Cristi Pustai is a maths teacher – a story I wrote for the outstanding IBWM can be found here – who’s pretty good at coaching football too. He took charge of Gaz Metan when this small club was struggling for life in the top flight and almost made it into the Europa League group stage. Yesterday, “The Professor” finished his fifth year on the same bench by preparing tonight’s game versus CFR Cluj, a difficult exam, with his team dangerously close once again to the relegation zone.
According to a stat from Gazeta Sporturilor, he’s been in charge for 1.827 days, which is not a lot by Premier League standards :-), but keeps him in first place, way ahead of all the other colleagues from Liga I. Otelul’s Dorinel Munteanu is in second place, with just under 1.000 days for the same club.
Pustai deserves the credit and to stand out like that in a league where only foreign coaches interrupt from time to time a disturbing and dubious rotation of the same mediocre managers between the top flight clubs. He’s been as ambitious through the rough patches as when the team reached its’ best form and refused to give up his calm speech and modest approach even when he was making history for a club he thought it was time to leave a year ago, when he felt the need of a new challenge. The club managed to convince him to stay, by offering exactly that. Ovidiu Hoban (one of the most underrated players in Liga I), Paul Parvulescu and Eric de Oliveira are all gone and keeping the current team safe really needs some top class coaching… Good luck, Teach!
With five team knocking at the door this season and some average opposition in most of the cases, Romanian football hopes to grab this chance by the throat and try another good season in Europe, where it can still send directly into the group stage of the Champions League the champion club, even its name is Otelul Galati.
Steaua Bucharest – CSKA Sofia
The game will be played in Cluj, as Steaua has been forced to abandon their stadium in Bucharest and, in spite of playing tonight in front of a lot of fans, they will look once again as if they’re playing away from home. The two clubs fought all summer for the signature of Brazilian forward Ribeiro Moraes, who decided in the end to play for CSKA, while the Bulgarians’ main threat is considered Liga I’s top scorer from last season, Ianis Zicu.
Steaua will field a decent starting eleven, but Levy still has a lot of work to do to get this team going, as it badly misses creative players in midfield, but relies on two quick forwards, Tatu and Mihai Costea, to make the difference.
Slask Wroclaw – Rapid Bucharest
During the weekend, Rapid deployed a surprising 4-4-2 against newly promoted Petrolul, a match which they struggled to win (1-0, goals scored in the 87th minute), but this might have been part of a strategy to deceive the Polish club. Razvan Lucescu knows how to approach such games and he was there when Rapid managed the club’s best ever performance in an European competition. I expect a return to a 4-3-3 with Romeo Surdu and Ciprian Deac on the flanks, a midfield trio formed by Iulian Apostol, Dan Alexa and Ovidiu Herea, but the player that has impressed the most is Marcos Antonio, the rock solid Brazilian centre-back, who will certainly play a big part especially in this first leg.
Vorskla Poltava – Dinamo Bucharest
Dinamo hasn’t changed under Liviu Ciobotariu and, if this team stands a chance to get a result, than the attacking line must produce at least a couple of goals. It has worked so far, but the away game versus NK Varazdin could have gone wrong in a lot of delicate moments. Dinamo cannot use the promising Marius Alexe on the left wing – accused by fans that he’s not playing as good as he can since Chelsea added his name on what is probably a very long shortlist – and will move there the experienced Catalin Munteanu. It might be good for him, as Munteanu has an excellent service and the veteran Ionel Danciulesc plus Dinamo’s captain Marius Niculae could use some quality balls upfront. All eyes will be once again on the dynamic little right winger Gabriel Torje, who catches the eye, but could also “catch a black eye” if he keeps playing by himself every single time he gets a pass in a good position.
FC Vaslui – Sparta Prague
Vaslui’s in a mess. They have finally scored, after four consecutive matches in which they had failed, but the win against newly promoted Concordia Chiajna has a cost: the Brazilian Adailton, who provided 3 assists in the 3-0 away success, is now injured and his name is added on a very long list. Team captain Wesley is suspended for this game, but coach Viorel Hizo has a depleated team, with central defenders Papp, Canu, Milanov and Gladstone injured, plus midfielders Pavlovic and Milisavljevic transfer listed and recently excluded from the team.
Austria Vienna – Gaz Metan Medias
Gaz Metan managed to survive in the double against Mainz, going through on penalties, but they will also face Austria Vienna against several first team players. In fact, Cristi Pustai has been forced to give up the impressive trio of supporting players for the lone striker, as Parvulescu and Munteanu are out injured and Brazilian key attacking midfielder and prolific scorer Eric de Oliveira is on the verge of switching clubs before the transfer window closes. It will all come down to Gaz Metan’s ability to defend, which can look average at times, and their luck to score at least once in tonight’s encounter, when they should be more dangerous on set-plays than on counter-attacks.
They had finished last season in 7th place, just missing out on a place in Europe, but Cristi Pustai’s men were rewarded in the end, as Gaz Metan Medias was granted the access to the Europa League preliminary rounds after FC Timisoara failed to get a licence and was withdrawn from Europe as well as the Romanian top flight.
Gaz Metan will face on Wednesday KuPS Kuopio, a Finnish club now lying in 7h place in the league, in a game that will mark the club’s debut in the European competitions.
“We’ve been working to get here for the past 4 and a half years”, said the Maths teacher that has recently agreed to continue his work at the club, although a few months ago he was hinting towards a move away from Medias, considering this the end of a cycle.
In my opinion, he’s intelligent enough to find ways to continue the development of this small, yet serious club, and this European adventure should bring enough motivation in a group of players that hasn’t gone through major changes, Pustai sticking to the right kind of strategy in a transfer market that needs a lot of work and some investment, in order to add quality, not quantity.
Gaz Metan’s “major” sigining is Ciprian Petre, a 30 years old winger, who should have done better in his career, but could still add something to this team. He likes to play on the left side, but is right footed, so Pustai could use him on both flanks, even though I believe his aim is to try and develop the talented Paul Parvulescu in a role that suits him better. Used a lot as a left winger, Parvulescu has the potential to become a very good attacking left back and Medias could have a very dynamic and dangerous duo on that side, if these two little guys connect.
These European games should also test the quality of Brazilian ace Eric de Oliveira, who has tried everything to move forward in his career, after proving himself in Romania, but Gaz Metan’s staff somehow managed to trick him into signing a new deal.
The 25 years old attacking midfielder has scored an amazing 15 goals and provided a dozen assists last season, compensating the absence of an efficient goalscorer, and I expect him to be raring to go in Europa League, hoping to convince on this stage even better than he did in Liga I.
Two other players to keep an eye on: the skipper Cristian Todea and Florin Bratu. Both are way past their prime, but would love a classy final show. Todea is a vital player in the middle, one of the best anchormen in the league for years, while a well prepared Bratu should definitely enjoy the service he can get from Gaz Metan’s talented dwarfs: Eric de Oliveira, Alex Muntean, Paul Parvulescu and Ciprian Petre.
Those who have read my blog know that I have the utmost respect for Gaz Metan’s manager, Cristi Pustai, who did a great job in creating this team from scratch and ensuring a constant progress, turning a second division club into a serious contender for a place in Europe, without spending a lot of money and with the calculated moves you’d expect from a Maths teacher.
Today, when his club officially presented Florin Bratu, the forward released by Dinamo Bucharest and in-demand not just in Liga I, he might have done the sort of move that could help him finish his project. 31, not exactly in top shape – has tried to regain match fitness in Bulgaria, in the first half of season, after a nasty injury – Bratu boasts enough quality to solve the team’s biggest problem. Without a natural goalscorer since Bud’s transfer to CFR Cluj, Pustai had to rely on Eric de Oliveira, the Brazilian playmaker, who is spending his last season in Medias. Bratu’s arrival, who should fit perfectly into Gaz Metan’s counter-attacking style, should add the much needed extra-dimension and it would be great if the club will have the chance to keep Eric until the end of his loan from Metropolitano, as this team could do a lot more damage in the second half of season.
Although some say he’s past it, Bratu, who scored 43 goals in 115 Liga I matches, collected 13 caps with the national team and played abroad for Galatasaray, Nantes, Valenciennes and Litex Lovech, could finish his career in style here. Famous for the excellent pace and ability to find the net with placed shots, he should benefit from the excellent work ethic within Gaz Metan’s squad and deliver in the delicate moments, having the experience and the composure to play under pressure. And, hopefully, help this small, but well organized club get a taste of European football next season.
When Cristi Pustai decided to hang up his boots and grow a beer belly , he chose a path no other ex-footballer with money, cars and hot chicks on his mind would have dared to step foot on. He decided to teach maths in highschool and his return to the game he had abandoned after a rather modest career as a striker was very similar to the always sudden appearance of a teacher in class, after recess: he found everyone out of place, talking very loud, with some preoccupied to “study” in a couple of minutes what they should have prepared at home and the others playing the so-called mind games that, in the absence of a brain and a solid education, ends up in useless and grotesque abuse.
It was a class of boys who once were very good in practice, but who are now terrible when they have to explain the theory. And you can see the results in a league that might look like a tight affair, with everyone prepared to defend their ground and the points at stake, but, in reality, it’s only a physical battle (too) often decided by a terrible mistake, not by some special individual or collective move. It’s Liga I, the competition that highlights Pustai’s intelligence and ability to think outside the box of how to get the ball inside the penalty box and in the net. Thanks to his work, Gaz Metan Medias is pushing for a place in Europe, in spite of some fierce competition, which often goes overboard, leading to some strange to terrible refereeing decisions, as well as the dreadful suspicions of a fixed match every once in a while.
“Maths is what remains in the back of your head, after you’ve forgotten everything else. It helped me in my coaching career as well – it created some shelves, where I deposit all my gathered data and keep my knowledge well organized” Read more…
Name: Eric de Oliveira Pereira
Position: central attacking midfielder
Height/Weight: 176 cm/76 kg
Club: Gaz Metan Medias
As I expected, Gaz Metan looks prepared for a good season, under the guidance of the excellent Cristi Pustai. The addition of the promising Admir Aganovic and the chance offered to Paul Batin to prove himself in Liga I (bought by CFR after an oustanding season in the third division, played well last year in Liga 2 for UTA) should solve the striker’s problem, but, in the meantime, the Brazilian playmaker stepped up and bought the needed goals. Almost all of them, as Eric netted 6 of Gaz Metan’s 7 goals, with three consecutive braces! Last Sunday, he decided the difficult away game versus Astra, scoring from the spot for the opener and adding a second after a string of wasted opportunities. His excellent start of season will make it impossible for Gaz Metan to extend a deal that will expire next summer, a club that has no other option than pray that no one will meet the Brazilian’s very affordable release clause of 350.000 Euros and that Eric’s loyalty will keep him focused and determined, as long as he stays in Medias.
Name: Eric de Oliveira Pereira
Position: central attacking midfielder
Height/Weight: 176 cm/76 kg
Club: Gaz Metan Medias
With a release clause of just 300.000 Euros, an average transfer fee by Liga I standards, Eric can still hope of a move to a bigger club than Gaz Metan Medias, although I expect this disciplined team to fight for a place in Europe this season, under the guidance of an excellent coach, Cristi Pustai. His first performance of the season couldn’t have gone un-noticed and I bet there are a couple of clubs that think of the little Brazilian as a surprise move right before the mercato period closes. He’s the type of creative midfielder who drops into space, where he likes to be played ball into feet and either start surging runs through the middle – working on one-twos that could release him behind the defense – or look for a through ball for the front man. Unfortunately, Gaz Metan have lacked a decent centre forward since Bud left the club to join CFR Cluj, and this season’s hopes have been invested in a certain Admir Aganovic, a 24 years old from Bosnia, who didn’t impress in his first appearance for the club. So there’s a chance that the little Brazilian could do a lot better if surrounded by quality players, who would offer him options to develop the attacks and keep him involved for 90 minutes. Against the newly promoted Victoria Branesti, this Ronaldinho look-a-like and wannabe, who scored 11 goals in 55 appearances in Liga I, offered some classy moments, which compensated his habit of disappearing from games, for quite long periods. He stepped up and cooly converted a penalty, opening the score, then put the result beyong any reasonable doubt, with a “made in Brazil” finish (keep an eye on the man with the assist, Alex Munteanu!). So, I’m not sure if he could make an impact at a bigger club right now (lacks consistency), but I’m convinced Gaz Metan would struggle without him and shoud give up any hope of finishing in the upper part of the standings, if he leaves.
• 10 years of continuous work in scouting, for top clubs and companies;
• Worked for clubs like Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Hannover 96, monitorring the Romanian market;
• Worked for Birmingham based company 'The Scouting Network' (www.tsn.co.uk) as a football scout;
• Worked for Zurich based company Boutique Football as a scouting network coordinator;
• International scout for Young Boys Bern for 2 years, covering Eastern European football.
• Currently working as an international scout for a top French club, covering Eastern European football.
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