Mihai Nesu‘s everyday life is a physical struggle after the horrific accident suffered years ago, but his intelligence and passion for football are still in one place. So, it’s not pity what got him the job as a video analyst for Universitatea Cluj from the new coach in charge, George Ogararu. It’s just something you can’t find these days (actually, for decades) at his former club, Steaua Bucharest: true friendship and respect from an open-minded person in charge.
To both of them I sincerely wish the best of luck. And let’s just secretly keep our fingers crossed for Universitatea Cluj, no matter the team we support. There’s a spirit within that club strong enough not to be perverted by the promise of quick success brought to town in recent years by CFR, a spirit that sets this club apart and gestures like Ogararu’s just fit right in…
Steaua lost their captain, Petrolul signed Mutu, Astra gets Romanian backup from Serie A – all eyes have been on the front three this winter and there’s enough excitement as the restart of the league nears. With two games in hand to be played in February, Steaua will probably rearrange order at the top before the former rivals from Ploiesti get to play their first official matches, but it should only make things more exciting. So here’s a look at the good and bad moves from this season’s title contenders:
Important players in: Claudiu Keseru (Bastia), Lucian Sanmartean (FC Vaslui)
Important players out: Alexandru Bourceanu (Trabzonspor)
With two games in hand, which will be played before the restart of the league, Steaua not only has the chance to get back on top of the standings, but also to be the first to get used to official matches. It will surely come handy, as the Bucharest side had a terrible pre-season, as far as results are concerned.
With just one important loss, the captain Bourceanu, sold for a handsome 1.4 million euro fee, difficult to obtain for a player running out of contract, Steaua only hopes to regain the fitness level and enthusiasm that impressed the most in Reghecampf’s regime, as the winning team is still there: a reliable keeper, a solid back four, the intelligent Pintilii, the number of offensive choices to rotate in search of the best output…
Signed from Bastia, Keseru should add competition and quality upfront, in spite of the media’s haste of labelling him as a flop based on his pre-season performances, ignorring the fact that very few players actually impressed for Steaua during their two training camps on Spanish soil. The late signing of veteran winger Lucian Sanmartean is though a sign of fear, but, at the same time, Steaua’s fear should be a concern for their title rivals, who could have done with a more relaxed reigning champion…
Can go well if… Steaua was just a machinery running out of gas.
Can go bad if… The motivation isn’t just the same. Too many regular starters will be thinking about the summer mercato. The defense will be left only with the protection of Pintilii, as Reghecampf has enough reasons to replace the departed pitbull with a more offensive midfielder.
Important players in: Paul Papp (Chievo), Denis Alibec (Inter/Bologna), Laurentiu Iorga (Otelul Galati), Stefan Popescu (Ajaccio)
Important players out: -
Not rated among the contenders at the beginning of the season, Astra managed to gain a lot of points and respect during the first half of season. The wealthy owner and an old fox in charge of the club have made up for the coach’s lack of experience with a winning team, which can still come to work against the club as the finish line will get closer and the pressure will reach levels never touched before by Daniel Isaila and most of his players.
Still, Astra’s winter mercato has been solid, with two Romanian players with a point to prove brought back from Serie A clubs and all the key players kept on the roster without problems. The squad looks stronger, is hungry for success and looks surprisingly relaxed. With no pressure from the fans or the media, the club recently moved from Ploiesti to Giurgiu, already played Steaua twice, failing to defeat the champions, but their strength has always been to crush smaller opponents
Can go well if… The chance to go all the way will keep on inspiring the team & won’t instill fear. The inexperienced Daniel Isaila has that special something to take up such a challenge and see it through. Budescu will create play and score goals at the same rate as in the 1st half of season.
Can go bad if… The owner won’t be able to control his level of interference.
Important players in: Adrian Mutu (Ajaccio), Ianis Zicu (Gangwon), Gerson Ferreira (Ferencvaros), Toto Tamuz (Ural)
Important players out: Hamza Younes, Alexandru Benga, Ferebory Dore (all to Botev Plovdiv), Damien Boudjemaa (Slavia Prague)
Mutu’s arrival was the winter mercato’s big and unexpected hit. Image, mood, perspective – all changed for Petrolul, but things are not as bright after one month, with the financial support of the Local Council currently on hold, some interest from abroad in Cosmin Contra’s work and an intense transfer activity that can work both ways… Petrolul might have signed one/two (falling) stars, but was forced to sell a proven goalscorer like Younes and no less than 3 other players who, for bad or worse, did play an important part in the team’s excellent 2013.
With fantastic support and a winning aura at home, Petrolul will have to do better on the road and start turning more draws into wins. The extra class in their attacking midfield might help out, but will the defense be able to hold on?
Can go well if… Mutu and Zicu will be in the mood to show their class. The away form will improve. The attack will compensate for the defensive fragility and lack of backup.
Can go bad if… Financial problems will surface right away and the ownership won’t be able to hide them well enough until the summer. The lack of a balanced squad (poor backup un the flanks, average quality in central defense, no proven goalscorer available for the lone striker position) will be exposed.
Using a list of players who’ve entered the last year of their current contracts published by GSP, I have decided to put together a best eleven that might prove useful even for some clubs who had no time or interest to scout properly Liga 1. We have national team players, players who won the title or who are fighting for it, who impressed in the Champions League, and it will be interesting to see the type of clubs willing to take a risk. Somehow, I get the feeling that most of good foreign clubs look at players from Romania as a big gamble – lack of proper scouting, as I said :) – so in this case we’re talking about either small stakes in January or almost free bets in June. It can’t get better than that, can it?
Goalkeeper: Ciprian Tatarusanu
Definitely one of the most interesting “cases”, don’t see Steaua able to go down the sentimental road with this guy and get him to sign another deal. Looking at times laid back, lacking intensity and passion, Tatarusanu will surely take this opportunity to leave and having a national team regular up for grabs (his best years are yet to come) should be tempting enough for some decent clubs from abroad, even though we all agree that we’re not talking about a really good national team, in this case… :) Good keeper, experienced, tested at all levels, Tatarusanu will probably stay with Steaua until June, unless there will be some decent money on the table in January.
Right Back: Alexandru Matel
It was a difficult choice for this position, considering that Petrolul’s Jean Sony Alcenat is in a similar situation and the Haiti international is, by far, the best attacking right back in the league. Matel is younger, though, a regular in Romania’s senior team and has put behind an injury that halted his development for a while. He’s just as good at the back as he is when going forward and, although he’ll probably never reach a top level, has a tempting package to sell at a discounted price. He’ll need a good offer though, considering that Astra’s owner is reacher than Steaua’s and (still) a free man, pushing his club towards the first trophy…
Central defender: Felice Piccolo
Club: CFR Cluj
Not a fan of the Italian centre-back, but you know what you get with this guy: sound tactical knowledge, a good professional approach, no nonsense style of defending. If you want a bit of pace, some quality on the ball and more hunger to impress, you’d have to look elswhere.
Central defender: Dragos Grigore
A solution for Romania’s national team. Always Dinamo’s alternative for wearing the arm band. Never a central defender to put together a string of eye catching performances, but, in truth, he’ll rarely disappoint either. Reliable might be the right word to describe this quiet, honest defender, and I would have seen him too shy to move away for the Bucharest side. Luckily for him, Dinamo is refusing to pay tempting salaries under the new management, so anything at all that might come from abroad through his agent will look too good to turn down…
Left Back: Guilherme Sitya Haubert
We might be talking for the best left back in Liga 1 and – even though there’s an obvious lack of quality on this position – this guy should have no problems finding another club and a bigger salary. Can’t see Petrolul holding on to the small Brazilian who pushes forward at ease and brings quality upfront for 90 minutes, considering that they’ll be wasting their money on a player with no future, like Adrian Mutu, so the club that already got Guilherme’s CV (his agent has been busy, trust me) and has been impressed might find it easy to get a deal done.
It’s hard to believe that Steaua allowed this to happen, but there’s a big chance that the captain will admit, just like Tatarusanu, that it’s a rare occasion (probably the last) to move abroad to a decent club and on a better wage. Bourceanu looks passionate, dedicated, playing with his heart even against a third division club in the Romanian club, but I often had the impression that his leadership was a bit faked. His instructions and gestures looked good on camera, but watching his colleagues, I have to say I’ve rarely seen them impressed or inspired. Nevertheless, we are talking about an aggressive, hard working, no nonsense pitbull, who did improve at Steaua, but not that much to get the attention of a good, ambitious clubs from an important European league. He should have quite a number of offers, but is he really as confident as he tries to look? I’d put a dollar on him taking up Steaua’s generous offer to extend… :)
Defensive midfielder: Gabriel Giurgiu
Club: Otelul Galati
He had his chance to get more money and see what’s out there, beyond Liga 1’s borders, but for some reason Giurgiu returned quickly from Rubin Kazan. A regular for Otelul Galati, helping the club write history and win the league under Dorinel Munteanu’s command, Giurgiu is a decent option for a club looking for an experienced hard working midfielder, who can play box to box if asked, who can still play at his best for a couple of years.
Right winger: Laurentiu Iorga
Club: Otelul Galati
One of the players I enjoyed watching a few years ago, Iorga was quite often linked with Steaua, but Otelul kept asking for the moon. In truth, his development stalled and in my opinion he’s playing below his potential. Definitely needs to move away from the club he served since 2007. He’s quick, suited for a counter-attacking team and, with some guidance, should be able to chip in more than 5 goals a season in the right team and the right league…
When the Portuguese attacking midfielder scored a hattrick against Braga in the Champions League, CFR’s owner probably congratulated the management for this shrewd signing. Now, in theory, there should be a more tense atmosphere in Cluj, with the player able to move on a free transfer next summer. In theory… In truth, the player has some consistency problems and never managed to influence games that didn’t seem exciting enough and, when the few top games from Liga 1 came, he was just as bad as the team that seems unable to get back to winning ways…
Left winger: Lucian Sanmartean
Club: FC Vaslui
Oldest guy in the team, lacking hunger, but surely desperate to move away from Vaslui. He’s probably the only skipper in the world resented and criticized by the club’s owner almost on a weekly basis. Apart from all that, Sanmartean IS the best dribbler in Liga 1, a gifted winger who can break the lines and decide games, a player I would like to see playing against his current club. Unfortunately, Vaslui is no longer among the “elite”, so the former Panathinaikos player can only hope and look for an exotic, well-paid last stop in a career that could have been great, but ends up just average. Such a shame, really…
Striker: Thaer Bawab
Club: Gaz Metan Medias
Have to say that Liga 1 lacks quality strikers, so it’s hard to find a good one, especially on a free, but Bawab has something hard to find around here: the ability to take out his direct opponent using both pace and skill. He scored 10 goals in the previous season and rarely played in this one, scoring just once. Can play upfront alone or supporting the main striker and, could be a decent rotation player, but I can’t see a Romanian club – better than Gaz Metan – interested in his services…
The rivalry between Steaua and Dinamo might have been created by the communist regime, but it lasts way beyond that dark period, when the two clubs were wrestling for trophies using all means at hand. Now, it’s all about financial strength and it was no surprise to see Dinamo struggle to keep up with Becali’s high investment in players (and the great decade of Arpad Paszkany’s CFR Cluj), but the gap seems to get bigger with every season.
After a long process, the Red Dogs finally changed ownership and Ionut Negoita decided to try and hurt Steaua using a wiser and cheaper plan, aware that he lacked the financial strentgh to fight Steaua on the transfer market: Dinamo was ready to invest small money and pay low wages for young players with potential to follow the path of Marius Alexe or Constantin Nica, both raised by the club and sold this summer to Serie A clubs. That required some good work in scouting and recruiting, top coaching and a lot of patience. Well, after 8 rounds, when Negoita decided to release the experienced coach Gheorghe Multescu, as “the team needs a wake-up call”, it became clear, at least to me, that the Bucharest side lacks all of the above… And that Dinamo’s bosses didn’t read Soccernomics :), a book that makes some interesting points regarding how much can a coach raise the level of a team or how much results depend on the wages the players are getting…
In truth, it wasn’t Multescu’s fault that in this first couple of months Dinamo struggled, looked average most of the times and promising once or twice. The work in recruitment was extremely poor, with unproven African players (Fai, Zougoula, Pape), rejected Romanian players (Grecu, Mardare) and poor foreign players with some experience in Liga I (Durimel, Thomas, Hasanovic) unable to add quality. Some promise arrived from the youth team, as Romania U19 international Dorin Rotariu netted his first goals in Liga 1, and maybe this is Multescu’s only fault: he gave more credit to the club’s new signings rather than to the 17-18-19 years old raised in the club’s youth system. And, having seen them, I can say that there’s more talent there than on a transfer market Dinamo has no ability to exploit.
Apart from that, it’s all down to the management, who asked for a reconstruction, but also for a European spot at the end of the season. In light of this firm goal, Multescu was on the wrong path, having collected 9 points in 8 rounds, but how can you ask for both, considering that Dinamo has failed repeatedly to finish among the top teams in recent years, when there was no reconstruction in place? That’s just nonsense and the new coach, the inexperienced Flavius Stoican, will realize it soon enough. Dinamo’s problem is that the new board won’t…
Romania’s national team might be a joke, but you won’t feel like laughing if you look at those coming from behind, currently playing for the youth national teams. You just realize that it’s going to be a long time before you’ll see once again Romania playing at a decent level. Recently, the U16 coach, Adrian Bumbescu, has been sacked for some terrible results, including a 1-10 defeat to the
hands feet of the mighty Germans, and similar heads could continue to fall, but that won’t solve the main problem: the national team coaches (we could have better ones than those selected on dodgy criteria) get their players from the (not so) professional league and clubs. And those do little to nothing when it comes to nurturing and promoting young talent…
Because the sport newspapers are busy reporting Becali’s life behind bars and the drinking adventures of Gabi Tamas, I have to do that little bit of extra work to give you an idea about this. With the season over, I have looked at every Liga 1 club that had either very little or absolutely nothing to fight for in the last few rounds and this is an overview of the U20 players (would have had very little to write, if I had restricted the research to the U18 category) promoted and used in the final part of the campaign. Beware, the results are frightening…
- FC Vaslui
Final position: 5th
1. Alexandru Buziuc – born 1994, played 2 games as a substitute, for a total of 43 minutes spent on the pitch.
2. Adrian Nenita – born 1996, was offered a debut in the last round. Played 2 (two) minutes.
Final position: 6th
1. Alin Roman – born 1994, played 1 game. To be more accurate, played 17 minutes.
2. Dorin Rotariu – born 1995, played 7 games, but was a starter just once. In the other 6 games, was on the pitch for less than 20 minutes. Without any logic, he wasn’t used at all in the last 3 rounds…
3. Andrei Radu – born 1996, was offered a debut in round 32 and stayed just under 30 minuted on the pitch.
- FC Brasov
Final position: 7th
1. Florin Dumbrava – born 1995, was handed a debut in round 33 and played 14 minutes.
2. Rares Enceanu – born 1994. Made his debut in the top flight two seasons ago. In this one, played 4 times as a substitute, each time less than 30 minutes. Was among the starters only once and he scored 2 goals in that game. Obviously, in the following round, he was just a substitute again (we don’t want him to get too confident!) and played just 12 minutes…
- CFR Cluj
Final position: 8th
The former champion club and finalist in the last edition of the Romanian Cup didn’t use a single U20 player last season.
- Rapid Bucharest
Final position: 9th
1. Nicolae Vasile – born 1995, played 90 minutes 11 times this season.
2.Alexandru Ionita – born 1994, played 11 matches and was among the starters 5 times.
The use of these players came mostly as a consequence of Rapid’s bankrupcy and the reality that the team will be relegated at the end of the season, with no money or first team players…
- Gaz Metan Medias
Final position: 10th
Not a single U20 player used in the final part of the previous season.
Final position: 11th
1. Alexandru Tudorie – born 1996, played 32 + 12 minutes in the last two rounds. You do the maths, keeping in mind that this one is considered the hottest prospect of his generation.
- Universitatea Cluj
Final position: 12th
Champions of the U17 championship in the summer of 2012, Universitatea didn’t field a single U20 player in this second part of the season, although the club has the same fate as Rapid.
As you can see, I have not included here the clubs that fought for a place in Europe and those who battled against relegation. I went for clubs that had nothing left to fight as the end of the previous season approached, yet they simply avoided to hand debuts and offer playing minutes in Liga 1 to their most promising youngsters. These guys, some of them quite talented, have no other option than to play in the (terrible) youth league until they turn 19, afterwards, their only chance is to convince a coach that they’re ready to play senior football. So few of them make this step not only because most of the averafe quality of the majority, but because of a terrible mentality installed in football clubs, fueled by very poor coaches, who prefer the mistakes of mediocre older (foreign) players over those made by kids who “lack experience”. The youngsters have only one chance to change this: fake their ID’s like most of the African players, but in a different way: try to look a bit older!
If teams like Steaua or CFR do their best in Europe to make the Romanian league more credible and attractive for those reluctant to look this way, those who run the game always find a way to destroy all these efforts. In a grim period, with important clubs and cities forced to abandon the top flight mainly for financial reasons, the main topic is how Liga 1 will look next term. We had four teams relegated, while two others, Rapid and Universitatea Cluj, failed to get the license. It might like we’re down to 16 from 18, but it’s not that simple, not in this part of the world.
Universitatea made an appeal in Lausanne and might overturn the decision, avoiding relegation, becoming the 17th eligible club. So, two scenarios are on the table: reducing the league to 16 teams, in case Cluj won’t make it, or finding a way to keep the current format. Of course, time doesn’t seem an ally at this point, with less than a month before the kick-off of the new season, but a recent gathering of those running the so called Professional League (LPF) and the Romanian Federation (FRF) stated the contrary. The leaders of the two organizations ended up arguing and came to no conclusion at the meeting held earlier this month. Instead of organizing the league, they ended up re-scheduling the whole thing. The date: 6th of July. To be more precise: two weeks before the first official matches of the new season. It’s not too late, as you might think. Here’s the president of the Federation, Mircea Sandu: “There’s plenty of time. I advise all the clubs in doubt about the league they’ll be playing next season to be prepared for everything.” Indeed, they should: one or two of the four relegated clubs could be granted the right to stay in Liga 1. If there’ll be need for just one, a playout could take place. Again, don’t worry about the lack of time, there’s plenty: “We could even arrange it on the 20th, when the league starts”. Yes, that was still Sandu, also known as The Godfather, making another small joke. Put all those together and you’ll have the picture of what has become Romanian footie under his and Dragomir’s (nicknamed Corleone) reign: one big, bad joke…
Ioan Niculae, the wealthy owner of Astra Giurgiu, has struck again. After getting rid of Bogdan Stelea without elegance and professionalism, Niculae decided to cut the wings of someone who has been near the club for the last two decades, who had stepped in at a difficult time last year and had proved himself up for the job. Two defeats in a row this year counted more than the second place Astra still sits in, with a two points advantage over the former local rival from Ploiesti, Petrolul, and Valentin Sinescu must leave.
Sinescu, a veteran assistant coach, with an elegant, fancy speech, often too complicated for both players and even journalists, was earning around 2.000 euros per month after taking charge of the first team towards the end of October 2012 and was promised to stay at least until the end of the season “because he was loyal. He’s been with us for 20 years, didn’t ran away like others!”. The words came out of Niculae’s mouth not long ago, when Astra was reaching the 2nd spot, a record for the small club that still has a big chance of making into Europe. I, for one, doubt it will happen under the command of a mediocre Marin Barbu, the guy assigned Technical Director in December and now named in place of Sinescu, Astra’s fourth coach in the current campaign…