Undefeated in the league after 14 matches, Steaua’s situation might not look that bad from a distance, in spite of the club’s failure to impress in a Champions League group they’ve entered with high hopes. Still, the club is in a bad period and both the team’s performancea and results confirm it: Steaua struggles to win matches. In Liga 1, it happened last on October 27 (4 consecutive draws followed). In the Champions League, it never happened. Of course, an optimistic approach would be to note the fact that Reghecampf’s men are also hard to beat, with the last defeat dated on the first day on October, a 0-4 at home against Chelsea, but the Bucharest side is starting to look worried. The arrogance is gone and the horrible performance of the referee that helped Steaua earn a point away at Otelul last Sunday means the club is taking measures. Not the right ones, in my opinion, and this was the last thing we needed in a league that’s going from bad to worse each year…
Steaua’s recent decline, one than can be stopped quickly, with some good calls and some money spent during a winter break, but only if the club identifies its’ real issues and finds the right solutions:
- The team is weaker than last season: the departures of Chiriches and Rusescu, the long term injury of Chipciu and the fitness problems of Pintilii meant an obvious lack of quality, which wasn’t addressed through a clever transfer activity.
- Poor summer mercato. Steaua cashed in big on the above mentioned players, nailed a huge income from the Champions League, yet refused to spend enough and, in consequence, failed to invest properly to strengthen the team. Signing Pantelis Kapetanos, a striker the club had released on a free, without a second thought, a few years ago, was a stunning decision, just as spending around 1 million euro for Vaslui’s Fernando Varela, a defender signed to replace Chiriches, but who fails to even bother Florin Gardos, who stepped in admirably to partner Lukasz Szukala.
- Poor quality upfront – no wonder Steaua’s hard to beat, but struggles to win games, at the same time. There’s been some recent praise for Federico Piovaccari, but the striker loaned from Sampdoria has only 6 goals in Liga 1 and 1 in the Champions League. Behind him, usually operate Tanase, Stanciu and Popa, who netted… 7 times in Liga 1. Steaua desperately need Chipciu to regain his match fitness, but will also need to replace the likes of Kapetanos and Tatu with some real football players…
- Lack of hunger in most of the key players, who only think about their next move. Tatarusanu, the goalkeeper, Bourceanu, the captain, Georgevski, the regular right back, are entering the last six months of their current deals and they’re not going to stay. In turn, Steaua convinced Tanase to extend his deal, instead of finding a buyer for him and the inconsistent Latovlevici, as both players have reached a limit they obviously cannot break.
- There’s no more bad cop / good cop work within the club, with the owner still behind bars and the manager, Mihai Stoica, unable to be the good guy who can solve the players’ problems and ask from them to give back more, in return.
Five rounds before the end of the season and during the weekend that most of Romania celebrates Easter – obviously, a sign from God for Gigi Becali – Steaua is crowned champion once again, after a very long wait, a period which exposed all the faults of Becali’s dictatorial regime. Nothing radical changed in his hands-on and loud approach, it was just one of those years when everything fell into place.
Steaua’s spine became finally strong enough. From the keeper Tatarusanu, through the complementary pair of defenders, Szukala (great in the air) – Chiriches (excellent on the ground), the warrior-captain Bourceanu and to the free scoring Rusescu, finding the ideal eleven was always easy for Laurentiu Reghecampf. Nevermind the problems at right back, the poor form of Tanase or the struggle to identify a reliable centre-forward, with Latovlevici’s energy from left back, Pintilii’s discipline in central midfield and Chipciu’s quick runs from the second line of attack, there was always too much quality for a mediocre competition like Liga 1. And for those who doubted and argued, biased or not, Steaua delivered in Europe beyond expectations.
I remember one of Reghecampf’s first games as a coach, as he came to Ploiesti with FC Snagov for a match in the 2nd division. Someone else was officially in charge of the team, but everyone knew that Steaua’s and the national team’s former right back was running things. So, at the end of the game, when he gathered around all the players on the pitch and sent them for a few laps, he was the one who had to deal with the irony of the few fans that stayed behind. “You should have made them run before the final whistle!”, they shouted, but the young coach didn’t answer then. He did it in the following years, helping Concordia Chiajna pull out a miracle and avoid relegation in the second half of the previous season, but also during his first campaign in charge of Romania’s best supported club. Because his players do run. And, if this can be assigned to his German fitness coach, nobody can deny that the team is well organized, moves the ball quickly, knows how to react when cornered and can interpret different tactics and scenarios because of him. Besides that, he won quickly the affection of fans and players and, even more important, had the needed diplomacy to deal with Becali’s changing mood and hands-on approach.
He might be hugely unpopular among the fans of every other team in the country, but a lot of them would secretly want someone like Steaua’s Mihai Stoica in their club. His return to the Bucharest club – although he once said that he’d rather live on the streets, like a bum, than work again with Gigi Becali – has ensured the following: the team and the coach had protection from the owner’s often brutal intrusions, as well as the attacks coming from the opposition and some of the journos. “Becali’s little brother” has seen the job done and his presence has surely influenced the club’s performance and results this season, for which he was ready to go all the way. At times, way beyond the boundaries of respect, fair play, common sense. Outrageous for the rival fans and neutral spectators, admirable for Steaua’s supporters, MM’s behavior spearheaded and eventually won the psychological battle that goes on during a season…
Speaking of arrogance and offensive behavior, the club was quick to announce years of domination in Romanian football, but, for the good of the game, the level of the league will somehow manage to rise again at a decent level. This season, it was all too easy, with Dinamo and Rapid tormented by changes and financial struggle, CFR Cluj focused only on Europe and mediocre in Liga 1 and Vaslui without direction and the usual ambition from their wealthy owner. Plus, there’s a huge amount of uncertainty at the moment for the new champions: Becali’s yet to decide if it’s wise to cash in on some names or really go for it in the Champions League; Reghecampf has impressed and wants to play hard ball with Becali, having offers from abroad on stand-by; a number of key players (Tatarusanu, Chiriches, Latovlevici, Bourceanu, Rusescu) are on the shortlist of better clubs for some time now; the recent appointment of Daniel Stanciu in the club has fueled the not so silent war going on when it comes to selling and buying new players.
This final point could be the cause for more harm to Steaua than any other Romanian club could produce next season, but at the same time this state of alert, the constant tension can lead to good things. Keeping in mind that everyone involved in it keeps the club’s best interest above their own. Which, to be honest, rarely happens, and not only in football…
Everything’s going great for the Bucharest side: spending the winter break with a 12 points advantage over FC Vaslui, the closest serious title contender, dreaming of a double against Chelsea in the Europa League – stupid mind games played with Ajax, their first and most likely last opponent to meet in Europe, this spring -, and playing around with their top players’ transfer fees, in deals with little chances to go through during the current mercato.
Thanks to a quality roster that once again forms the back-bone of Romania’s national team and a young coach, Laurentiu Reghecampf, that got almost everything right in an excellent 2012, Steaua has every right to feel confident of winning their 24th title and the ultimate goal: playing once again Champions League football. Of course, preliminary rounds await, but UEFA’s prize money seem again in reach and nothing can Gigi Becali happier.
Well, UEFA has also prepared a surprise for the 2013/2014 edition and it’s not a pleasant one for Steaua. The UEFA Youth League, a competition that will offer the 32 clubs qualified for the Champions League group stage the chance to line-up their U19 teams for a European competition, will force the red and blue outfit to think again about investing some money in their youth setup. Becali himself stopped financing properly this vital area of the club some years ago, thinking that he can afford to sign basically every promising Romanian player that might come through. He was right, as Steaua bought indeed most of the hot prospects that proved themselves at smaller clubs in the first division, and the recent transfer of 18 years old Gabriel Iancu – the first important name to come out of Gheorghe Hagi’s Academy – underlines Becali’s financial strength, at least by Romanian standards.
In fact, it’s the man’s problem if he wants to spend more on players raised by others rather than investing less money and developing talent at his own club, but now Steaua could be in a difficult spot, as the club’s image will be at stake in the UEFA Youth League too, not just the Champions League. Not to mention that this competition could also be used to advertise and sale young talent…
I’ve watched Steaua’s U19 and U17 teams recently, outplayed and outscored by arguably the best Romanian club at youth level, Hagi’s Academy. Viitorul Constanta won 7-2 at U19 level and 4-0 at U17 level at the end of September and I felt it made no sense taking notes on more than two players from the visiting team. The teams are a mess and on such short term Steaua has no other option than to sign some talented youngsters in the summer, at least for the U19 squad. In fact, we could see the club change again its’ strategy, but I recall the last massive campaign of signing youngsters. It happened some years ago and Steaua signed a dozen youth internationals in a very short time, hoping to raise them properly in the reserve team and promote them in the top flight. Not a single one made it, with some promising careers destroyed by poor work and lack of interest at that time. A sign that Becali might have the cash, but surely lacks something vital at this level: patience and know-how.
After an impressive second half of the season with Concordia Chiajna, who managed to escape relegation under Reghecampf’s command, the young coach got the chance he was craving for: was offered the chance to take over the club he used to play for before moving to 1.Bundesliga and he took it with both hands. A one season long deal was signed a couple of days ago and he was already asked by Becali to lead the standings by 15 points halfway through the next season. A joke, of course, but one that Reghe should take very seriously…
Reghecampf follows Mihai Stoichita, his former coach, who stepped down as initially agreed, with Europa League football on the cards in the following campaign, after Steaua finished the league in third place, missing out both on the title and on the second placed that offered a ticket for the Champions League’s preliminary rounds.
It sounds quite bad, but actually Reghecampf steps in at a good moment. After recent investment, which brought the likes of Chiriches, Parvulescu and Chipciu to Ghencea – some of the brightest new & proven faces in Liga I -, Steaua has a big squad with plenty of quality players to choose from. The team needs mainly to find the right balance + to solve some problems at right back, in central midfield (where there’s a need for a creative player) and in goal, where Ciprian Tatarusanu either needs some serious competition or even a replacement, after an unconvincing campaign, not only in terms of performances, but mainly in terms of focus and determination.
Of course, the biggest problem isn’t related to the quality of the team available, but the constant interference of the vocal owner, who continues to undermine his investment, year after year. Making a wedding after a convincing win and a funeral after each defeat has seriously affected Steaua’s results in recent years and will probably have the same effect in the following season. It’s enough to have a look at Reghecampf’s record as a coach and see that so far he never stayed put in one place and completing a season with one team is a challenge for him even in a more quite environment. Add to that the huge pressure of the fans and owner and it’s very difficult to see the young coach staying in charge for the entire duration of his otherwise very short deal…
In 2008, Steaua needed a favorable result in Universitatea Cluj – CFR Cluj and the club’s owner, Gigi Becali, sent 1,7 million euros in a suitcase to Cluj, to offer extra motivation to the home team. Teia Sponte, one of Steaua’s officials, was caught with the valuable package and Becali ended up in jail for a couple of weeks, before being released and judged as a free man for almost four years. Accused of trying to bribe players, he defended himself by saying it was a reward, that it was money which would have lead to a better performance from a team, and after a very long trial he was recently declared innocent alongside all the others involved in the case. Among them, the current national team coach, Victor Piturca.
Of course, the story got a lot of coverage in the Romanian media and I’ll make an exception this time – as you noticed, I’m trying to stay away from all these extra-football stories here and focus on the game – because there is one angle all the journalists have missed. In 2008, when everyone came to court to answer the prosecutors’ questions, Piturca (among others) defended Becali when he was denying the accusations, and said that the suitcase wasn’t sent there to influence the result of the above mentioned match, but as payment for some real estate deal Becali was doing in Cluj. Is it only my impression that Piturca lied under oath? And, I’m not very good at this ;-), but isn’t it a crime to do so? I mean, in a normal, civilized country, not Romania…
It’s that time of the season again! The time when the title contenders feel they’re losing chances and the teams fighting to survival feel they’re losing hope. So they all go for the easiest way to “produce a positive shock” for the team…
Steaua‘s Gigi Becali was the first to move and he got rid of Ilie Stan after he managed to collect only one point from the games versus Targu Mures (0-1) and Gaz Metan Medias (0-0). Mihai Stoichita‘s return is such a bad idea, that the poor coach (well, not that poor, because he’ll train everywhere and in any conditions for the right price) has slim chances even to finish the current season. He has been successful in the past, but that’s old history. In recent history, he’s just someone who will obey the orders coming from above and who will try to win the league with Steaua, even though in autumn 2011 he was giving up a fight for survival with the current bottom placed team, CS Mioveni.
At the other end of the table, Petrolul Ploiesti has lost two “six-points games” against Concordia Chiajna (3-4, at home, after leading 3-1 with 7-8 minutes to go) and Ceahlaul Piatra Neamt (1-2, away, after another lead at HT – yeah, I know the odds for these kind of results…) and the manager Valeriu Rachita decided to take a step back and look for another solution on the bench. That solution is Gheorghe Multescu, an experienced coach who will have to perform a small miracle, as you can see for yourselves in the current standings.
The third move comes from Astra Ploiesti, a mid-table club that has one of the wealthiest owners in Liga I, Ioan Niculae. This guy has a history of bad choices when it came to turning his team into a contender for a place in Europe and Antonio Conceicao, who was sacked after only a couple of months in charge, is just the latest example. Now, Astra hired Mircea Rednic, a coach who won the league with Dinamo and Rapid, and also named in charge of the club a certain Dinu Gheorghe, former Rapid and FC Brasov president, who refused to get involved again with Rapid and also Steaua, earlier this month. That’s a very strong partnership, but knowing Niculae and also Rednic, I doubt this marriage is going to deliver and/or last…
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Steaua parted ways with George Galamaz, the centre-back who moved on a free transfer to Universitatea Cluj as soon as the competition stopped, but the former champion with Unirea Urziceni makes way to one of the most promising central defenders in the country.
Vlad Chiriches had signed with the red and blue outfit for a few months and the fresh Romanian international has now completed his move from Pandurii Targu Jiu. He teams-up with a certain Florin Gardos, a player who was basically at the same level a few months ago, but will hope for better fortunes, as Gardos has failed to regain his place in the team, after an impressive debut season.
The second finalized deal involves Alexandru Chipciu, a 23 years old wide midfielder, something Steaua definitely needed, but there’s an interesting issue here: Chipciu has played the majority of his games on the left side, a place occupied by Cristian Tanase, one of the highest rated players in Ilie Stan’s team. Just like Tanase, he’s also right footed, and there’s no way he was bought to compete with Steaua’s number 10. That would mean that the club just paid the reported 1,5 million Euros for a player who is not used to play on the right side of the midfield? Wouldn’t be too surprised, but those who expect an instant impact from Chipciu should have the common sense to offer him some time to adjust…
Wtith over 2 million Euros paid for 2 players, one in an area that was very well covered, Steaua needs some more money to make the team competitive. There’s a desperate need for a reliable right back, with Ifeanyi Emeghara unrealiable, Novak Martinovic not gifted for the role and Gabriel Matei out injured for a long period. There’s nobody in the centre of the park able to either play box-to-box or show at least some playmaking ability. Pablo Brandan, who’s just a versatile left back is now in the position to pull the strings in the middle, with Alexandru Bourceanu very hard working, but limited on the ball.
In spite of all this, Gigi Becali is now very close to adding a new forward to a team that definitely doesn’t lack options upfront. But, if he indeed gets FC Vaslui’s Wesley, one of the best players in the league, it’s worth the extra investment. This is the sort of buy that can provide an instant return in terms of result, exactly what Steaua needs in order to have a chance to make up for the 8 points gap currently separating them from the Liga I leaders, their arch-rivals, Dinamo.
- Galatasaray’s striker Bogdan Stancu will miss the vital game against Bosnia and joins Palermo’s Dorin Goian on the sidelines. Razvan Lucescu decided to call Ianis Zicu, who has finished the season as Liga I’s best goalscorer, with 18 goals, and was surprisingly left out of the squad by Lucescu Jr.
- Ioan “Giovani” Becali stated that Bogdan Stancu and Emmanuel Culio are part of Gala’s plans for the coming season, while Steaua’s former goalkeeper Robinson Zapata will be released this summer.
- Italian media speculates that Victor Becali’s trip to Rome won’t be strictly related to Stefan Radu’s new deal with Lazio, with Reja’s team interested in FC Porto’s Cristian Sapunaru.
- Former Lens coach Laszlo Boloni says that Gheorghe Hagi, who is tempted to return at Steaua, should remember how Becali humiliated him and refuse any proposal.
- Universitatea Cluj has decided to release three players: Alfonso Delgado, Danut Munteanu and Nicola Ascoli. Strange call on Delgado, considering that the Spaniard has featured in 28 matches last season, scoring 2 goals in the process.
- Recently signed by Rapid, on a free transfer, central defender Cristian Oros has been called up the national team, to cover for Goian’s absence. Oros is 26, has played for FC Brasov, where he has worked with the current national team coach. And, with Lucescu Jr. tipped to return to Rapid, once he resigns/gets the sack, it does makes some sense.
- Steaua is interested in getting the signature of Dorin Goga, a creative forward from FC Timisoara, who starts this summer the last year of his current deal with the Viola club. For the record, a few years ago, Goga was involved in the “Suitcase” scandal, being singled out as Steaua’s inside man, who spread the word that Steaua’s owner Gigi Becali has prepared 1.7 million Euros for Universitatea Cluj’s players, if they manage to stop CFR Cluj from winning the league.
- FC Sion’s George Ogararu said that he wants to end his career with Steaua. Still has two years on his deal with the Swiss club.
Gigi Becali, talking about Helmuth Duckadam’s legendary performance from the 1986 European Champions Cup final, when he saved four of Barcelona’s five penalties:
“The Holy Spirit kept telling Duckadam: <Dive to your right, dive to your right!>”
Without waiting to sign a contract with Steaua, Victor Piturca took charge right after the end of another poor season. Free to do everything he wants, as verbally agreed with the club’s desperate owner, Gigi Becali, “Piti” looked like a man who had solutions to the club’s biggest problems: the poor quality of the team, the huge row with the fans, the lack of professionals within the club.
Even though Becali wasn’t able to offer him the demanded 600.000 Euros per season and negotiated for half of that sum, he did agree to one important vital clause: he’ll refuse to talk with the media for 20 hours after the end of Steaua’s matches and avoid to make comments on Steaua’s players, opponents or referees. The agreement was that if Becali would “forget” about these restrictions, he will have to pay an important, but undefined at that time, sum of money. The project went on, with Piturca signing a temporary deal as the new season’s kick-off approached, while expecting the paperwork for his three years long deal to be finished. In the 59 days spent in charge of Steaua, the last coach who qualified the national team at a major tournament did a number of impressive moves, all for the good of the club, which had brought enthusiasm among the fans and in the team:
- he convinced Emerich Jenei, the coach that lead Steaua to the European Champions Cup, in 1986, to return as president
- he cleaned Steaua’s offices of Becali’s relatives and brought professionals in key positions, with a focus on Steaua’s former players
- he changed Becali’s decisions to reduce the costs and the activity of Steaua’s youth academy, as well as the planned closing down of the club’s marketing department
- he made peace with the fans by lifting all the bans dictated by Becali and inviting them back to Ghencea, where he decided that the 2 meters high fences that surrounded the pitch should be taken apart
- he bought 14 new players for 2,4 million Euros, raising 1,3 million from the sale of only 2 players: Ovidiu Petre and Juan Toja
- he started the league in style, with two victories out of two, coming back from 0-1 in both games, for 2-1 wins. The first game at home, versus Universitatea Craiova, was played in a stadium packed with enthusiastic fans that got behind the team in spectacular (and intimidating for the visiting team) fashion
Everything seemed perfect and Steaua was considered one of the main favorites to win the league, even though it was hard to believe that this completely new team won’t pay at some point for its lack of cohesion. The suprise came right after the second win of the season, followed by Becali’s first statements regarding the team and its players. His moderate comments (like the observation that Tatarusanu, the keeper, should have come out for a cross, at Universitatea’s goal) comparing with what he was used to say in the past angered Piturca, who announced on Thursday that he will not travel with the team for the FC Brasov game, unless the agreed deal will be finally signed. The clause was there, inflexible like its creator: if Becali was to talk again about the players or the team, he agrees to lose a property outside Bucharest with an estimated market value of 6-8 million Euros. It was the condition that determined the two friends to shake hands, but only as a farewell gesture, as Piturca cleared his office and asked his staff to resign on Sunday, the day after Steaua’s draw against FC Brasov.
“I agreed to offer Piturca maximum power at the club, but not bigger than mine” Gigi Becali, Steaua’s owner, brilliant in his stupidity, as always
It was a strange deal from the beginning, one that saw Victor Piturca staying in the dark and pulling the strings at a club that was in all kinds of trouble: poor results, average squad, no money to improve it, huge conflict between the fans and the board. The disbelief surrounding his return to Ghencea was as strong as the feeling that things will not work. Not because Piturca wouldn’t have been able to put together a winning team in a very short period. Or because the man is such a control freak that he thinks the manager’s role stretches from naming the club’s president to deciding what the players should serve for dessert. Or because he’ll prove a too expensive manager – as the whole world should know, nothing’s too expensive for Becali! Piturca left for one reason only. He realized that he won’t be able to reach a goal that was more ambitious than winning the Champions League, after his second season at Steaua. And that was shutting Becali’s mouth! Impossible is nothing? Think again!