Back in September, I made a Top 10 list of the Liga 1 exports in the summer of 2013. A list topped by Vlad Chiriches, who just had set a new record in terms of transfer fees with his move to Tottenham, a list that now, with half of season gone, deserves a second look. So let me walk you through the first five months spent by 10 ex-Liga 1 “stars” at their new clubs, in stronger leagues, competitive and professional environments, under pressure. Those who love to promote the Romanian league should look away
The most valuable, both in terms of quality and price, turned out to be also the one who delivers from the start. Vlad Chiriches, the ex Steaua defender and current national team captain, made a bright start in the toughest league, in an ambitious team packed with quality players, winning over the fans and making commentators like Clive Tyldesley say recently that he’s “a fine advert for Romanian immigrant labor”. Irony aside, he is indeed. And it’s enough to look below him in my Top 10 list…
With the exception of Portugese right back Ivo Pinto, who impressed with Dinamo Zagreb (although I’d place the Croatian Prva HNL below our Liga 1 in terms of competitiveness), there is nobody else who made the switch easy, with good results also on the pitch, not just in their bank accounts.
Ok, signing Denis Alibec was a gamble from Bologna, as the striker revived by Gheorghe Hagi and his club, Viitorul Constanta, disappointed upon his return to Serie A. He featured for just 2 minutes in the first part of the season, against mighty Juventus, but that was just a desperate use of a forward with good feet, but a mind that still looks unable to focus on football. Two other Romanian players moved to Italy last summer and both need (and unlike Alibec who is close to a transfer to Astra Giurgiu) and will have more time to adjust and prove themselves. Alexe struggles with struggling Sassuolo, featuring 6 times in the league, but just once as a starter, while Nica got a red card in his second and last appearance in Serie A for Atalanta.
Life isn’t easier in Ligue 1 either, where Dan Nistor and Aurelian Chitu started just once in half of season, each with a handful of appearances as substitutes for Evian and Valenciennes, respectively. The biggest disappointment though came from Raul Rusescu, who joined FC Sevilla as the top scorer of the Romanian league, but already left La Liga, moving on loan to Sporting Braga after a total of 7 appearances and 3 goals, but only 64 mintues of football in the Spanish top flight…
With Fatai unable to feature more for Club Brugge, in spite of a bright start (scored against Anderlecht in his first game), and Herea looking average in a league that, in theory, should have allowed him to impress, we can draw the line: just 2 out of 10 players stepped into their new clubs and claimed a place in the first eleven.
Not at all surprising is the fact that we’re talking about two of the most expensive deals. It might look strange that a proven scorer like Rusescu failed at Sevilla, but in fairness it was the Spanish club who got it wrong and rushed to gamble of a player that didn’t look ready for them! Saying that the Romanian was going to replace Alvaro Negredo was a (good) joke and the 25 years old’s signature was followed by those of Carlos Bacca and Kevin Gameiro. And while these two got playing time, Rusescu was following an intense fitness regime to help him lose weight and gain the pace and agility needed in La Liga…
On the disappointing side I’d put Alexe’s struggle, given his intelligence and first team experience, but he did join a newly promoted club and he’s the type of forward who can “enjoy” quite long periods of indifferent form, risks both himself and the club should have taken into account. Hopefully, he’ll have the time and the opportunities to come good, just like Nica, who has the fortune of being in a youth-friendly club…
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- Concordia Chiajna – Ceahlaul 2-1 (Ghionea 43, Purece 57 / Cazan 44)
- Gloria Bistrita – Petrolul Ploiesti 1-1 (Laio Azeredo dos Santos 82 / Cristescu 8)
- FC Severin – Otelul Galati 1-1 (Thomas 45 / Punosevac 20)
- Universitatea Cluj – Dinamo 1-2 (V. Dinu 8 pen / Danciulescu 23 pen, Curtean 62)
- FC Brasov – FC Vaslui 2-1 (I. Popa 11, Batin 74 / Varga 64)
- Astra Giurgiu – Gaz Metan Medias 4-0 (Di Stefano 51, Budescu 54, Tembo 61, Takayuki 87)
- Pandurii Targu Jiu – CFR Cluj 2-1 (Maxim 49 pen, Radut 81 pen / Bastos 52)
- Viitorul Constanta – CSMS Iasi 1-0 (Dica 42)
- Steaua – Rapid 1-0 (Bourceanu 90+5)
“I said no to a written offer of 6 million Euros”, said a cocky Gigi Becali a week ago, so you can imagine the prices he’ll dream of and offer to the Romanian media now that Vlad Chiriches, the 22 years old centre-back, appeared on Milan’s radar. But even Becali’s fantasies shouldn’t be a problem if the Italians will be looking for Thiago Silva’s replacement, considering the huge transfer fee paid by PSG for the
unavailable Brazilian. The question is: can Chiriches step in and do the job of one of the finest central defenders in the world?
Let’s have a look at the stats: he’s got 68 appearances in Liga I – not the most challenging in Europe – and only 29 of them for a club that challenged for the title (and lost). To compare, Udinese’s Gabriel Torje had collected 125 matches in the top flight by the age of 21, before moving to Serie A (and failing to impress in the first season). Ignored most of the time by Romania’s youth national teams, he had recently earned his place in the senior team, collecting 6 caps under two different coaches. Ok, he’ll be playing there for many years to come, but apart from these matches he can only add to his international experience 2 other games played with Steaua in the Europa League.
Now let’s have a look at the player. If his name came up in Milan’s search for Silva’s replacement, it’s because he’s got a good age and is the type of ball-playing centre-back that can solve difficult situations with elegance and also start the build-up from the back.
And he’s from Romania and he shouldn’t be that expensive. The truth is, Chiriches has a technical skill that’s beyond doubt and has determined different coaches to use him with confidence both as right back and defensive midfielder, but his place is at the heart of the back four. He’s mature and assured and has impressed with his response to the biggest challenges of his short, but promising career, enjoying the big matches and displaying an impressive confidence against stronger and better opponents. In my opinion, he still needs to gain in strength and he can have problems against very quick strikers in the first five meters, but usually his positioning sense and ability to read the game avoid embarrassing situations. He’ll use both feet, which is a big plus, and is good, but not perfect in the air, and might also have a fight on his hands while playing against a big fellow, that’s why the intense work in the gym is a must, in order to become a more commanding figure at the back.
Now that I’ve offered a positive response to the question from the title, we can only ask ourselves if a Romanian version is enough for Milan and what’s the latest figure in Becali’s mind: 10, 15 million Euros? It’s also interesting to note that Cosmin Contra recommended Chiriches to Getafe recently. Contra who played for Milan as well…
He’s 27. In terms of goals scored last season and proven quality. Otherwise, he’s 31 years old. Which spells “he’s past it”, for those who look at the Romanian league generally to find that player that could generate a nice profit in the next two or three years. But Welsey’s performance doesn’t deserve to go un-noticed. Just like his club, FC Vaslui, which every single season managed to finish in a better position than in the previous one, the Brazilian forward offered more with every year spent in Romania, to live up to the expectations that come with one of the highest wages in Liga I. In 2009, he had 7 goals, adding another 12 in his second season, while in the third he scored 13, just like Galatasaray’s 6 million Euros buy from January 2011, Bogdan Stancu, and the current player/coach of Universitatea Cluj, Claudiu Niculescu.
In the last campaign, though, finished by FC Vaslui in second spot, a single point behind the champions from CFR Cluj, Wesley found the net 27 times (5 times from the spot) becoming only the second player in the past 5 years to score more than 20 goals during one season after the 2nd best all-time scorer in Liga I, Ionel Danciulescu (21 goals in 2007/2008).
Currently on vacation, the goalscorer used by Viorel Hizo, one of Vaslui’s former coaches, even as a defensive midfielder!, is now battling through the media with the owner Adrian Porumboiu. He speaks of the need for a new challenge, with Steaua banging on the door and, apparently, willing to offer more than a joke of a contract like a while ago, when Gigi Becali thought that the club’s name is more important than any installment fee, monthly wage or winning bonuses. That (still) works these days only for young Romanian players and Romanian coaches of all ages… Maybe someone in the club will find the courage to inform the mighty owner that last season Wesley scored more than Raul Rusescu (13), Mihai Costea (6), Leandro Tatu (3), Stefan Nikolic (2) and Florin Costea (1). Even if you add all their goals…
The problem is no other club from Liga I can afford Wesley. Wages aside, the player cannot be allowed to move without a decent transfer fee and leaving aside some interest from Turkey – which I’m personally aware of – nobody seems willing to pay more than 1,5 million Euros in the first season for a proven, mature & quality player with, unfortunately, only two or three decent years ahead of him. If Wesley is wise enough to accept this, he can go on to be not only one of the best (if not the best) paid footballers in Romania, but also remain for a very long time the most efficient foreign goalscorer in Liga I. He’s at the 59 goals mark and hopefully we’ll keep on counting.
PS Oh, and speaking of a new challenge, FC Vaslui will play in the preliminary rounds of the Champions League…
Tottenham Hotspur is either the club or the kind of club that is currently in talks with ASSE, according to a fresh statement released on TV by Nicolita’s agent, Traian Gherghisan. “In December, two big clubs came after him, but Saint-Etienne’s president refused. Now, he will probably accept, as we’re talking about one of the important teams from the Premier League.”
Bought from Steaua a year ago for 700.000 Euros, Banel Nicolita adjusted really well to Ligue 1 and could now generate a profit of more than 2 million Euros. The Romanian right winger, now 27, has featured in 19 matches for the French outfit, scoring three goals and providing 6 assists, coping really well with the physical side of the game – one of his strongest points. Gifted with a great engine, work-ethic and a fantastic humble attitude, he’s not good enough, in my opinion, in terms of skill and vision to make such a huge step, so I could see him playing for a mid-table team from the Premier League, not at a higher level. But I’ve been wrong before…
It’s suicidal! Which, in footballing terms, means it’s the safest path to the second division. Nobody would dare to build an all-Romanian team, with the lowest average age in the first division, before the start of the season and not move a muscle in the three months long winter break spent on a place that yells at you “you’re going down, you fool!”. Sportul Studentesc are doing exactly that – and, trust me, it’s not the first time I’ve seen it! – and in 2012 has three wins out of three, the last one on the ground of the (now former) league’s leaders, Dinamo. They’ve climbed a few places in the standings and have determined a few other teams look at the relegation battle from a different perspective.
The owner of this team is Vasile Siman, the guy you don’t want to call, if you want one of his players. He’ll slap a 1 million Euros price tag on the forehead of any 19 years old that only played a handful of first division games without blinking. Try to negotiate and he’ll leave you at the table, probably with check to cover all by yourself. So, it’s best to order something light. This strategy has allowed this owner – who rarely buys a player and covers sometimes the often unpaid wages by offering to the squad mobile phones, coats and pickles – to make a huge profit by selling for millions players like Gigel Bucur, Ionut Mazilu, Costin Lazar (all playing abroad now) or George Galamaz. He’s so difficult to discuss with that Dacian Varga could only go to play on loan at Kuban Krasnodar. Twice. Now, the winger who was a regular in a play-off side from the Russian first division is back at the struggling Romanian first division club. And not playing…
Yes, Sportul won 3 out of 3 in 2012 without two of their three stand-out players, Dacian Varga and Costin Curelea (the striker all the big Romanian clubs wanted this winter, but couldn’t afford). The third is Viorel Ferfelea, the fragile number 10 who captained the side against Dinamo, scoring twice in the first three matches of the year. Who are the others? Well, guys like Patriche, Stancu and Farmache are the most experienced in Liga I, after moving through different clubs before returning to Sportul (if I’m not mistaking, Stancu and Farmache were playing in the season when Sportul scared the shit out of the big clubs finishing fourth – a feat which caused so much upset that the club became the first ever to be denied a license for the following season, being relegated!). The others are either recruits from second or third division clubs (Lazar, who offers the assist for the 1st goal vs Dinamo and scores the 3rd, was considered too poor by Petrolul Ploiesti, the club that raised him) or products of a renown youth setup, which offers poor training conditions, but has the satisfaction of seeing its’ best youngsters immediately offered a chance to shine for the seniors.
The best example? Razvan Popa, who’s only 16 and had started football at Steaua Bucharest, was handed a debut on Sunday. He played less than a minute, but if you ask Siman, he’s worth at least half of million. It’s a crisis, he understands that clubs cannot pay the same crazy amounts as before, but you’d better act quickly, as you don’t want this kid to score his first goal in the top flight…
According to the Romanian media, Ilie Stan has one dilemma ahead of tonight’s game: who should play at right back? The first eleven looks something like this: Tatarusanu – Dananae or Martinovic, Chiriches, Geraldo, Brandan – Rusescu, Prepelita, Bicfalvi, Tanase – Tatu, Nikolic.
This spells big problems in defense and midfield! Steaua’s transfer activity, in spite of some good buys, like Chiriches or Chipciu, has proved once again the lack of someone with brains, influent enough to explain the owner on what (type of) players he should be spending his money.
Ahead of the first and most important match of the year, the coach realizes that Dananae, THE right back, isn’t fit and offers no guarantees right away, so the ONLY other option is to keep playing Martinovic, the guy he wanted to replace due to his obvious limits (especially when going forward). Chiriches and Geraldo will be playing their first official game together in the center, but they are intelligent and good enough to do well, while on the left side there’s a chance to see Brandan? Brandan, the natural left sided player, but who has been Steaua’s best central midfielder in the first part of the season? Nice!
And we move forward, in midfield, where on the right side, either it’s going to be Rusescu or Tatu (more likely), it means Steaua keeps on playing without a natural right midfielder and improvises with a forward. After a two-months long break, nothing has changed… A look in the middle? There is no Bourceanu (suspended), while Brandan should play at left back, so the pair that has done so well last year, the one that kept this team balanced, is now gone. The Prepelita-Bicfalvi pair will work hard defensively, but will eventually drop too deep, so all the threat Steaua will be able to pose tonight should come from the left flank – something Twente is definitely prepared to deal with.
Terrible planning by Steaua, really! I always thought that the winter break in Romania is too long, but looking at how the clubs work in this period, it looks now like it’s not long enough…
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