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.
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…
Torje, Stancu, Deac, Ionita. Four young players who have moved abroad in exchange of some hefty transfer fees, but have failed to deliver. Is it only their fault?
When Manchester City decided to sign Costel Pantilimon on a permanent deal, the current leaders of the Premier League have only confirmed that the best way to approach a transfer that involves a Romanian player is by a) doing some proper scouting and b) go for a loan with a buying option. I’ll explain with the case of the four names mentioned above:
Gabriel Torje (Udinese)
The hype around him was incredible and not even a month had gone by since his Serie A debut and the Romanian press was full of rumors speaking about interest from Arsenal and, why not?, Barcelona. We were talking after all about „Romania’s Messi”. Everyone overlooked the fact that Torje had to play regularly for 4 consecutive seasons in Liga I to convince a foreign club come up with the millions, everybody was talking about the leagues ability to still deliver top young players, although, at 21, over 90% of the Romanian players have less than a full season of games under their belt. And they’re both too old and lacking enough top flight experience to attract the sort of bids the unrealistic owners expect.
Indeed, Torje had a promising start in Italy, with three assists in his first three games, but the fact is: he never lasted for 90 minutes on the pitch; he didn’t score a single goal; he slowly lost contact with the first eleven and, lately, with the team, playing his last game on the 18th of December.
Still, although I expect Arsenal and Barcelona to have called back to base their scouts :-), it’s way too early to call him a flop. Apart from the struggle such a small sized player raised in Romania would face in order to adjust to the Italian style, Torje also pays the price for being part of a team that uses the worst possible tactical setup as far as he’s concerned. He’s a natural winger who cannot play on the right side of a midfield of five, with no fullback behind to provide cover. He’s also not at all comfortable upfront and it’s not really a surprise to see a wide player struggling in the middle, in front of compact and expert defensive lines. If Guidolin had gambled on Torje’s ability to adjust, it’s an expensive and losing bet. Which leads me to the second case.
Ciprian Deac (Schalke 04)
I wasn’t surprised to see Deac heading for the Bundesliga and was actually convinced that he would deliver. Until I’ve read Felix Magath’s statement: „Deac will be our number 10, our playmaker.” Another natural left winger, this time gifted with less technique and flair than Torje, but definitely very well prepared physically and counting on a very good left foot, was going to struggle. Although the training sessions had convinced him that even one of the fittest players in Liga I will need time to adjust to the extremely exciting German league, he also realized that the tactical challenge was too big. After 90 minutes of Bundesliga football and a lot more days of sharing the dressing room with the legendary Raul, Deac had to return to Romania to regain his match fitness and his confidence. With 5 goals and 4 assists in 17 matches for Rapid, playing as a wide forward in a 4-3-3, he looks again in good shape, but will probably never play for Schalke again. A case of poor scouting? Or bad judgement from Magath? Because Deac wasn’t like Ionita, my next example.
Alexandru Ionita (FC Koln)
After one season in Liga I and 10 goals in the top flight, Ionita was moving to 1.Bundesliga in exchange of more than 2 million Euros. The coach was Zvonimir Soldo and he was so keen on the striker that Ionita collected 105 minutes for FC Koln. In 1 and a half seasons. Okay, Soldo was sacked in the meantime, but now the striker had to hope that he’ll be allowed to take the same route that saw an impressive number of Romanian players return home with more money in their bank accounts, less memorable game. Actually, with the last official game difficult to be remembered. Poor scouting, terrible decision to pay such a fee upfront on a striker with no Liga 1 experience by the age of 21, who had a promising first season in the top flight. Unlike Deac, who minded his business and tried hard in training to earn chances to play, Ionita was clever enough to “win over” the fans by saying their girlfriends, sisters or wives aren’t that pretty. After that he probably failed to score at all while in Germany, not just in the eight Bundesliga appearances as a sub.
Bogdan Stancu (Galatasaray)
Bought by Galatasaray when Gheorghe Hagi embarked on another adventure as a coach, this was a deal that I never bought as real, based on footballing matters. When a player rated at not more than 3 million Euros goes in January for double that sum, it’s something that will eventually affect the guy everyone will be looking at on the pitch. After 13 goals for Steaua in Liga I (again, we’re talking about the first solid season of his career!), the 23 years old added just 2 in 14 matches in the Turkish first division, playing mostly as a left winger (totally out of position) in a troubled Galatasaray’s squad that was going to quickly offload their legendary former player and leave Stancu’s future in limbo. Impossible to get back in Liga I so quickly and with that wage – the player also stated his ambition to succeed abroad -, he nailed a good move with the loan to Orduspor. He’s playing mainly as the only striker (again, not his best role, but close enough) and the results are encouraging, although some Turkish followers of my Twitter account say he’s not good enough for Galatasaray, the 8 goals in 24 matches for a mediocre team prove that he’s quality. Not 6 million Euros quality, but as Romanians say, a fool isn’t the one who asks for the money, but the one who accepts to pay.Follow @rbaicu
- Ceahlaul – Gaz Metan Medias 0-0
Zoran Filipovic adds a second point in as many games since taking over the bottom placed in the league, but this was one of those matches that Ceahlaul needed to win in order to put some pressure on the other teams threatened by relegation. The home team failed to create chances even when Medias had to play with 10 men, after Kubala’s dismissal, in spite of Barcauan‘s debut, who was used as a centre-forward, seven years after he was reinvented as a centre-back!
- Astra Ploiesti – Politehnica Iasi 1-1 (L. Ganea 77 / V. Negru 80)
Tight game, in which Astra played slightly better and has enough reasons to feel disappointed, as Politehnica scored on its first clear cut chance through an otherwise uninspired Negru, three minutes after Ganea found the net once again – a tap in from close range, following a flick-on from Radek Oprsal. The match confirmed that the defender Marcelo Mendez is the only player from South America brought this winter that, at this point, offers some guarantees, with Kurchovski and Diego Silva once again disappointing and all the other sitting on the bench until the final whistle… Impressive performance from Vlad Bujor, in Poli’s team, a young forward loaned from CFR Cluj, who shows a lot of potential and definitely deserves attention in the near future.
- Steaua – Otelul Galati 1-0 (Stancu 11)
The hosts grabbed three important points, against the team that had won against CFR Cluj in the previous round, but Otelul was a handful for Stoichita’s men as well. The match was decided by the player that refused to take part in the U23 game against Italy, saying that he’s injured, but who looked in very good shape ;-). Stoichita handed the first start to Stelios Parpas, in central defense, and takes heart from his performance, as the Bulgarian Zhelev will be suspended for Wednesday’s derby against Dinamo, after his fourth yellow card of the season. But that wasn’t the only blow for Steaua’s defense, with Artiom Karamyan leaving the field with a serious injury and keeper Zapata showing once again signs of weakness in goal… Read more…
Tomorrow, starting 14.00 (Bucharest time), Romania faces Italy, on Rapid’s stadium, in a match that counts for Group A of “International Challenge Trophy”, a competition dedicated to players born after 1st of January 1986.
Romania’s team was selected and will be guided by Razvan Lucescu, who failed miserably with the useless friendly against Israel, a week ago, but now has a chance to see on the pitch promising players who could be a solution for the senior team in the near future (in bold you can see who I believe to be fitting this profile).
Here is the full list:
Goalkeepers: Ciprian Tatarusanu (Steaua), Alexandru Pena (AS Roma – Primavera)
Defenders: Bogdan Straut (Poli Iasi), Sergiu Homei (Gloria Bistrita – on loan from Dinamo), Dragos Grigore (Dinamo), Cristian Sarghi (Otelul Galati), Razvan Patriche (Sportul Studentesc – second division), Alexandru Tudose (Steaua), Iasmin Latovlevici (Gloria Bistrita – on loan from FC Timisoara), Laszlo Sepsi (FC Timisoara)
Midfielders: Liviu Antal (Otelul Galati), Hristu Chiacu (FC Timisoara), Vasile Olariu (Victoria Branesti – second division), Mihai Radut (International Curtea de Arges), Mihai Onicas (Poli Iasi – on loan from Steaua), Andrei Ionescu (Poli Iasi – on loan from Steaua), Alexandru Curtean (FC Timisoara), Paul Parvulescu (Gaz Metan Medias)
Forwards: Alexandru Ionita (Rapid), Bogdan Stancu (Steaua), Alin Litu (Gaz Metan Medias), Marius Alexe (Dinamo).
Favorite on paper, due to the massive difference in terms of points, value and aspirations, Rapid received only good news lately, regarding their first opponent in 2010. Besides their problems with unpaid debts (including the players’s wages for the past two-three months), the hosts are presenting a very long injury list, which should only increase the gap in terms of quality that separates these two teams.
Poli will miss the following key players: Branet (first choice goalkeeper), Munteanu (team captain, regular starter, either as a central defender or as a left back), Ilie (regular starter, central defender or central defensive midfielder), Ignatov (regular starter, Bulgarian central midfielder), Constantin (one of the main offensive threats, left winger) and Balba (rotation player, striker).
Rapid has not just a more valuable roster, but also far less injury problems, with doubts over the involvement of Sapunaru and Gauracs, but both are new players and the Bucharest side didn’t lose the regular starters from the first half of season. They’re well equipped all over the pitch, with several new choices in midfield and attack, where Cesinha and Iordache should make it hard for coach Nae Manea to choose the supporting players for the lone striker that would be Ionita, the centre-forward bought by FC Koln in exchange of 2,5 mil. EUR, but who’ll stay at Rapid until the end of the season.
The only problem is that the pitch conditions (which could be terrible – soft, muddy pitch) could seriously affect the players’ performance and even the game’s outcome, but as Poli didn’t train on the home ground to protect it as much as possible, in the end, this could be yet another unexpected bonus for Rapid.
The match will be player on Saturday, starting 18.00 CET.
Rapid’s success in finalizing the Gauracs deal could open the road for the club’s surpise from the first half of season, Alexandru Ionita (20), to FC Koln. The interest for the talented centre forward became public yesterday, when the Bucharest side received an offer of 1.000.000, 1.500.000, 2.000.000 EUR and, at that time, in spite of the serious financial struggle of the club, the boss George Copos still claimed that the player wasn’t for sale.
Today, there’s a different story, as the Bundesliga outfit demanded for an answer asap, with FIFA agent Traian Gherghisan asking for a serious wage rise for the striker, in case of a negative response. And, having in Gauracs (21) a rather similar player (age, style of play, potential), it would be insane to turn down an offer that might not come along again…
The press announces today that FC Koln’s offer was raised to 2,5 mil. EUR and that the 1.Bundesliga club finally convinced Rapid’s owner to accept the deal by allowing the player to stay at the Bucharest side until the end of the season.
- Claudinei Alexandre Aparecido Nei (29) looks set to join newly promoted Unirea Alba Iulia, on a loan deal, until the end of the season. The Brazilian forward never looked good enough for CFR or any other team fighting for the title and, in case the deal will be finalized, he’ll meet in Alba Iulia three former colleagues from Cluj, Rade Veljovic (24, striker), Andres Felipe de Souza Galiassi (29, central defender), Vitinha (23, left back), who are also on loan, until the summer. Nei played a lot in the first half of the seasons, but scored only two goals in fourteen appearances in the league.
- Apparently George Copos, the owner of Rapid Bucharest, refused a tempting offer for the promising centre forward Alexandru Ionita (20). Promoted from the youth squad at the beginning of the season, Ionita scored 6 goals in the league already and also collected three call-ups to the U21 national team. The offer was higher than 1 mil. EUR and arrived at the club through FIFA agent Traian Gherghisan. According to the press, Ionita earns only 2.000 EUR / month, while the decision of Copos is rather strange, given his recent financial struggles and the desire to sell the club.
- With Rui Duarte (29) still just a transfer target and while waiting for Polish international Pawel Golanski to extend the contract that is running out in the summer, Steaua is also looking at the possibility to get back George Ogararu (29), from Ajax Amsterdam. Already transfer listed by the Dutch club, Ogararu refused a move to Roda and says that he won’t have a problem in convincing the club to release him on a free transfer, as he’s currently still getting 700.000 EUR / season.