After Claudiu Niculescu (Universitatea Cluj) and Bogdan Stelea (Astra Ploiesti), round six of the Romanian first division could bring massive changes. Marian Bondrea is the first victim, getting the sack from CS Severin, the team he managed to promote for the first time in Liga I. The team had collected only two points so far and will be coached by Liviu Ciobotariu, who will meet next weekend Ceahlaul Piatra Neamt, defeated yesterday by Viitorul Constanta, at home, a result that determined Costel Enache to ask the board to look for a replacement. “I want them to understand that I cannot control the situation anymore!”, said Enache, a similar statement to the one released by Ionut Popa. The experienced coach of newly-promoted CSMS Iasi had already made an attempt to leave his post before the start of the season and now had another talk with the board, asking to be released!
UPDATE: In spite of an official announcement on CS Turnu Severin’s website, Liviu Ciobotariu refused to take over the team and signed for CSMS Iasi, who released yesterday afternoon Ionut Popa!
And this is not all, as Dorinel Munteanu looks just as determined to leave former champions Otelul Galati. “It’s 99% sure I won’t be coaching this team anymore!”, said the man who holds the record of international caps for Romania, very upset at the financial struggle of a team that two years ago was playing in the Champions League group stage, but also at the struggle for power within the club. “I don’t even know who I’m supposed to talk to about this!”, said Munteanu, who won just one game this season…
So, one coach sacked, three others waving the white flag and waiting for a decision this week, which could have set a new record, considering that Ioan Ovidiu Sabau and Marius Sumudica weren’t feeling so comfortable either, before this round. But Rapid produced a miracle, coming back from 0-2 down to win 3-2 versus CFR Cluj, scoring 3 goals in 20 minutes while playing 10 vs. 11, and FC Vaslui also came back after a terrible 1st half and one goal down to win 3-1 versus Steaua, last night!
That could be the conclusion of the awards offered today by the Romanian Football Federation and the Professional Football League, with one official game left to play in 2011. Here’s the list:
Best coach: Dorinel Munteanu (Otelul Galati)
Won the league with an average team judging by the players’ quality and, leaving aside some favorable calls from the referees that helped the team cope with the pressure applied by the followers towards the end of last season, Munteanu certainly has done something outstanding. Something that could be compared to what Unirea Urziceni achieved a few years ago. But maybe I should stop, as this would not do any favors to “the best Romanian coach in 2011″, considering the fact that Dan Petrescu’s team went on to collect a record eight points in the Champions League’s group stage, while Munteanu’s men failed to collect a single one…
Munteanu deserves it not just because there’s nobody else with something to show at the end of the year, but because he managed to take the best out of a mediocre team, to create the perfect tactics for the given group of players, to make everyone believe that winning the league is possible in Romania even if your only or, better said, main ability is to work harder than everyone else.
Best player in Liga I: Lucian Sanmartean (FC Vaslui)
Lately, I get the feeling that Romanian players are ready to move abroad only in their 30’s. Buying them with millions, hoping to make a profit, is a costly mistake, because those who indeed have the talent and the skill need around 10 years to get their heads straight and understand what’s this all about. That it’s a job. And it needs dedication. Plus a lot of work. Sanmartean is just an example. Not the best, because the attacking midfielder has had a lot of medical problems in the past and, without them, he could have made it while in Holland or Greece. He’s delivering now and the outstanding skill on the ball has made even Claudio Lotito ask around for his age, after Vaslui’s encounters with Lazio, in the Europa League. He’s too old, as the man was quickly informed, but that’s good news for Adrian Porumboiu, who was able to renew and extend the player’s contract, a proof that Vaslui will continue to aim high for at least two more years. Of course, if Sanmartean will stay fit :).
Best foreign player in Liga I: Wesley Lopes (FC Vaslui)
The Brazilian has become this year the best foreign scorer in Liga I and he definitely deserves the title, although very, very close to him I would place Rapid’s centre-back, Marcos Antonio. But this guy doesn’t score often enough and got no help from a team that always looked equipped to win something, but failed for some reason to also become, not just look successful. Also in his 30’s, Wesley forms alongside Sanmartean and Adailton the best offensive trio in Romania and he certainly deserves one of the highest (if not THE highest) wages in Romania. Talented and dedicated, this guy has an incredible eye for goal and it’s a bit of a surprise to hear rumors about a possible move to Steaua in the winter mercato. It’s not the first time he tries to leave Vaslui, but it’s certainly the first time the club’s owner looks willing to accept it…
- Best young player in Liga I: Cristian Balgradean (Dinamo Bucharest)
- Best referee: Cristian Balaj
- Best club president: Iuliu Muresan (CFR Cluj)
- Man of the year: Mihaita Nesu (FC Utrecht)
Interesting fact: not a single winner came to collect the award. Unfortunately, the unlucky, but incredibly brave Nesu has the best excuse of all…
It’s enough to look at the standings, with the champions just above the relegation zone, to realize that even though Otelul kept all the players that impressed last term, the team lost something along the way. Unfortunately for them, the something in question is what Italians call “l’umilta”. The modesty of a group that last season knew so well that they need to outpace and outmuscle the opposition, having less technical quality, was key to the surprising success. Now that it’s gone, this team looks average in its best days and, what’s even worse, the players are getting the wrong messages from its leaders. There’s talk about the number of points that will be collected in the group stage, with only Manchester United considered too strong for a team that in three matches against newly promoted clubs in Liga I collected only one win! Considering the players’ (lack of) form and adding the wrong type of approach, I expect Otelul to reconsider their position right after the away game at Basel. And start using Modesty, Determination and Ambition in their first eleven just like last season, because they stand a chance against both Man United and Concordia Chiajna only if they start looking again at every match as a game of inches…
I don’t think it really matters who is going to take over this team. And I’m starting to think that it won’t matter who is going to play for it, in the next few years. We’ve reached a point where the ability of the coach and the players’ skill stopped counting. They’d come handy, no doubt, but they won’t suffice. Not anymore. And we should stop looking for the Hagi that can score wonderful goals and start searching for the guys that feel the same way Gica used to feel when wearing the national team’s outfit. Or Dorinel Munteanu, currently teaching some anonymous football players from Otelul Galati that the matches and the league titles can be won through hard, honest work. Or Gica Popescu, the man who knew that he could help Romanian football only by taking the the Romanian Football Federation’s head.
Obviously, the sick body answered back at any attempt to inject some health: Hagi was destroyed as a man and a coach through the media hungry for any bad word that came out of Gigi Becali’s big mouth, Munteanu was labelled as a match fixer, after his first experiences as a coach, while Popescu was humiliated by a dirty voting system, controlled by Sandu, the man who definitely deserves his nickname: “The Godfather”.
What happened after the game versus Bosnia is hard to explain by anyone who has some common sense and can think beyond himself. After some harsh and, at times, undeserved criticism, lead by the other Becalis, Victor and “Giovani”, Razvan Lucescu slapped everyone in the face with the surprising 3-0 win and resigned, agreeing immediately to take over Rapid, making no effort to make this look like a random series of events.
Mircea Lucescu’s son had been planning this for a while, though, that’s why he called FC Brasov’s Cristian Oros for the first time to the national team. The centre-back was a 26 years old who is going to play for… Rapid next season. An accident? Steaua’s Romeo Surdu (27) also earned a call-up and he will also switch teams this summer, going from Steaua to Lucescu’s next club. But this was nothing. The real blow was Lucescu’s refusal to go with the team he had selected and to the South American tournament he had asked for, one that included an extremely important game: Romania needed a win against Paraguay. Any other result would have relegated us to the fourth pot ahead of the draw for the qualifying groups to World Cup 2014, but nobody gave a damn. From the head of the Federation to the players that “love to play for the national team”.
Mircea Sandu, the chief, Ionut Lupescu, the executive president, Razvan Lucescu, the quitter, plus “the stars” Adrian Mutu, Cristian Sapunaru, Gabriel Tamas and Razvan Rat, who didn’t put the respect for the national team above their apetite for partying during the summer, simply refused to travel to South America! For us, Romanians, who watched in disbelief the 0-2 defeat against Paraguay, this shouldn’t be remembered as the tournament that saw Ronaldo play his last game for Brazil. It should be the marked as the moment when all those who could have brought back to life the national team decided to pull the plug.
They should all go away, as simple as that. Because as long as they’re still involved, we can be sure of one thing: we’ll always be here, at home, watching the European Championships and the World Cups on tv. The good thing we’re used to it by now, anyway…
- Igli Tare is expected to watch Cristian Sapunaru from the stands in the Romania-Bosnia game, with reports saying that Lazio is willing to pay up to 7 million Euros for Porto’s right back and have prepared an wage of 1 million Euros per season for the player. Sapunaru’s deal with the Dragons will expire in 2013.
- Dorinel Munteanu has qualified Otelul in the Champions League’s group stage, after winning the title, but is struggling to get the deal he wants from Marius Stan, the club’s president. Munteanu wants 300.000 Euros per season, a sum Otelul isn’t willing to pay, so the coach might be a champion out of contract, this summer.
- Second place and qualified for the preliminary stages of the Champions League, FC Timisoara finds out today UEFA’s decision. The Viola outfit might lose its licence due to some financial problems that could have been easily solved and, at the same time, not just its place in Europe, but also the one from Liga I!
- Rapid’s owner, George Copos: “Having again Razvan Lucescu (the current national team coach) on the bench is a beautiful dream”.
- Cristiano Bergodi is linked with a return to Steaua. After getting the sack for showing the guts to ask Gigi Becali to step out of the team’s dressing room, the Italian’s chances should be slim. Very slim!
As you probably know by now, Otelul Galati has won the Romanian championship. What you probably don’t know is who in Unirea Urziceni’s name is Otelul Galati. Prepare for a shorter walk than the 200 kilometers the club’s president promised to go on foot, back in November 2010, when all this was just a joke, as I will present you the club every Champions League participant will want to meet in autumn, in the group stage.
In the summer of 2009, Marius Stan, Otelul’s president, was offering a two years long deal to the most capped Romanian player in the national team’s history, Dorinel Munteanu. The man who represented his country 134 times had returned home, to Cologne, angered by accusations of match-fixing launched by former employers. Trying to clear his name in court was the right thing to do, but the wisest thing was to do it on the pitch. And, two years later, “Munti” was winning, against all odds, a league that had no less than six contenders at the beginning of the season, who tried everything to stop him. They came across a stubborn, determined, workaholic team, that multiplied by 11 Munteanu’s approach to the game he never cheated as a professional, and failed.
Meet “Galati Steelers”!
You might have heard of a certain Lakshmi Mittal. Yes, the wealthy owner of QPR, who will face the likes of Roman Abramovich in the Premier League, but, at the same time, might challenge the Russian’s club in the Champions League. And that thanks to Otelul Galati, the club that dreamed to become the Eastern Europe’s Chelsea, when the city’s immense steel factory was bought by the Indian’s company, but rarely received more than survival money, in Liga I.
It was disappointing for those at the club, but not for the old fox Marius Stan, who had made an attempt to become the city’s mayor in 2007, one that might have more success if repeated after this incredible performance. Just like most of his players, the president doesn’t lack tempting offers ;-)
This is the first title in the club’s history, which starts in 1964 and records the first promotion in the top flight in 1986! Two years later, Otelul was playing in the UEFA Cup against the mighty Juventus, recording a memorable 1-0 at home, before losing 0-5 in the second leg. “La Vecchia Signora” was counting on names like Stefano Tacconi, Alessandro Altobelli or Michael Laudrup, while Otelul’s midfield was built around a certain Marius Stan. With him at the helm, the red and white club from Galati was going to win the Intertoto Cup in 2007, a feat followed by a quick exit from the UEFA Cup.
Munteanu’s work and Otelul’s honest workers
In his first days as a coach, Munteanu tried to implement a 4-2-1-3 setup that was used on a large scale in the 1.Bundesliga, a formation he kept on tweaking in the creative – finishing department, after he moved away from CFR Cluj and gained more and more experience at Steaua, FC Arges and FC Vaslui, but constantly improved the functionality of the back four, in combination with the two defensive midfielders. His tactics and the strict approach found the perfect group of players in Galati, where a bunch of youngsters raised by Otelul in the third and second tier was completed by some bargain buys from second division clubs from both Romania and nearby countries. The president’s eye for talents and ability to sign them for some tens of thousands of Euros was going to pay dividends.
These players, desperate to make a name for themselves and move on, in search of better wages, added muscle and energy to an experienced back-bone formed by Sergiu Costin, Gabriel Giurgiu and Gabriel Paraschiv, who offered inspiration (you can find here Paraschiv’s incredible request to get a wage cut!) and ensured that Munteanu’s requests are fulfilled both during the very demanding training sessions and during the matches.
Rapa versus Messi, Neagu tackling Cesc, Ilie racing past Lahm?
There are no standout players in this team. Can’t find a lot of flair and the skill lost its importance with the 11 bees spending more time off than on the ball and this team could get slaughtered in the Champions League.
We thought the same in September, in November, Marius Stan was promising that he’ll walk from Galati to Slanic Moldova (that’s 200 kilometers, Forrest!), if his team wins the league, and we were sure in March that Otelul will drop from the top of the table so bad, that the team won’t even be able to secure a place in Europa League. The players were buzzing though and just managed to hang on, taking advantage of the fight between the other title contenders and some game-winning mistakes in their favor, committed by the refs. They were used to fight for survival and, this season, they did it. Just that they were defending the 1st place, not the 14th!
Who is Cornel Rapa? A 21 years old right back, who didn’t stay long in the U21, before moving into the senior national team. Ok, that’s not very hard, judging by the current level of Romania’s squad, but it’s still something that doesn’t happen too often.
Ionut Neagu has an interesting story too. He was playing for CSM Ramnicu Sarat in 2009, simply the worst team in the Romanian second division, when he was called back to Otelul during the winter break. Offered the chance to start in central midfield, he was going to lose that place only when injured or suspended.
Liviu Antal, Laurentiu Bus or Adrian Salagean are Marius Stan’s findings in the second tier, while Branko Grahovac and Milan Perendija are the winning bets placed by the same guy on the foreign market, somewhere he didn’t do very well, in the past.
All these guys, with no pedigree or experience, earning around 50.000 Euros per season – and still willing to accept wage cuts! – proved that serious, hard and professional work can pay off. Get ready to see some scared young faces on the biggest European stage in autumn, but try to accept that the Romanians who will fight for every ball and every inch, killing the show, are no longer gifted like Hagi, but determined and hard-working like Munteanu. Those ready to write them off should keep in mind though that Unirea Urziceni, who has now relegated to the second division and could even disappear as a club, collected a record tally of eight points, in a group formed by Rangers, Stuttgart and Seville…
The league leaders have been making their usual business, once the experienced president Marius Stan decided to correct some mistakes done in the past, with the release of some poor buys made from abroad last season and the return to what he does best: spotting young players in the lower leagues. Read more…
- Unirea Urziceni – Sportul Studentesc 2-1 (Maftei 47, Semedo 72 / Balan 18)
Vital win for Octavian Grigore’s men, who came back from behind to take all the points and make it almost impossible for Sportul to avoid relegation. The goals came from two players that have big chances to leave Urziceni this month, so Unirea isn’t in a much better position either, as I expect them to struggle even to keep the current roster, so there’s no chance that it might get better after the winter mercato.
- FC Vaslui – Pandurii Targu Jiu 3-1 (Wesley 40, Bello 45, R. Costin 50 / Voiculet 48)
Quite unlucky defeat for Pandurii, as the home team was extremely efficient and punished the guests in three consecutive plays. A lesson of pragmatism and a second consecutive fortunate win for FC Vaslui, who climbed into third place after this round and makes everyone wonder how Hizo’s men will be stopped when they’ll start to play some football and look like an organized team. They’re currently lacking some quality at the back and the coach is too keen to keep all the stars happy. Fielding them at the same time often makes Vaslui play with 5 defensive players and 5 forwards, a way to unbalance team to sustain a long run of good form & positive results. Read more…
He doesn’t want to be called “Mister”, he prefers his nickname. From the top of the league, Munti explained today, in an interview for http://www.evz.ro, what’s the secret behind Otelul’s perfect start of the season. Here are the most important quotes:
Approach: “I like to work with Romanian players, they can get my messages and ideas clearly, and this has turned things around for me, after a poor start. And this is an excellent group, considering that there were times when the players were unpaid for months, yet they kept on training and playing.”
Training: “Modern football means determination. I ask my players to work their socks off in training and, after fitness, we try to be very organized on the pitch. At a higher level, the players’ quality makes the difference, but in Liga I mentality is key. And we managed to earn this first spot even if we played three or four times with just ten men.”
Objectives: “My goal is to finish better than we did last season, when we missed a place in Europa League for just two points.”
Inspiration: “I continue to learn as a coach and I’m inspired by Magath and Daum, whom I call every once in a while to discuss things. I believe German football is a model to follow in every aspect, that’s why I brought a popular system in 1. Bundesliga 5 years ago at CFR Cluj, when everyone was shocked that I field three forwards in every game.”
After 11 rounds, Otelul is topping the league with 25 points, thanks to an excellent home record of six wins out of six games. Munti’s players also got two valuable results away from home, a 0-0 against the mighty Rapid and a 2-1 success, two rounds ago, against Dinamo.
- Unirea Urziceni – Gaz Metan Medias 0-1 (Todea 90)
Interesting tactical battle between two defensive squads, built to counter, but as I was expecting, Unirea starts to lose all the points, with their focus on defending the initial draw in every game, no matter the opponent’s name. All credit must go to Gaz Metan’s excellent coach Cristi Pustai (I know, I’m repeating myself), who pushed for the win with all his changes and the instructions for a positive and brave approach. The discrete performance from the Brazilian Eric, who’s refusing to extend his deal and, sooner or later, he’ll refuse to play at the same level, which would be a shame, was compensated by another solid performance from the two central midfielders, Hoban and Todea, with the captain bringing the third away win of the season for a really tough team to beat.
- Rapid – Astra Ploiesti 3-0 (Cassio 34, 36, Spadacio 42)
The break didn’t affect the most solid and spectacular team in the league and Rapid dominated with authority against a difficult opponent, who lost its first match under Tibor Selymes. Cassio Vargas added his third brace of the season, but must share an eventual bonus with his team-mates, having the chance to play in a team that brings the ball in the box with pace, skill and flair, through the excellent work of the central pair Spadacio – used deeper than usual – and Lazar, as well as the quality service provided by the wide men. Read more…