It was a summer to remember for Romanian clubs (although the newspapers haven’t noticed it just yet…)! With Chiriches finally moved to Tottenham, we have a new record transfer fee paid for a Liga I player. We also have 5 players signed by Serie A clubs, 3 gone to Ligue 1 and 1 in La Liga, none other than last season’s top scorer. Teams from Belgium, Croatia and Switzerland – good European stepping stones – have made their picks, with Russia and Turkey paying good money to either clubs or players (or both) to sign no less than 7 established footballers. And Steaua decided to keep some in-demand players to make it into the Champions League’s group stage, otherwise the numbers would have been bigger and the figures even more impressive. Below, you can find my top ten transfers of the summer, which is of course debatable, but I’ve tried to filter the twenty-something important moves using as filter the quality and potential of the player in question, age, level of the buying club and level of the league he’s going to.
I, for one, don’t remember a more prolific transfer window in recent years, in terms of fees paid for Liga I’s top names and number of exports, especially to top leagues from Western Europe. Is it just a coincidence or the Romanian league has gained a better reputation? If this would be the case, then we’d have another premiere on our hands, with the clubs’ performances in the internal and European competitions drawing attention, not the exposure offered by Romania’s national team(s). Take Gheorghe Grozav’s case, who was heavily promoted by Victor Piturca and only got a late move to Terek Grozny. Or Ciprian Marica’s, who is struggling to find himself a new club, just like Gabriel Tamas, released by WBA, or Gabriel Torje, who had troubles convincing another club to loan him, a full transfer being out of the question…
Do we have stronger clubs? I can only think of exceptions. Is Liga I more competitive? It surely was two-three years ago – remember the days when Steaua, Dinamo, Rapid, CFR and Vaslui were fighting to get the title from Otelul Galati -, but that race got less and less tensed, with Dinamo’s and Rapid’s financial trouble, and CFR’s and Vaslui’s loss of investment/interest. Do we sign / promote better players? I’d say mainly by accident, considering the amateur take on player recruitment and lack of funds, knowledge and dedication allocated to the youth sector (of course, I will keep Hagi’s Academy out of this!).
Having the chance to see most of the European leagues in the past couple of years, given my assignments in scouting, I think the answer to the question of attractiveness gets a positive note only when related to the level of leagues from Croatia, Serbia, Czech Republic, Poland, not to mention Slovenia, Hungary or Bulgaria. The gap is rather discrete, I must say, and a good player from Liga I is tested in an equally if not more competitive environment than in the mentioned countries, making him prepared enough for a step abroad, in the eyes of visiting scouts. Add some good runs in Europe, like CFR’s or Steaua’s and we’re only kept back by reputation. One that surely doesn’t speak in Romania’s favor, but can be changed by each and everyone who gets the chance to play abroad…
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
After yet another poor year, the Capital clubs Dinamo, Steaua and Rapid have renewed their hopes of returning to greatness. Let’s take a look at three names that need to (finally) deliver, if the Bucharest big shots are to stand a chance against the always ambitious and recently better organized teams from the rest of country.
- Name: Marius Niculae
- Club: Dinamo Bucharest
- Position: striker
- Age: 30
The former Sporting Lisbon forward has failed to deliver since his return to Romania. He spent the second half of last season playing (and scoring) for Kavala – 4 goals in 12 appearances, in the Greek SuperLeague, but the club refused to make the deal permanent. Back in Bucharest, Niculae had to accept a wage cut and it will be interesting to see if he cares indeed for Dinamo or he’s just saying what the constantly decreasing number of fans love to hear.
With the best active scorer in Liga I by his side – Ionel Danciulescu, now 35 years old, scored a total of 193 goals in the Romanian top flight – and fueled by the most promising wingers in the country, Gabriel Torje and Marius Alexe, Niculae should deliver more goals than excuses in what promises to be another inconsistent season for the Red Dogs.
- Name: Cristian Tanase
- Club: Steaua Bucharest
- Position: attacking midfielder
- Age: 24
If Steaua wants to have a better season, a player like Tanase definitely needs to start looking like a genuine number 10. A right footed attacking midfielder who settled for a position on the left wing, the Romanian international has often drifted from inconsistent to simply useless, since his big, sorry, huge money move from FC Arges, three years ago. Numbers speak for themselves: one goal scored last season and a total of five in over 120 matches in Liga 1!
Predictable, lacking determination and the mentality (not the quality) to step up and act like the decisive player he was supposed to be, he fails to pose a threat with his shot, doesn’t get into scoring positions and simply cannot deliver quality balls in the last third.
With such a “discrete” no. 10, it’s no wonder Steaua struggled to fashion goalscoring chances and find the net even in the easiest of games. Now, under yet another coach, but involved in a playing style that should suit him even better, Tanase has the chance to prove a point. Otherwise this might just be his last season at the once great Bucharest club, although I get the feeling that the red and blue outfit has started to get used to the mediocrity of recent years…
- Name: Ciprian Deac
- Club: Rapid Bucharest
- Position: left winger
- Age: 25
One of Felix Magath’s flops, Deac comes after a poor season with Schalke 04, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if the chance to take showers alongside the likes of Raul and Huntelaar has convinced the Romanian international that he’s among the greatest players alive. Presented by Magath as a number 10 – still amazed by that statement! – Deac will certainly have enough chances to redeem himself in the one year long loan deal. Razvan Lucescu used to play him in the national team even when he was severely lacking match fitness, but the blonde winger certainly has a tough job ahead. Rapid parted ways with the likes of Cesinha and Juliano Spadacio, two of the best left footed players this league has seen in recent year, and will find it hard to accept another year without a serious title challenge.
The first half of season hasn’t been that bad for Dinamo, who lies just outside the places that guarantee a spot in Europa League, but the club was a mess. With less and less support from the fans, increasing financial problems, after the loss of three important shareholders, and a team that Ioan Andone was struggling to control, discipline and unite, the Red Dogs were barking, but not threatening to bite as hard as the other title challengers.
It was vital to act swiftly during the winter break and what the club did might sound suicidal, for the current season’s goals: 9 players were sent away, either on loan or for good, with the following considered regular starters and good enough, in theory, for any team in Liga I:
- Juan Pablo Garat - 27, central defender, 10 games / 1 goal, released;
- Ousmane N’Doye – 32, defensive midfielder, 13 games / 5 goals, sold to Astra Ploiesti;
- Adrian Cristea – 27, playmaker, 17 games / 7 goals, sold to Universitatea Cluj;
- Florin Bratu – 31, forward, 7 games / 2 goals (on loan to Levski), free transferred to Gaz Metan;
- Andrei Cristea – 26, forward, 11 games / 4 goals, sold to Karlsruhe;
- Marius Niculae – 29, striker, 16 games / 3 goals, loaned to Kavala (with buying option);
It only looks suicidal… First of all, because the title was an unrealistic target, given the distance that separates Dinamo from he current leaders, but mainly due to the high number and good quality of the other contenders, with Rapid, Poli Timisoara and FC Vaslui convinced that this is their season. Secondly, in spite of the names and the stats from above, the red and white outfit can still count on some of the finest attacking prospects in Romania, with the likes of Gabriel Torje, Marius Alexe and Liviu Ganea relishing the chance to feature on a regular basis and support the excellent player and professional that is Ionel Danciulescu. There will also be some relief among those responsible in delivering the wages, as the budget will suffer a serious cut and probably allow the entire team to start getting paid on time, on a regular basis.
The only thing Dinamo must do now is to use this month as a foundation for a strategy that has always delivered and keep on betting on young, ambitious players. But, with so much time left before the end of the winter mercato, the recent signing of a 31 years old from the bottom-placed team and the club’s willingness to test unknown foreign players, who are closer to their 30′ than their 20’s, we might be only witnessing Dinamo’s desperation to get rid of the high-earners and intention to buy some more time to prepare another one or two important sales…
- Pandurii Targu Jiu – FC Brasov 2-1 (Pintilii 83 pen, Apostu 90 / Ilyes 68 pen)
Unbeaten in four games, Pandurii climb out of the relegation zone, thanks to the excellent work from new coach Petre Grigoras. This was a vital game for both clubs and there wasn’t much between two organized teams, until the first huge mistake from a poor ref. Unfortunately, things got worse, as he tried to make up for that error with another invented penalty, although there was a sense of justice in his action. Left with only 10 players on the pitch, after Pandurii equalized from the spot, Brasov failed to hold on to a point and are in the zone everyone had expected to see them, after they lost almost an entire team before the start of the season.
- CFR Cluj – Gaz Metan Medias 1-1 (De Zerbi 1 / Edimar 12 og)
Excellent tactical battle – as always, when Cristi Pustai is involved -, as Gaz Metan managed to cancel quickly a nice goal created by Bjelanovic, who has so much to offer to this team, thanks to his quality and experience. The equalizer came after a deflected free kick from Eric de Oliveira, who is right to feel angry that this was considered an own-goal, as he could have reached Steaua’s Bogdan Stancu at the top of the scorers’ list, with 10 goals in 16 rounds. Impressive stuff! CFR continues to lose very important points and should sound more convinced that they’re out of the title race, as this lack of realism will only do more harm in the near future. Read more…