- Gloria Bistrita – Gaz Metan Medias 1-1 (Predescu 51 / D. Roman 80)
- Pandurii Targu Jiu – Ceahlaul 3-1 (Radut 40, 50, Maxim 45 / Margina 59)
- CS Severin – Concordia Chiajna 0-1 (Ad. Popa 90)
- Petrolul Ploiesti – Otelul Galati 2-1 (Boudjemaa 19, 82 / Inkango 89)
- CFR Cluj – FC Vaslui 3-0 (Cadu 16 pen, Bastos 69, 83)
- Viitorul Constanta – Astra Ploiesti 0-0
- Steaua – Universitatea Cluj 5-1 (Rocha 16, 60, Rusescu 62, Tanase 71 pen, 84 / V. Dinu 81)
- Rapid – CSMS Iasi 1-0 (Goga 16)
- FC Brasov – Dinamo 2-2 (Batin 16, Buga 59 / D. Grigore 39, C. Matei 72)
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…
City paid 3.5 million Euros to make the deal permanent and, according to the keeper, he will stay in Manchester “this year and the following two”. 30% of that sum should go to a third division club, Aerostar Bacau, from where Politehnica Timisoara had bought the national team player seven years ago for only 50.000 Euros. The great Gheorghe Hagi was the man who asked for the transfer to be done, the same underrated coach who insisted to play with Gabriel Torje when the current Udinese man was only 16 years old.
“I’m training and waiting for my turn”, says Pantilimon, happy enough to started in 4 games this term, 3 times in the League Cup and once in the FA Cup, keeping two clean sheets in the process (against Wolverhampton and Arsenal), but failing to help his team take out United in the FA Cup, when he was defeated three times.
Pantilimon turned 25 yesterday and contradicted his former boss, Marian Iancu, from Poli Timisoara, who had revealed that the deal was in place since day 1, but the clubs had decided to make it look like a loan in order to avoid putting too much pressure on the goalkeeper. “I knew from the start it was a permanent deal, but it wasn’t the case nor the moment to make it public. Now I can talk about it”, says the player who wants to win the Europa League and the Premier League and not talk too much about his status: “The team is all that matters.”
Now that’s something, especially when two of the opponents are Lazio and Schalke 04. Although Rapid managed to win away in Israel, confirming that Razvan Lucescu knows how to approach the games in Europe, Vaslui was again the surprise package, not only because they almost won on “Olimpico”, but because they are still struggling to field a decent defense.
Cisse, Rocchi and Sculli were often frustrated by a back four that contained only two natural defenders, as Viorel Hizo was once again forced to improvise in front of a very young keeper. The Italians might not know it, but Ionut Balaur, the centre-back, is a 21 years old striker, with absolutely zero experience in Liga I, while the left flank was defended by Nemanja Milisavljevic, a serbian left winger who rarely used to track back when used in his natural position.
All credit must go to the experienced Hizo, who wasn’t bluffing when he announced that the team will try to play an open game and he was right to try an keep the ball away from the box, as Vaslui always struggled to contain Lazio when pegged back, even with a one man advantage. With Sanmartean able to dribble in a phone booth, the intelligent Wesley always dropping into space at the right time and Adailton kept on the pitch even when he couldn’t run anymore, for his ability to deliver killer balls, Vaslui might regret the lost points, but shouldn’t, if this inexperienced team in Europe learned something from a contest they had entered with no chances to survive and got so close to come out with the result of their lives.
A much more cautious approach was adopted by Steaua against Schalke, with Ronny Levy clearly going for a draw and rarely thinking to take advantage of the German’s unstable defense. The Bucharest side is obviously struggling to find a new identity and will need time to make the system work with so many new players, with Bourceanu vital to keep things tight at the back and the entire team compact. His impact has been huge and “Romania’s Gattuso” is the only certainty in Levy’s eleven, which has too many centre-backs, but no reliable right back, enough forwards, but not a natural goalscorer, hard working central midfielders with little vision and playmaking ability and not a single wide player able to make the difference. This team needs a lot of work to get going and I doubt the coach will have enough time to put together a puzzle that doesn’t lack quality pieces. The good thing is that there’s realism on the bench and th team is collecting points even in a difficult period.
After Bogdan Stancu’s 6 million Euros move to Galatasaray in the previous winter mercato, another Romanian club is involved in a major transfer deal this summer, as Costel Pantilimon moves to Manchester City in a loan deal with an undisclosed buying clause in 2012, depending on his season with the Citizens.
Ok, Stancu’s move was fishy, because he was probably worth half that sum, but we would have not moved a muscle if Pantilimon’s transfer fee/conditions were made public. It was Manchester City, the mercato champions of recent years… The surprise of an undisclosed fee was even bigger, as Politehnica Timisoara was also involved, a club that used to impress with its transparency being partially financed by the city’s local council. Put this two together and add the information that Udinese was ready to sign Pantilimon this summer in a permanent deal and you’ll get the image of a deal that would have made City’s sheik look like they’re running out of money. Or, even worse, start to look a bit cheap!
Timisoara’s usually vocal owner, Marian Iancu, limited himself to the following announcement: “The club still co-owns the goalkeeper, as we aim to earn as much as possible from his transfer. The longer it takes to complete the deal, the more money we’ll be making and we’re talking in millions.”
Basically, it is all in the hands of the big lad who was impressing only in size at second division outfit Aerostar Bacau, six years ago. Timisoara’s current number two, Gheorghe Chivorchian, who used to run another club from Bacau, FCM, decided to “splash” 50.000 Euros, at Gheorghe Hagi’s request, but apparently made what now looks like a very costly mistake when negotiating the deal: accepted a 30% sell on clause, which might just be one of the reasons Timisoara makes the transfer to City look so complicated and mysterious.
The Viola outfit probably got lot less from Manchester than what Udinese was ready to pay upfront, but certainly puts its hopes in Pantilimon’s chances to fulfill his potential at a top club. Problem is, Roberto Mancini doesn’t like to rest his number 1 and a look at the previous season shows that England’s number one played 38 games in the Premier League, but also 8 in the FA Cup and another 9 in a Europa League campaign that would have made Harry Redknapp put the gloves on himself, in an attempt to avoid fatigue and injuries to such a vital member of the squad.
So, does Pantilimon really have a chance to impress and earn Timisoara more money in his one season loan with an undisclosed buying clause? I guess not, but on a personal level he should definitely benefit, training with the best and entering a regime that will do him more good than 100 more official appearances in Liga I.
He still needs to improve his ability to deal with high balls, yes, at 2,02 m, Pantilimon has “a short leash” and his focus needs to be a lot better, which is something a bit different than his desire to deliver in the big games – see the excellent performances for Romania on “Parc des Princes” or for Timisoara in the European ties against Shakthar Donetsk and, no coincidence, Manchester City. He wasn’t always convincing for Timisoara in Liga I, which lead to a lost battle with Steaua’s Ciprian Tatarusanu for the number one spot in Romania’s national team in the last year, so this transfer comes at a possibly critical moment of his development. If he goes up or down from here, it’s all up to him, but I reckon the decent/hard working goalie will keep his feet on the ground, the eyes on the ball and catch this big chance, not palm it away.
Yes, the mighty Unirea Urziceni. The team that progressed from third division to the Champions League (with defender Epaminonda Nicu playing at all levels!) to record the highest number of points collected in the group stage by a Romanian team has officially retired from all competitions. Basically, the team that was defeating Rangers at Ibrox with an incredible 4-1 and collected eight points in a group that also featured Seville and Vfb Stuttgart, has ceased to exist. Most likey, it will not be missed, as the team that once thrived under the strict command of former Chelsea man Dan Petrescu rarely had a sold out stadium in the 20,000 souls town of Urziceni. Unirea has every chance to be remembered, though, so here, here and here are a few pieces of mine for those willing to take one more look at the club’s good old days…
Appreciated for his football knowledge, eye for players, ability to ease Gigi Becali’s harsh words into Steaua’s dressing room and especially protect the club from outside attacks, Mihai Stoica received a deserved warm welcome at his return from Unirea Urziceni. The chaos within the club packed with Becali’s relatives and obedient professionals was going to end and Steaua was going to at least leave the impression of the most professional and well organized club in the country. Not to mention look like it has a strategy for more than the current season and all the mercato activity will turn into profit and sporting success, something everyone witnessed at Unirea.
The winter break arrived and there are some strange things going on at the Bucharest side, who gave up easily on the experienced Bulgarian midfielder Angelov and the prolific Greek centre-forward Kapetanos (who, for the record, spent part of last summer in South Africa, enjoying some World Cup football), considering their wages too high and that the squad provides enough quality replacements. Two debatable arguments, as 250.000 Euros/season isn’t a big salary for a title contender/Champions League team wannabe, while the use of the mentioned alternative solutions will make the bench look short and unreliable.
Even more strange is Steaua’s approach when it comes to buying players, with the first important signing a highly rated right back, you’ve probably never heard of, if you’re leaving outside Romania. No, it’s not Otelul’s Cornel Rapa, available for under one million Euros, who recently made his debut for the senior national team and is topping the standings at club level, showing impressive consistency at the tender age of 21, having played for 90 minutes in all the 18 games of the season. We’re talking about Gabriel Matei, also 21, who will only be taking Rapa’s place in the U21 and is hoping to avoid relegation for his second consecutive season in Liga I. A player with a total of 33 matches at this level, which determined Steaua to pay an incredible 600.000 Euros and promise Pandurii either 20% of his next transfer fee or another half of million Euros. Of course, the kid, who will continue to fight to avoid relegation until the summer, is tipped for greatness, but I invite you to put your imagination on hold for a second and look at it like a piece of business:
1. How often Romanian clubs manage to sell a player for over 1 million Euros?
2. Why did Steaua rush to finalize the deal now, if the agreement states that the player will stay Pandurii for the rest of the season?
3. What could have raised Matei’s value until the summer so highly, that a deal would have become impossible under the current terms?
4. Wouldn’t have been as many chances to see a possible increase from a few more U21 caps compensated or even outdone by a possible relegation from Pandurii, at the end of the season?