The first experience as a coach ended badly for Bogdan Stelea, one of the members of Romania’s golden generation. The bald, strong ex-goalkeeper, nicknamed Arnold back in his playing days, lost only one game during his four-games tenure at Astra Giurgiu (former Astra Ploiesti – the club will change cities this autumn) and was probably surprised to hear that he will have to pack after a second consecutive draw against a newly promoted club.
Defeated by Steaua (3-4) after a win away at Gloria Bistrita (2-1), Astra drew 0-0 vs Viitorul Constanta and, yesterday, 1-1 vs FC Severin, two disappointing, but not terrible results, which kept the team in mid-table, its’ favorite place in the standings. Stelea took part of the blame saying there’s still a lot of work to be done for this newly assembled team, a phrase misunderstood by Ioan Niculae, the club’s owner, who went on air during the same TV show and attacked his coach for branding Astra as a… newly promoted.
Niculae – who’s the wealthiest club owner in Romania, but one who must love mediocrity! – got so carried away during the interview that he went further, in a land that has nothing to do with a professional approach in football. “If Stelea thinks Astra is a newly promoted, then he should start looking for a new place to work. We’re the worst team in Liga I. That’s it, Stelea is sacked!”. If this wasn’t enough, a look at the guests of the same TV show, Fanatik, was enough for Niculae to decide on who’s the perfect man for the job! As the camera moved to Gigi Multescu – former Astra coach who helped Petrolul Ploiesti avoid relegation at the end of last season -, Astra’s owner reacted: “Look, I’ve already found the perfect man to take over! Gigi, give me a call after the show is over, you’ve already worked with me in the past and you know that I want to build a successful team!”
Unfortunately, the show ended before a live negotiation of the contract or some transfers, done to please the new coach. We’re lucky, though! The season just started in Romania and the show runs almost every weekend, from Friday to Monday evening!
12 goals scored in 13 matches in the second half of last season meant that Petrolul could avoid an immediate return to the second flight, but also that the 26 years old striker will enjoy some attention this summer. According to the former manager, Valeriu Rachita, the man that signed Younes back in March for 150.000 Euros – a sum that he didn’t even had to pay upfront – the Tunisian had a highest bid of 1,5 million Euros this summer, coming from a 1.Bundesliga club. Later, he revealed that it was Hannover 96 the team that wanted the player, but the yellow-blue outfit had already decided to keep him, offering a new and better deal, lasting until June 2015. A mistake, in my opinion, financially speaking, but a good move for the team’s ambitions, if we look at the way the season started for the Yellow Wolves, with a 5-0 win against Ceahlaul Piatra-Neamt.
Hamza was used upfront, alongside the young Romanian international Gicu Grozav – once at Standard Liege -, and the partnership worked like a charm. If Grozav scored once, offered two assists and was also involved in the move that lead to the last goal, the Tunisian striker scored an impressive hattrick, which gets his average above one goal per match in Liga I! He’s now got 15 in just a few months, while the all-time best foreign striker to have ever featured in Liga I, FC Vaslui’s Wesley, has 62 goals scored since September 2009. The Brazilian scored a brace as well in the first round and the most exciting strikers in Romania will meet next weekend, in a very attractive match scheduled on Saturday evening, in Vaslui.
Position last season: 3rd place
Looking back at the club’s yet another tormented season, you could say it didn’t end too bad after all. As expected, Ilie Stan couldn’t finish the campaign and the very experienced and too humble Mihai Stoichita took charge towards the end, with the team showing glimpses of what could be done if everyone would mind his business. Last winter, some quality Romanian players were added to the roster, investments that could pay dividends this year, with the likes of Vlad Chiriches and Alexandru Chipciu already settled, but is it wise to predict that everything will go smoothly under the ownership of Gigi Becali – in spite of all the efforts of Mihai Stoica to protect the team?
Important transfers out: Geraldo Alves (central defender, key player)
I can’t understand how a player like Bruno Alves’ brother, experienced, solid & professional, can be released without a second thought. He played some excellent games in central defense & gave his best in other positions, when the team was in need, and – mark my words – he will be missed this season, when Steaua has decided to promote so obvious the pair Chiriches – Florin Gardos that simply forgot to take into account suspensions or, worse, long term injuries. Alongside Geraldo, the Bulgarian Valentin Iliev – who also provided good cover, making a couple of great matches along the way – was also released and Steaua signed an injured Doru Bratu, from Concordia Chiajna…
Bulgarian centre-back Valentin Iliev, who is running out of contract with Steaua and has been linked with a return to CSKA Sofia in the summer, is the hero of this much anticipated derby, which filled the stands of the impressive National Arena. The 31 years old scored a brace that was enough to seal the win, after Rusescu’s penalty had cancelled the opening goal scored by Alexandru Curtean, after a nice move by Marius Alexe. With Vlad Chiriches again impressive at the back and Cristi Tanase posing a threat with his runs, Steaua ended the game with 22 shots and had almost twice as many clear cut chances to score.
Dinamo paid in the end for a very poor game from central defender Dragos Grigore, while upfront Marius Niculae looked to be struggling physically and lost his breath, feet and ideas on several occasions, and Dario Bonetti, the coach, didn’t miss another chance to have a shot at his players after the match, an approach that won’t help him stay too long at the red and white outfit.
After this huge win for Steaua’s fans (and terrible defeat for Dinamo’s :-) ), there are only two points that separates them and FC Vaslui from the first spot, but unfortunately for both teams it’s all in the hands of league leaders CFR Cluj. Betting on the outcome of the title race remains very tricky and all eyes will be on tonight’s Cluj derby, hosted by Universitatea. After the interrupted match on the 8th of May, the decision was to replay the game from the first minute. Strange call, with no logic, as far as I’m concerned, as the incidents took place when CFR was leading 1-0 and the fights started because of Cadu’s goal celebration, but now both Steaua and Vaslui will hope for a favorable outcome, considering the fact that the title race ends in defeat for them in case CFR manages to get all the three points…
Do look again at the provisional standings after 10 games from the second half of the season! The team in second place, proudly representing a village with just over 8.000 souls, had 10 points after 17 rounds and was looking destined to get back to the second division. Not a lot of people was going to miss Concordia Chiajna, but a few months later now a lot of people would like to come across what has become one of the most effective teams in Liga I…
The club that runs on the Local Council’s money and under the direct command of the village’s mayor Mircea Minea made the right call last December, when Laurentiu Dinita was replaced by Laurentiu Reghecampf, who came along with his wife, Anamaria Prodan, who works as a FIFA agent. The squad suffered massive changes, with 13 players released and 15 brought to try and help the club avoid relegation, 7 of them coming from the second division outfit FC Snagov – one of the clubs Reghecampf had worked for as a coach in the past.
Among them was a certain Idan Baruch, a goalkeeper that offered a terrible and very dubious display versus FC Vaslui, in the second official game of the year, a match that made everyone think that Concordia’s players will only try to make some money before they leave the top flight.
That match was followed though by an excellent run of 4 wins and 1 draw in 5 games, including another incredible result (4-3 away at Petrolul, after being 1-3 down, with three goals scored in the final six minutes!), before the green and white outfit suffered the second defeat of the year against Dinamo. Immediately, they were back among the “relegation favorites”, but six days later another huge result came along and lifted them above the line: a 4-2 away win against now former league leaders CFR Cluj! Before Steaua’s visit to the small stadium just outside Bucharest, Concordia can collect 6 other vital points, versus Vointa Sibiu and CS Mioveni, and Reghecampf could welcome the team he’s already been linked with from an excellent and totally unexpected position…
Reghe, the coach
With a career that saw him leave Steaua after three years and move to Germany, where he played for Energie Cottbus, Alemannia Aachen and FC Kaiserslautern, Reghecampf had two spells as a coach with both FC Snagov and Universitatea Craiova (which he helped once avoid relegation) and a short one with Gloria Bistrita, but for some reason he always failed to stay put in one place, in spite of some promising results. He’s now linked with Steaua Bucharest, but it would be a mistake to pay too much attention to Gigi Becali’s daily TV appearances, although the 37 years old is definitely aiming higher and, if he ends this season above the line, it would be a small miracle that could get him either a good move in the near future or at least buy him a lot more time at his next club.
Who are the new stars?
With eight goals between them, Brazilian forwards Alex (21 years old) and Adi Rocha (26 years old) have impressed in their first matches in Liga I, adding pace and the skill that’s still missing among the rest of the team lead by Vlad Munteanu, a wide midfielder (now 31 years old), who spent the past six seasons in the Bundesliga (with a short spell to Auxerre, in 2008), playing for the likes of Energie Cottbus (just like his coach), Wolfsburg, Arminia Bielefeld and FSV Frankfurt. The team’s captain is Iulian Mamele, a 27 years old central defender playing his first season in the top flight, but one of the nicest surprises comes from 24 years old right winger Adrian Popa, who under Reghecampf scored 2 goals and offered 4 assists, drawing quickly the interest of title-chasing clubs like FC Vaslui.
The Red Dogs spent the winter with their noses in front of a group of at least four other teams convinced they can fight for the title until the very end and have started the year with an important win, 2-0 against Gaz Metan Medias. The club made a bold decision by renting the National Arena for this match (Dinamo’s average attendaces at home have been nothing short of embarrassing) and the players and the fans had a really good first meeting which could pay dividends for the rest of the campaign.
7 players have left the club this winter, but only 2 departures could have an impact on the first team: Zie Diabate, the starting left back, was sold to Dijon, and the promising (for a few years now) Liviu Ganea was allowed to move to a rival like CFR Cluj, as the young forward was refusing to extend a deal that was going to expire in the summer.
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