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.
Whenever I was asked about the level of Romanian football, I was pointing out to the 5-6 teams that, theoretically, were fighting for the title, a fact that was setting Liga I apart in Eastern Europe, where 2 or 3 teams usually race for the top spot. Unfortunately, it won’t be the case anymore, as well hidden financial trouble surfaced in several “big” clubs threatening their own existence…
As the new season kicks-off today, with Timisoara hosting Dinamo, in what was a while ago a hugely anticipated game, I will try to go quickly through the changes that took place this summer, to give you an idea of what the league should look like in the new campaign.
Title contenders: Steaua Bucharest, CFR Cluj
- Steaua Bucharest – the incarceration of Gigi Becali was and still is a problem for the reigning champions, who used to rely on Becali’s cash injections every once in a while, to keep things running smoothly. It won’t be the case anymore, so it all depends now on a) entering the group stages of the Champions League or b) selling the top players. After Raul Rusescu’s departure to FC Seville, Steaua decided to give it a go in Europe, putting on hold the otherwise imminent departures of players like Tatarusanu, Chiriches, Latovlevici, Chipciu or Bourceanu, all demanded abroad. If plan A succeeds, it is difficult to see this team challenged in Liga I, having every chance to defend the title won in style last year.
- CFR Cluj – probably the only other club ambitious enough, financially ready and well equipped to mount a title challenge. It will be tough, anyway, as CFR went yet again through massive changes especially in terms of personnel. Lots of players were simply released on a free transfer, with only Ivo Pinto and Bakary Sare sold for handsome fees to Dinamo Zagreb, and the new coach, Mircea Rednic, supervised the arrival of no less than 12 new faces… and counting. Although there’s quality in the staff, on the bench and within the team, it will take time to create a team, but CFR’s chances could be boosted by Steaua’s (logical) gamble of trying to focus on a European adventure in the first part of the season.
Teams fighting for a place in Europe: Vaslui, Astra, Petrolul, Dinamo
- FC Vaslui – in its’ short history, Vaslui had created a nice habit of always finishing the league on a higher position than in the previous season, but the wealthy owner Adrian Porumboiu decided it takes too much time, money and nerves to always unsettle the hierarchy and took a step back. This is why I am downgrading the yellow and green outfit this season, in spite of keeping the team at a competitive level, with some good free agents signed from abroad, to compensate the departure of Coman, N’Doye and Milanov, all regular starters last season.
- Astra – qualified for the first time in Europe last season, Astra kept basically the same team (can still sign one or two interesting names) and will probably experience less financial trouble than others. I don’t trust their coach, but I guess this goes for the owner as well, who has the bad habit of changing things at least 2-3 times per campaign. If he nails a good one and sticks with him, he has every chance of repeating last season’s feat.
- Petrolul – unfortunately, the club that benefits from the fantastic support of a passionate fan base failed to capitalize on a good season. The Romanian Cup winners didn’t work very well during the summer and the squad looks seriously weakened, so I doubt they can aim higher. It will be hard to win against them on “Ilie Oana”, but the 12th player, no matter how good he is, can’t enter the pitch and do the work of the first 11.
- Dinamo – Massive changes took place at the Bucharest club, but at least the Red Dogs reacted quicker than Rapid and balanced the club’s budget in time. Good players like Nica and Alexe left, but that’s the way to keep alive a club with little income and the experienced coach Gigi Multescu seems the right man to mix the old players with some new faces that could help the team this season and become transfer targets within a year or two.
Mid-table teams: Pandurii, Gaz Metan, Ceahlaul, Rapid, Otelul
- Once at least a team fighting for a place in Europe if not for the title, Rapid barely avoided the drop and will mix a lot of youngsters with the few experienced players that refused to abandond the derailed train will probably aim for a safe season, which will also be a test for the club’s much awaited new ownership. Financially safe, Pandurii and Gaz Metan should have no relegation worries, although the beautiful team from Targu Jiu created by Petre Grigoras is now history, with the coach and the best players allowed to leave in the last few months. Ceahlaul added some experience with the likes of Emil Jula and Gabriel Canu and will be an interesting first coaching experience in Romania for Vasile Miriuta, while Otelul‘s worries depend mostly on the club’s financial state.
Teams fighting to avoid the drop: FC Brasov, Universitatea Cluj, Viitorul Constanta and the four promoted clubs, Sageata Navodari, Corona Brasov, Poli Timisoara and FC Botosani.
Liga I resumes today, after another long break, but earlier than it was decided, in typical Romanian fashion. Another week might have helped some coaches that changed sides and might have allowed some new faces blend in better, although nothing really prepares you for the realities of our football…
A look at the standings shows there’s little movement to expect upfront, where Steaua feels little to no threat from a chasing pack that’s missing two traditional rivals, Dinamo and Rapid, both paying now (and in the next few years) for the poor management that has now come not only to affect their results, but even to threaten their survival.
5. CFR Cluj
A new record of points for Romanian football in the Champions League’s group stage created the perfect opportunity to cash in on some shrewd investments in foreign players. It was not nice to see CFR give up the fight with Inter in the Europa League and with Steaua in Liga I, but it was realistic and in perfect agreement with the club’s long term business plan, the same that made the Cluj side such an important name in Romanian football, in the last decade.
Rafael Bastos and Modou Sougou left for important transfer fees and the board was not desperate to spend, gambling again on unknown names from abroad, with Robert Maah looking so far good enough to step in and command a place in Paulo Sergio’s first eleven. The Portuguese coach was criticized for the number of defenders used against Inter, but I liked that he worked on a plan, adjusted to the type of players available and his ability will be put to the test until the end of the season, when a place in Europe is a must. Either through the league or the Romanian Cup.
4. Pandurii Tg Jiu
Probably the most entertaining team of the autumn season suffered two big losses: the top coach that’s Petre Grigoras (signed for Otelul Galati) and a top talent like Alexandru Maxim (transferred to VfB Stuttgart).
Ok, we are talking about a club free of financial trouble, who signed a good coach like Cristi Pustai, but I think Pandurii will settle for a European spot, if they can resist the temptation to give up easy points to some clubs in need… Two good moves on the market, with the midfield pair Anton-Predescu moving for almost nothing from the cash-strapped Gloria Bistrita.
3. FC Vaslui
Once aggressive on the market and very ambitious in the league, the club that always managed to finish on a higher position than in the previous year won’t be able to respect the tradition. Vaslui made no significant move in terms of transfers and decided to part ways with top goalie Daniel Coman, probably in an attempt to cut down the wage bill, losing at the same time a leader and a consistent performer. Not the kind of move a title contender does, but it seems that Adrian Porumboiu wasn’t bluffing again, when he stated he’ll try to distance himself from the club…
2. Astra Giurgiu
A wealthy, ambitious, and obviously controversial owner like Ioan Niculae has decided to give it a go this season, taking advantage of the poor season of the usual contenders for the European spots. All the good players stayed and the team is still ran by the caretaker and long serving coach Valentin Sinescu, but he should worry now that with the matches the dangerous TV sports shows will also resume.
10 points behind Steaua, Astra will probably be more concerned looking over the shoulder, as CFR and Vaslui still look stronger, at least on paper, and would definitely enjoy finishing second.
4 and a half years ago, the Romanian champions stunned the world with a 2-1 win on the Olimpico, against AS Roma, in the Champions League. This season, CFR Cluj collected a record (by Romanian standards) 10 points in a group won by Manchester United, but failed to go through. Relegated to the Europa League, the team will meet Inter Milano and will have to produce something special on Thursday evening. A win, like 4 and a half years ago, seems highly unlikely though, with a draw or a narrow defeat looking like the results Paulo Sergio has prepared for in the last month.
From the starting eleven that won against Roma only team captain Ricardo Cadu and defensive midfielder Gabriel Muresan will probably feature among the starters and the Portuguese coach worked on much more than just finding the right replacements for Modou Sougou and Rafael Bastos, the top players sold in January to Olympique Marseille and Al-Nasr, respectively. There’s been intensive work in switching to a defense of five men, with Felice Piccolo operating behind Cadu and Rada, who will be also protected from the front by a hard working, defensive midfield duo formed by Muresan and Nicolas Godmeche. Attacking threats? Maybe Rui Pedro, the 24 years old who scored a hat-trick against Braga playing off the main striker, but now he’ll be the most advanced player on the pitch, a role he’ll probably struggle to cover…
So, five defenders, two defensive midfielders and no natural striker – this is CFR’s plan to return from Milano with a decent result, one that drew criticism even from the team’s former coach, Sorin Cartu, nicknamed “Sorinaccio” for his love of ultra-defensive approaches… At least on paper, Paulo Sergio seems to have gone a step to far or too deep, to be more accurate, as the team that had the worst passing completion (52%) and ball possession (35%) in the Champions League’s group stage and has lost the two players that did some damage on counters faces Inter with the back against the wall. A wall that’s called Mario Felgueiras, the 26 years old that saved 61 shots against Man United, Galatasaray and Sporting Braga, the highest number recorded in the Champions League so far…
In a weekend packed with derbies all over Europe, Liga 1 offers Steaua – CFR Cluj, the battle of the main title contenders and of the only two Romanian clubs that have made it in to the group stage of European competitions.
With four points after two rounds, Steaua has made a bright start in Europa League, even though luck was on the team’s side both in Stuttgart and, more recently, at home against a stubborn and well organized FC Copenhagen. Coach Laurentiu Reghecampf deserves credit though for ignoring the the owner’s call for full focus on the title challenge (and that’s always a suicidal approach…) and so far has done a great job in both competitions, as we are also talking of the current Liga 1 leaders.
CFR on the other hand has three valuable points in the Champions League, after the games versus Sporting Braga and Manchester United, and waits for the double versus Galatasaray that will shape the club’s future in Europe. The problem in Liga 1 is that the reigning champions have lost a lot of players and a lot of points already and a defeat on Sunday night would leave them 12 points off the top spot after only 11 rounds. A huge difference considering the poor opposition Steaua encountered so far in the league! As well as the mediocre displays from the likes of Vaslui, Dinamo and Rapid, Teams that in theory should prevent an early break-away from such a serious title contender.
It will be an interesting encounter between a team that likes to attack in numbers and put a lot of pressure in the opposition’s half and one that has struggles to win midfield battles in Liga 1 so far and dictate play, but is a master of counter-attacking football. A tactics that has suffered a blow as the very quick Moudou Sougou has just been added to a long list of casualties, while Steaua can not only be proud with the excellent fitness levels, but also with a total lack of injured players and a strong competition for a starting place all over the pitch.
The Bucharest side seems to have the edge in what looks like a final for CFR, being fitter, hungrier and more determined than the Cluj side, so we should be in for a rare piece of entertainment, also considering the tens of thousand fans that will be once again behind Reghecampf’s men in the National Arena.
Both teams come after wins to nil away from home, but a way bigger challenge awaits in Europe, one that promises hefty rewards, but also threatens CFR’s and Steaua’s consistency in Liga 1, where both clubs are considered the main contenders for the title. If the Bucharest outfit started really well, the reigning champions have dropped points and also lost a number of good players and they’ll be heading into the most demanding part of the season with a tired, damaged team, hoping that the new signings will have enough quality to skip quickly over the period needed to adjust to a whole new environment. But, for now, both sets of fans will be thinking of Braga and Stuttgart and I’m sure that there’s also interest from Portugal and Germany, so here’s a quick look at the state of the two Romanian teams.
One word to describe it: inconsistent. The champions won on Friday away at Dinamo (1-0), but in spite of a solid start, struggled to keep the same pace and focus throughout and went close to conceding in the final minutes. Nothing new, really, look at the two halves from Basel and other league games when the defence fell asleep, with the entire team losing shape and balance. All this using pretty much the same starting eleven, due to the large number of injured players…
Basically, there’s unpredictability as far as the game is concerned, although coach Ioan Andone might try to surprise both Braga – the team’s first opponent from the Champions League’s group stage - and his team’s fans. Most likely, he will be gambling on either Sasa Bjelanovic (Kapetanos had some medical problems during the game vs Dinamo) or Luis Alberto, as only these two of the last additions are in good shape and have also been included on the list registered with UEFA. If Bjelanovic can only take the place of the Greek goalscorer, Luis Alberto will challenge Gabriel Muresan and Nicolas Godmeche for a place in front of the back four, with the Frenchman most likely to drop to the bench, in case Andone wants some fresh blood in midfield, where another substitution could see the talented but inconsistent Rui Pedro take the place of Diogo Valente, who’s yet to impress in CFR’s shirt.
A comfortable away win against newly promoted CSMS Iasi came at the right time, offering a boost of morale without asking for too much effort in exchange. Unfortunately for Laurentiu Reghecampf, who was in Germany to watch Stuttgart’s weekend game, left midfielder Cristian Tanase couldn’t finish the game due to some muscular problems. If the highly rated Romanian international can’t get to full fitness in time, there are two options to replace him: Paul Parvulescu, who also played at left back, can do the winger’s job, allowing Reghecampf to secure the flank, or Alex Chipciu can move on the left and do the exact same job as Tanase, given that he’s also a right footed wide midfielder who likes to cut inside – something he excelled at while playing for Brasov and also earned him the transfer to Steaua. In this case, Adrian Popa would take his place on the right side, adding a lot of pace and some decent skill, but no experience at all in such games. Either way, the Bucharest side, who managed this weekend to claim the first place in Liga 1 after two years, promises to test Stuttgart’s defense with a high paced attacking maneuver that this club had in its DNA, but no other coach had managed to activate it in recent years.
Tonight, last season’s champions and runners-up will enter a competition with an incredible financial stake considering their yearly budget and both CFR and FC Vaslui will give it all to reach the group stage of the Champions League. Unfortunately, a tough task awaits, with two preliminary rounds against tough opposition in front of them and a difficult first set of teams to knock-out.
With two draws in the first two rounds of the season, CFR Cluj will face tonight Slovan Liberec, a team I saw quite a few times last season and relies on a solid, experienced back-bone, losing this summer one important piece of the puzzle: the enthusiastic right-back Theodor Gebre Selassie. Latest news from the opposition’s camp should be encouraging for the hosts, as Slovan will miss Nezmar and Rabusic, key players in defense and attack. CFR’s main weakness is at the back and coach Ioan Andone admits that “there are issues there that need to be addressed, but it’s good to see that the players are aware of this and refuse to celebrate properly even when they score a goal”. Andone fears Slovan’s striking force and highlights the Czechs’ scoring record from the previous season and he announced that in the first leg the main goal is to avoid conceding at home. CFR’s main strength is the ability of Greek striker Pantelis Kapetanos to find a decisive strike out of the blue. He did it twice in Liga I so far and will be at the end of most of the Romanians’ attacking moves tonight.
You can read more on CFR Cluj here.
FC Vaslui has a more difficult task than the champions, having to make its’ debut on Fenerbahce’s stadium, in a very hostile environment and against a strong and ambitious squad. Coach Marius Sumudica looks set to use his team’s main strength, the attack, in the away game, hoping that the goal(s) scored will make the difference after 180 minutes. “We are not in Istanbul to defend, we want to score!”, warned Sumudica, who started the season well, with a win and a draw, scoring 5 goals in the process. The team lost its’ star, Wesley (the Brazilian would have missed the first leg anyway through suspension), but has added some quality players to the team, having experience at both ends, thanks to goalkeeper Dani Coman and striker Marius Niculae. Vaslui’s main weakness is the lack of cohesion within a squad that has a lot of new faces in the ideal starting eleven, but will be encouraged by the first displays of the newcomers, as well as the input of Lucian Sanmartean, who stepped up immediately after Wesley’s departure and looks in great physical shape, orchestrating most of the attacks and causing panic with his excellent runs down the left flank.
You can read more on FC Vaslui here.
Position last season: 1st place
CFR was one of the least impressive champions in recent years and I would rate the team below the likes of Unirea Urziceni and Otelul Galati, considered huge surprises when they won the league, although they did possess two vital attributes: physical preparation and tactical discipline.
Brought to avoid what looked like a probable poor end of the season, Ioan Andone didn’t manage to take more out of the team than his predecessor, Jorge Costa, the former fierce FC Porto defender. The squad looked old, slow, predictable, lacked style and impressive performers (Greek striker Pantelis Kapetanos would be the exception from the rule), but somehow the most effective team in recent years in terms of winning trophies managed to add another title to its’ ever growing cabinet.
Important transfers out: Beto (goalkeeper, key player), Sixto Peralta (central midfielder, key player)
Beto was in Portugal’s squad for Euro 2012 only as a backup, but he was the only player from Liga I present at the final tournament, and CFR couldn’t extend the loan from Porto for a second season. It’s a blow they’ve covered with another Portuguese goalie, but they’ve lost a player used to be part of a winning team with one that barely avoided relegation with FC Brasov.
Peralta’s another big name and, in spite of the criticism he got sometimes, I still consider him the midfielder with the best vision and intelligence that has been seen in Liga I in recent years. Slow and not too sharp from the physical point of view, the Argentinian was an asset for CFR, who tried to get rid of him – or at least his big salary – in the past too, but realized back then that it would have been a mistake. One that they’ve made now, probably, not just by releasing him, but by failing to add to the roster a central midfielder capable to organize the build-up by looking forward, not backwards or sideways.
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.
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”…