prove that “I told you so”, here’s a link on a piece I wrote back in January. Steaua’s U19 and U17 teams were coming after heavy defeats suffered at the hands of Hagi’s Academy and nobody at the club seemed preoccupied about the fact that, in 8 months time, the club’s work at youth level will be exposed in the UEFA Youth League. A competition that’s supposed to act as a platform for young talents, offering them a chance to gain invaluable experience and impress on the European stage, but not for the Romanian champions, who decided years ago that there’s no point in running a decent academy when the owner is rich enough to sign basically any young prospect that makes his way in the top flight and looks promising enough.
Well, the 8 months went by quickly and when the club realized that its’ image is at stake in the little brother of the Champions League, worked on an emergency plan. The management struck a deal with Gheorghe Hagi, who cannot hide his affection for the Bucharest club, and a one year long loan deal involving 6 of his players was agreed. The solution will certainly help the team trained by Ion Toma, but the young coach (who made a name for himself and got this contract after impressing in a highschool competition) is realistic enough to keep the expectation level extremely low: “We cannot kid ourselves, our goal is not to get thrashed, to avoid embarrassment.”
Toma isn’t that confident that the injection of quality from Hagi’s Academy can boost Steaua’s chances to do well against the likes of Chelsea, Schalke or FC Basel, but, in truth, he does get some promising faces under his command. Alexandru Tarnovan and Ionut Mitrita have already some first league appearances with Viitorul and, for me, take a big risk by giving up the chance to feature in more senior games this term, in Liga I, in exchange for six appearances in the UEFA Youth League. For their sake, the loan deal will allow them to return to Viitorul in the winter, as playing senior football at this age is vital for their development. Also, Robert Hodorogea and Bogdan Vasile are U19 Romanian internationals, and look consistent and reliable, qualities you don’t see that often in (Romanian) players of their age. Steaua also loaned from Targu Mures another good prospect, Razvan Stoica, while in goal they can count on Valentin Cojocaru, who has been training for a while with the senior team and looked close to a deal with Liverpool, not so long ago.
Still, Steaua’s U19 coach speaks from experience, as he has struggled to make his U19 team click in the previous season and now has little time to make this lot play as a unit. Maybe the help promised by Laurentiu Reghecampf, who will try to pass on his methods and also worke twice a week with the youngsters, can make the difference. Or, better said, can save face. I doubt that a club who has paid so little attention to its youth setup for so many years can trick teams who treated seriously the work in this sector, with just a little help from Hagi, who just found another purpose to his young Academy. Viitorul can even relegate from Liga I – it will qualify every year for the UEFA Youth League :)
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…
When Steaua turned down the 8 million Euros deal offered by Tottenham, I thought pleading insanity would be the right choice for the red and blue outfit to defend itself in a few months time. But Tottenham came back and came back with more money and, more important, less urgency to get an answer, as the first time it wasn’t the fee, but the pressure to get a yes or a now that blocked a deal. It was obvious that this time it will go through and those who follow me on Twitter (@rbaicu) got a heads-up earlier than everyone else that “Chiriches to #THFC” is back on ;)
The statements to back it up came right after last night’s 2-2 draw against Gaz Metan Medias, a second consecutive game watched by Chiriches from the sidelines. “The transfer is almost done. Clubs have reached an agreement. The owner asked me to reveal the deal, all that remains to be done is finish the paperwork. I hope I will be able to use the player one last time on Tuesday, against Legia”, said Laurentiu Reghecampf, who immediately got an unexpected response from the player’s agent, Ioan Becali. “It was wrong of Steaua to announce the deal, the player is yet to agree terms with Tottenham. They also have another match to play, Chiriches wasn’t supposed to know all this.”
Of course, you can understand the agent’s point of view, although I found it odd that he decided to hide all this from his client – a scenario confirmed later by Steaua’s sporting director, Mihai Stoica: “Experience tells me you cannot hide such a thing from a player. Even if the agent didn’t say anything to him, Chiriches was aware of the move this morning (Saturday morning). He should have known that against Legia he will play his last match from Steaua. As for the decision to announce the deal, it was Gigi Becali’s demand from prison and we have to obey. Reghecampf was asked to break the news and also announce the 9,5 million Euros fee.”
Well, Stoica completed Reghecampf’s job with this last detail, which places the Bucharest club on top of the highest transfer fees ever received by a Liga 1 outfit. Interesting fact: top three moves involve defenders, with the former Benfica trainee staying (well) above Cristian Sapunaru, now 29 years old, playing for Elche, who had moved from Rapid to FC Porto in 2008, for 6 million Euros, and Stefan Radu, the 26 years old who’s been with Lazio for the past 5 and a half seasons, signing from Dinamo in 2008, after a half year loan.