Going to Turkey once, years ago, I was stopped at the security check on Ataturk airport and asked to go inside a booth for a body search. It never took place, as I’ve spent a couple of minutes talking about Hagi. And the officer there wasn’t even a Galatasaray fan…
They love him. They really do. And those who don’t sing their love for him, because they support Fener of Besiktas, respect him. I sometimes wonder if it’s the same in Romania. At times, I’m convinced we don’t. Experts in mocking those doing better than us, we’ve found Hagi’s weakness: his speech. Aware that a man so good on the ball can’t be that good with words, we laugh at his interviews. We’ve reduced his fantastic personality to some phrases. We’ve decided to ignore all his ideas and projects and have a good long look (and laugh) at his words. I admit, he can be funny. Hell, I even use one of his funniest expressions every once in a while, for a good laugh…
The question is: if I will ever have the chance to meet him, will I be able to find my words? Will I be able to avoid embarrassment and put together a few words? I hope so. At least three of them are necessary. Because I do love him for the fantastic player he was. And for the honest and humble person he is. And for blessing a nation with his skill and for the way he keeps forgiving us for laughing at his continuous attempts to keep on doing some good to Romanian football…
Today, the great man turns 49. La multi ani, Gica! We do love you, it’s just that, for some reason, we either don’t know or don’t want to show it…
Just to prove that “I told you so”, here’s a link on a piece I wrote back in January. Steaua’s U19 and U17 teams were coming after heavy defeats suffered at the hands of Hagi’s Academy and nobody at the club seemed preoccupied about the fact that, in 8 months time, the club’s work at youth level will be exposed in the UEFA Youth League. A competition that’s supposed to act as a platform for young talents, offering them a chance to gain invaluable experience and impress on the European stage, but not for the Romanian champions, who decided years ago that there’s no point in running a decent academy when the owner is rich enough to sign basically any young prospect that makes his way in the top flight and looks promising enough.
Well, the 8 months went by quickly and when the club realized that its’ image is at stake in the little brother of the Champions League, worked on an emergency plan. The management struck a deal with Gheorghe Hagi, who cannot hide his affection for the Bucharest club, and a one year long loan deal involving 6 of his players was agreed. The solution will certainly help the team trained by Ion Toma, but the young coach (who made a name for himself and got this contract after impressing in a highschool competition) is realistic enough to keep the expectation level extremely low: “We cannot kid ourselves, our goal is not to get thrashed, to avoid embarrassment.”
Toma isn’t that confident that the injection of quality from Hagi’s Academy can boost Steaua’s chances to do well against the likes of Chelsea, Schalke or FC Basel, but, in truth, he does get some promising faces under his command. Alexandru Tarnovan and Ionut Mitrita have already some first league appearances with Viitorul and, for me, take a big risk by giving up the chance to feature in more senior games this term, in Liga I, in exchange for six appearances in the UEFA Youth League. For their sake, the loan deal will allow them to return to Viitorul in the winter, as playing senior football at this age is vital for their development. Also, Robert Hodorogea and Bogdan Vasile are U19 Romanian internationals, and look consistent and reliable, qualities you don’t see that often in (Romanian) players of their age. Steaua also loaned from Targu Mures another good prospect, Razvan Stoica, while in goal they can count on Valentin Cojocaru, who has been training for a while with the senior team and looked close to a deal with Liverpool, not so long ago.
Still, Steaua’s U19 coach speaks from experience, as he has struggled to make his U19 team click in the previous season and now has little time to make this lot play as a unit. Maybe the help promised by Laurentiu Reghecampf, who will try to pass on his methods and also worke twice a week with the youngsters, can make the difference. Or, better said, can save face. I doubt that a club who has paid so little attention to its youth setup for so many years can trick teams who treated seriously the work in this sector, with just a little help from Hagi, who just found another purpose to his young Academy. Viitorul can even relegate from Liga I – it will qualify every year for the UEFA Youth League :)
Everybody was excited about the skinny forward from Constanta a few years ago and Inter moved quickly to get the signature of Denis Alibec, in spite of the failure to get anything out of Ianis Zicu, who was definitely more talented. I remember watching him playing for Romania’s U19, soon after his move to Milano, and his arrogance and selfishness were difficult to digest. Had a gut feeling he’s not going to make it and something similar I felt not long ago, when I’ve seen Chievo’s Adrian Stoian – praised in Italy for his quality and potential – pull on the yellow shirt nobody really seems to care about these days…
Years went by and Alibec failed to make it in Italy, although his performances with the nerazzurri’s Primavera certainly hadn’t gone un-noticed, Jose Mourinho wanting to have a look at the Romanian forward and offering him the chance to train with the seniors and even play. But, when everything seemed to go right, something changed the path of his career. He was sent on loan to Mechelen, in Belgium’s top flight, to get more experience among the seniors, but his difficult character was too much to deal with in what was supposed to be the quiet, calm environment that should have helped him blossom. Left the club after a fight with the coach and without a backup plan and a return to Romania, further away from the professional world, remained Inter only rehab solution. But Alibec isn’t surrounded by enemies and people who don’t see and appreciate his talents, as he probably thinks, and Gheorghe Hagi sacrificed a place in his newly promoted team, Viitorul Constanta, at the expense of one of his Academy’s better products (93 born Gavra barely got the chance to play last season). Alibec, “who seems to gain weight when he breaths”, played 23 matches in Liga 1 and, although his numbers might not be great, with 5 goals and 5 assists, he definitely impressed with a combination of physical strength and technical ability difficult to find in any other Romanian striker. This and Hagi’s word were enough for Steaua to really consider a move for him this summer, on condition Inter can be tricked to get nothing in exchange of what was considered now a player able to help the Bucharest side get into the Champions League’s groups stage. Talks were fueled by the press, but several Italian scouts were adamant the move would not go through, as “there’s interest for the player from the Serie A”.
They were right, Bologna moved for the 22 years old, who should have been more than happy at getting a second chance in Serie A. He’s not… “I’m sorry I have to leave behind my friends and my family. I hoped to be able to move to Steaua, but my faith is decided by Inter”, he stated to the press immediately after the deal was announced, without a second thought about the impact of his words on his near future. If a colder reception both from the staff, his colleagues and the fans should await in Emilia-Romagna, he should look back and think about his words. Or think about thinking before speaking. But the nightmare of having a second chance to impress in Serie A should not be long. He can wake up from it whenever he feels like it. It wouldn’t be the first time, he’s getting quite experienced at throwing away his chances to really make it…
After 3 years of hard work and many more millions invested in a football academy and a football club promoted to the top flight last summer, Gheorghe Hagi is ready to collect his first cheque and it could well be a player that has quite a few things in common with the man once nicknamed Maradona of the Carpathians. He’s a precocious left footed attacking midfielder who doesn’t feel the weight of the number 10 shirt nor the pressure of first division football at a young age, in the team with the youngest average age in the league, and has already netted 6 goals in 16 appearances, at the age of 18.
Tested by Ajax Amsterdam, who already has its expert eyes on the likes of Bogdan Tiru and Cristian Gavra – other two talents from Hagi’s Academy – and scouted also by Galatasaray, who could really sell the story of the King’s heir in Turkey, Iancu is now facing the biggest decision of his young career. In need of cash to continue the development of the Academy, as well as supporting the growing costs of a first division club, Hagi has decided to listen to any offers this winter and Steaua Bucharest was the quickest to table a sum close to what’s expected in exchange of a player that doesn’t pop up very often in this part of the world.
He started just like me, at a young age and in the sound of goals. He’s skilful and has the ability to make quick decisions. By doing so, Iancu looks quick in everything he does, although he’s not the fastest player around.
Gheorghe Hagi on Gabriel Iancu
“Steaua must now discuss personal terms with the player”, admits Hagi, who refuses to say that the race between interested clubs has now ended, but as far as I know, has demanded some guarantees that the youngster will be offered the chance to play for the senior team, so he can continue his impressive development. Hopefully, Steaua will keep its’ word, not only for Iancu’s sake, but also for the club’s image, more famous recently for wasting talent, rather than properly nurturing it…
FCM Resita – Universitatea Craiova – Ajax Amsterdam – AS Roma – Inter Milano. What’s next for Cristi Chivu, currently out of contract with Inter and caught between staying on a lower wage in Milano or moving away for a last, big deal. He’s 31 and never looked desperate to switch clubs, probably that’s why he’s still negotiating with the team he served since 2007. The injury to his head – which was probably decisive in his decision to retire from a national team that got him more criticism than praise in recent years – has also contributed to an even safer approach and I never trusted the rumor that he would leave Inter for Napoli. But now Galatasaray is on the cards and he is definitely considering it, although Turkish fans can suffocate you with their love, imagine what is on the cards, if things were to go the wrong way…
So, either a serious wage cut and a backup role in Stramaccioni’s Inter (totally deserved, for his below par performances in the last couple of seasons) or a salary and a contract length closer to his demands from Galatasaray, a club which offered the perfect, well deserved career-ending for two of Romania’s greatest players, Gica Hagi and Gica Popescu. A quiet life in Milano, where his family feels at home or a move to the passionate Istanbul, which would challenge not only him as a player, but also his family?
Chivu’s choice was already difficult, but Hagi stepped in and, after the 31 years old had a first talk with Fatih Terim, accepted to work as link between the player and the club he loves. Asked by The Emperor to help him “get to know Chivu as a person”, Hagi most likely had the nicest words about one of the best educated and well-behaved Romanian (and not only) footballers of the last decade: a family man, with a very quiet life, which unfortunately didn’t spare him from a serious a injuries that usually haunt a different type of players, who look to enjoy every minute spent far from the pitch.
But Hagi he also had a chat with the player and recently explained the way he sees things: “At 31, you need to feel that you’re still very important and he doesn’t have that anymore at Inter. I’ve spoken with Terim and Galatasaray would definitely need a defender like Chivu. The club’s interest in him is obvious.”
In my opinion, this would have had “done deal” written all over it since the first day Terim spoke with Ioan Becali, the player’s agent who easily finds a way to arrange things with Galatasaray, if it wasn’t for Chivu’s hope to continue with Inter. He obviously doesn’t want to do it for a too low salary given his age, but money isn’t enough to tempt him easily to Istanbul. This game of nerves could soon be over though, as Inter doesn’t want to move an inch above the offered contract and Gala worked even harder to persuade the player, pulling more strings and throwing on the table Hagi “The King”, a card that could value as the ace up Terim’s sleeve, just like in the good old days…
It all started three years ago, when the legendary Gheorghe Hagi started to develop his football academy, just outside Constanta. Three years and around 10 million Euros later, the results are outstanding and show that a serious approach to youth development will pay dividends. The Academy has now almost 30 players getting regular call-ups to Romania’s youth national teams (Alexandru Buzbuchi, George Serban, Adrian Putanu, Bogdan Tiru, Gabriel Iancu and Cristian Gavra – all recently involved in the Elite Round played by the U19 in Serbia, against the hosts, Germany and Hungary) and today another important event took place.
Viitorul Constanta, the platform offered to the growing talents of the Academy to prove themselves among the seniors, won 2-0 against Sageata Stejaru (goals by the young internationals Putanu and Iancu) in the last round of the Liga 2 season and earned a second consecutive promotion. The blue and white outfit will be playing first division football next season and it’s another fantastic achievement for Hagi’s club.
Of course, this is the real test for the project and Hagi must be strong enough to resist the temptation to try and fight the usual faces of the first division using their weapons. He needs to stay faithful to the excellent work done so far and keep on offering the chance to play at a higher level to the most talented 17, 18 and 19 years old from his Academy. Viitorul doesn’t need to do more than stay up in the clubs’ first season on this stage and should stay focused on the club’s main goal: promoting the excellent prospects who are already coming to age. There’s the risk of going back to the second tier after one year, but let’s not forget the not so old adventures of Sportul Studentesc, who even fought for the title a few years ago using only Romanian players – most of them very young -, a club Hagi’s quite familiar with…
He’s the last coach to have qualified with Romania at a final tournament. It happened in 2008, when Romania topped a qualifying group that included the Netherlands, with 9 wins, 2 draws and just one defeat (0-1 against Bulgaria), and travelled to the European Championship hosted by Austria and Switzerland. Interesting stat: of the 23 players selected for that tournament, only two have retired from football (Cosmin Contra and Florentin Petre), with Cristian Chivu and Mirel Radoi retiring this year from international football, but continuing their careers at club level.
Piturca, who had also a first brief spell with the NT between 1998 and 1999, wasn’t the Federation’s first choice, but Mircea Sandu failed to convince Gheorghe Hagi and had to settle for a coach who comes after two huge scandals at club level, with Steaua and the recently relegated Universitatea Craiova.
Piturca has a record of 62 games, 36 wins, 13 draws and 13 defeats, with 105 goals scored and only 46 against. He loves to play a 4-1-4-1 system, which isn’t far from what his predecessor, Razvan Lucescu, tried, but he likes to implement a possession game and determine the opposition to play a reactive game.
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…
He was meant to be the next big thing. After Hagi, obviously, and following the recent on-the-pitch footsteps of Adrian Mutu. He was not, failing badly in Italy and looking completely lost after the return from Serie A, where he was too poor to play, to Liga I, where he thought that he was way too good. Well, at 27, he’s the leading goalscorer, with 16 goals, and the man who keeps FC Timisoara in the title race. Still promising, right?
Born in Constanta, where Hagi, The King, had stepped into this world with his magical left foot, with the same ethnical roots (luckily, we don’t have only gypsies over here), Zicu was immediately spotted by the same guys that stood beside Gica in his playing career: the Becali brothers.
Ioan “Giovani” Becali had moved Adrian Mutu to Italy, back in 2000, convincing Massimo Moratti to invest heavily in a forward that was a goalscoring machine for Dinamo – the opposition was usually very kind with the Red Dogs’ forwards back then, as always! – and had enough influence to present Zicu to Inter’s owner at a very young age and with no real background.
In 2003, Ianis went to Milano, but left the impression that he was there to protect his valuable ankles, an attitude he simply failed to shake-off since then, no matter the name of his club, the importance of a game or the fans’ abuse, who, after his latest return to Dinamo, turned against the talented attacking midfielder.
Zicu looked again like a football player only at his third consecutive loan spell, in Rapid’s shirt, but Dinamo was the club he signed for in 2007, after Inter lost enough money and an incredible amount of patience. Three years of torment followed and he fell completely out of favor with Dinamo’s dismayed fans, who had every reason, at that time, to ask for a change of approach. He went asking for a move away and Timisoara (who’s a bitter rival, in the stands, but a good partner when it comes to transfers) stepped up and invested half of million euros, winning the race for his signature with Rapid.
Money very well spent by the Viola, who are now leading the standings, with eight rounds to go, and have in Zicu the player that makes the difference. With 16 goals in 21 appearances, he’s the best goalscorer in a league that was at risk to award the golden boot award to Bogdan Stancu, the striker who left to Galatasaray in the winter break. He is also responsible for Timisoara’s fantastic ability to come from behind: Dusan Uhrin’s men have done it an amazing 15 times this season and are currently undefeated, after 26 matches, with 13 wins and 13 draws in their account.
What’s interesting and also quite hard to explain is that Zicu’s attitude on the pitch hasn’t changed. He’s the same creative player looking for the fancy touch and desperate to avoid contact, plays in the same favorite role, on the left side of the attack, with absolutely no interest to help in defense, and for a team that feels the pressure to deliver results, given the fantastic support this club has when playing at home. Not to mention that, on a personal level, he’s not doing great either, losing his beloved mother two months ago, a moment that he wants to remind after each goal scored.
Nobody, really, saw this coming. A player who was only used to whine is now showing the properties of a good wine. But maybe this is where Zicu lived up to the initial expectations: he’s the sort of footballer able to surprise you, after all…
incredible amusing story was brought to my attention this morning via Twitter (you can find me there as rbaicu!) by a friend, who says that there’s a lot of talk in Turkey on a topic launched by a press agency. Apparently, Stancu had been offered on loan last summer, in exchange of 300.000 Euros, to a second division club.
Now, I’ve tried to Google-translate it, but that didn’t help much, so I can’t say who were the sources and how was the “story” created. What I can say is that it’s rubbish, as we’re talking about one of the hottest prospects in Romanian football, who was a key player at Steaua at that point, with a good record, no conflicts with the board or the staff & a decent salary. Why would Steaua let him go? His wage wasn’t a problem, the 300 k wouldn’t have made a difference, the destination had no chance to improve the player’s market value (Steaua was going to play in Europe in autumn) and didn’t involve a very tempting buying clause, at the end of the loan spell.
Does the article imply that Galatasaray paid too much for Stancu? Probably. Is this a topic that could hurt Hagi? Probably – it will happen every time a signing from Romania will play a poor game. The problem is that this story lacks both timing (Stancu plays well and scores goals) and that minimum amount of truth or credibility. Not that it’s my problem, though, it’s something that the Turkish fans are served probably very often. It just explains to me (and others?) why Hagi hits back at the media every once in a while, like he did in a press conference from January, when I was surprised with his frustration and was expecting to hear a different tone…