Well, pretty much has been said regarding Otelul Galati ahead of the huge match against Manchester United, but let me take you back seven years, when the Red Devils were winning on the same stadium 2-1, against Dinamo Bucharest. At the press conference, asked to pick one of the home team’s players that impressed, Sir Alex Ferguson said “the left back”.
The left back was a 25 years old Romanian called Dorin Semeghin, who had moved to Dinamo from Foresta Suceava, after his home town club had managed to stun the Red Dogs by coming back from 0-4 to win 5-4 in Bucharest. Small, quick, gifted with a very good left foot and so attacking minded that he often forgot to defend, Semeghin was famous at that time for his off the pitch exploits rather than his outstanding performances in Liga I. Ferguson’s praise wasn’t going to help him either and he went on to be known as “Semeghin – spaima sticlelor de vin”, which rhymes in Romanian and means “Semeghin – the threat of the wine bottles” in English. He was playing for a red and white club and enjoying both types of wines probably came naturally…
“I now regret that I haven’t made good use of Sir Alex’s praise”, reckons Semeghin for Evenimentul Zilei, where he proudly spoke about the good start he enjoys with his new club, Rapid CFR Suceava. In the Romanian third tier! He recalls shaking the hand of the great manager and is proud to say that even though he didn’t chase any of the players after the two matches, he still managed to get two extremely valuable shirts: one from Ryan Giggs, the other from Paul Scholes.
“I haven’t tasted alcohol in five years, but you have to take my word for it”, says the little player, who is now 32 and heads towards retirement in the lower leagues, after 224 matches in Liga I, with around 60 of them played for none other than Otelul Galati. A team full of individuals that will try to impress in Tuesday’s match. Hopefully, Sir Alex Ferguson won’t praise anyone at the end of it!
It’s enough to look at the standings, with the champions just above the relegation zone, to realize that even though Otelul kept all the players that impressed last term, the team lost something along the way. Unfortunately for them, the something in question is what Italians call “l’umilta”. The modesty of a group that last season knew so well that they need to outpace and outmuscle the opposition, having less technical quality, was key to the surprising success. Now that it’s gone, this team looks average in its best days and, what’s even worse, the players are getting the wrong messages from its leaders. There’s talk about the number of points that will be collected in the group stage, with only Manchester United considered too strong for a team that in three matches against newly promoted clubs in Liga I collected only one win! Considering the players’ (lack of) form and adding the wrong type of approach, I expect Otelul to reconsider their position right after the away game at Basel. And start using Modesty, Determination and Ambition in their first eleven just like last season, because they stand a chance against both Man United and Concordia Chiajna only if they start looking again at every match as a game of inches…
Last season: 1st
Squad quality: Average
Key player: Gabriel Paraschiv
Hot prospect: Laurentiu Bus
Strengths: Teamwork / Work ethic
Weaknesses: Lack of firepower / The presence in the Champions League’s group stage
The champions have a slim chance to win another title. Although the Supercup (1-0 against Steaua) showed that nothing changed with Dorinel Munteanu’s team in terms of players, tactics and hunger for success, the Champions League will surely affect their concentration in Liga I and will leave its mark on a reduced roster. Plus, the bigger clubs will make sure that Otelul will not pull another stunt like they did last season, when their title chances were rated at 67/1 by the bookies.
Keep an eye on Laurentiu Bus, a small attacking midfielder who already decided the Supercup with a very nice goal, another one of Marius Stan’s top signings from the second division, but expect Otelul to suffer when they’ll be missing the impressive veteran Gabriel Paraschiv.
It might not be a winning season for Otelul, but it will surely be one to remember!
Last season: 3rd
Squad quality: Good
Key player: Wesley
Hot prospect: Razvan Neagu
Strengths: Squad cohesion / Quality attackers / Hunger for success
Weaknesses: No winning pedigree
Since Adrian Porumboiu took over the club, FC Vaslui finished every season in a higher position and I have to say that the tradition has every chance to be respected. The club has been banned from signing new players and this brought a stability that should help them not just in Europe, but also in the first part of the season, when they’ll be matched only by Otelul and Dinamo in terms of team cohesion. If something goes wrong, Vaslui could fix it anyway, as the wealthy owner will have a chance to prove himself between the 10th (when the transfer ban will end) and the 20th (last day of summer mercato in Romania) of September.
The team relies on an excellent attacking trio formed by Wesley, Adailton and Lucian Sanmartean, but Romanian youngster Razvan Neagu, who had an off-year in his development, impressed in pre-season and might add something upfront.
Last season: 4th
Squad quality: Very good
Key player: Danut Coman
Hot prospect: Sabrin Sburlea
Strengths: Top competition within the team / Crowd support at home
Weaknesses: Inconsistent form when playing away / Completely reshaped midfield
Razvan Lucescu returns at club level, after an experience with the national team that should serve him well. Last time he was in charge, Rapid recorded the best ever performance in Europe, but now the club will give it all for a title that, if it has a chance to return to Bucharest, than this is the best equipped club of the “big guns”.
Rapid lost some quality players like Costin Lazar, Juliano Spadacio and Marius Constantin, but they’ve made good moves on the market, adding the likes of Alexa, Apostol and Deac, all national team players, without spending much. They might need some time to gel, but they’ll be very difficult to break down, will remain a force at home and, with more consistency, they could be going all the way.
Last season: 5th
Squad quality: Good
Key player: Ciprian Tatarusanu
Hot prospect: Raul Rusescu
Strengths: Top defense / Club stature
Weaknesses: Huge pressure / Lack of support at home
It was all looking good for Steaua, after the arrival of Ronny Levy, but the Supercup showed exactly the same team that disappointed last season. Well organized at the back, but lacking creative midfielders and prolific forwards, this club has big chances to disappoint once again, especially after the decision to abandon the stadium that has recorded basically every success achieved by the red and blue outfit.
Ciprian Tatarusanu might play his last season for Steaua, as he should move abroad soon enough, and I’ve decided to “gamble” on Rusescu (yet another transfer from the dead and buried Unirea Urziceni), as I consider Florin Gardos more of a certainty, after his excellent first season in Liga I.
Last season: 6th
Squad quality: Good
Key player: Gabriel Torje
Hot prospect: Cristian Balgradean
Strengths: Top quality in the last third
Weaknesses: Lack of support at home / Inexperienced coach / Poor teamwork
The club lost contact with the fans, had a summer in which Liviu Ciobotariu (finally confirmed as head coach) looked like he was preparing the team for another coach and will start a season without the same hunger for success. There are problems in the board and the players often look to be playing for personal success only, hoping for moves away that obvious talents like Gabriel Torje or Marius Alexe are yet to complete.
In spite of its strike force, Dinamo should struggle with the same fragile defense and a very thin midfield line that will be lacking steel and ability to protect the unreliable back four.
Last season: 10th
Squad quality: Good
Key player: Ricardo Cadu
Hot prospect: Sergiu Bus
Strengths: Ambition to succeed again / Quality midfield
Weaknesses: Lack of cohesion
CFR had a terrible season, but finally looks once again eager to fight for the league. They have in Jorge Costa an ambitious coach and the sort of person that can dominate a dressing room disrupted in the past couple of season by the Portuguese legion. It’s still there and with a number of new faces, but the key is to get team captain Cadu in the right state of mind.
CFR doesn’t look at all short in terms of quality and quantity, but the team might need a couple of months, if not more, to gel and become a force. Of course, if the club made the right moves on the transfer market…
P.S. You should also check this interview, to have a better overview of the league, ahead of the new season.
- Igli Tare is expected to watch Cristian Sapunaru from the stands in the Romania-Bosnia game, with reports saying that Lazio is willing to pay up to 7 million Euros for Porto’s right back and have prepared an wage of 1 million Euros per season for the player. Sapunaru’s deal with the Dragons will expire in 2013.
- Dorinel Munteanu has qualified Otelul in the Champions League’s group stage, after winning the title, but is struggling to get the deal he wants from Marius Stan, the club’s president. Munteanu wants 300.000 Euros per season, a sum Otelul isn’t willing to pay, so the coach might be a champion out of contract, this summer.
- Second place and qualified for the preliminary stages of the Champions League, FC Timisoara finds out today UEFA’s decision. The Viola outfit might lose its licence due to some financial problems that could have been easily solved and, at the same time, not just its place in Europe, but also the one from Liga I!
- Rapid’s owner, George Copos: “Having again Razvan Lucescu (the current national team coach) on the bench is a beautiful dream”.
- Cristiano Bergodi is linked with a return to Steaua. After getting the sack for showing the guts to ask Gigi Becali to step out of the team’s dressing room, the Italian’s chances should be slim. Very slim!
As you probably know by now, Otelul Galati has won the Romanian championship. What you probably don’t know is who in Unirea Urziceni’s name is Otelul Galati. Prepare for a shorter walk than the 200 kilometers the club’s president promised to go on foot, back in November 2010, when all this was just a joke, as I will present you the club every Champions League participant will want to meet in autumn, in the group stage.
In the summer of 2009, Marius Stan, Otelul’s president, was offering a two years long deal to the most capped Romanian player in the national team’s history, Dorinel Munteanu. The man who represented his country 134 times had returned home, to Cologne, angered by accusations of match-fixing launched by former employers. Trying to clear his name in court was the right thing to do, but the wisest thing was to do it on the pitch. And, two years later, “Munti” was winning, against all odds, a league that had no less than six contenders at the beginning of the season, who tried everything to stop him. They came across a stubborn, determined, workaholic team, that multiplied by 11 Munteanu’s approach to the game he never cheated as a professional, and failed.
Meet “Galati Steelers”!
You might have heard of a certain Lakshmi Mittal. Yes, the wealthy owner of QPR, who will face the likes of Roman Abramovich in the Premier League, but, at the same time, might challenge the Russian’s club in the Champions League. And that thanks to Otelul Galati, the club that dreamed to become the Eastern Europe’s Chelsea, when the city’s immense steel factory was bought by the Indian’s company, but rarely received more than survival money, in Liga I.
It was disappointing for those at the club, but not for the old fox Marius Stan, who had made an attempt to become the city’s mayor in 2007, one that might have more success if repeated after this incredible performance. Just like most of his players, the president doesn’t lack tempting offers ;-)
This is the first title in the club’s history, which starts in 1964 and records the first promotion in the top flight in 1986! Two years later, Otelul was playing in the UEFA Cup against the mighty Juventus, recording a memorable 1-0 at home, before losing 0-5 in the second leg. “La Vecchia Signora” was counting on names like Stefano Tacconi, Alessandro Altobelli or Michael Laudrup, while Otelul’s midfield was built around a certain Marius Stan. With him at the helm, the red and white club from Galati was going to win the Intertoto Cup in 2007, a feat followed by a quick exit from the UEFA Cup.
Munteanu’s work and Otelul’s honest workers
In his first days as a coach, Munteanu tried to implement a 4-2-1-3 setup that was used on a large scale in the 1.Bundesliga, a formation he kept on tweaking in the creative – finishing department, after he moved away from CFR Cluj and gained more and more experience at Steaua, FC Arges and FC Vaslui, but constantly improved the functionality of the back four, in combination with the two defensive midfielders. His tactics and the strict approach found the perfect group of players in Galati, where a bunch of youngsters raised by Otelul in the third and second tier was completed by some bargain buys from second division clubs from both Romania and nearby countries. The president’s eye for talents and ability to sign them for some tens of thousands of Euros was going to pay dividends.
These players, desperate to make a name for themselves and move on, in search of better wages, added muscle and energy to an experienced back-bone formed by Sergiu Costin, Gabriel Giurgiu and Gabriel Paraschiv, who offered inspiration (you can find here Paraschiv’s incredible request to get a wage cut!) and ensured that Munteanu’s requests are fulfilled both during the very demanding training sessions and during the matches.
Rapa versus Messi, Neagu tackling Cesc, Ilie racing past Lahm?
There are no standout players in this team. Can’t find a lot of flair and the skill lost its importance with the 11 bees spending more time off than on the ball and this team could get slaughtered in the Champions League.
We thought the same in September, in November, Marius Stan was promising that he’ll walk from Galati to Slanic Moldova (that’s 200 kilometers, Forrest!), if his team wins the league, and we were sure in March that Otelul will drop from the top of the table so bad, that the team won’t even be able to secure a place in Europa League. The players were buzzing though and just managed to hang on, taking advantage of the fight between the other title contenders and some game-winning mistakes in their favor, committed by the refs. They were used to fight for survival and, this season, they did it. Just that they were defending the 1st place, not the 14th!
Who is Cornel Rapa? A 21 years old right back, who didn’t stay long in the U21, before moving into the senior national team. Ok, that’s not very hard, judging by the current level of Romania’s squad, but it’s still something that doesn’t happen too often.
Ionut Neagu has an interesting story too. He was playing for CSM Ramnicu Sarat in 2009, simply the worst team in the Romanian second division, when he was called back to Otelul during the winter break. Offered the chance to start in central midfield, he was going to lose that place only when injured or suspended.
Liviu Antal, Laurentiu Bus or Adrian Salagean are Marius Stan’s findings in the second tier, while Branko Grahovac and Milan Perendija are the winning bets placed by the same guy on the foreign market, somewhere he didn’t do very well, in the past.
All these guys, with no pedigree or experience, earning around 50.000 Euros per season – and still willing to accept wage cuts! – proved that serious, hard and professional work can pay off. Get ready to see some scared young faces on the biggest European stage in autumn, but try to accept that the Romanians who will fight for every ball and every inch, killing the show, are no longer gifted like Hagi, but determined and hard-working like Munteanu. Those ready to write them off should keep in mind though that Unirea Urziceni, who has now relegated to the second division and could even disappear as a club, collected a record tally of eight points, in a group formed by Rangers, Stuttgart and Seville…
FC Vaslui’s title hopes suffered a blow yesterday, when Adrian Porumboiu’s club dropped two points against Astra Ploiesti and lost contact with the first two teams, FC Timisoara and Otelul Galati.
Timisoara had no problems in putting three past Unirea Urziceni, while Otelul’s controversial win away at Victoria Branesti ignited a huge scandal, with the skipper Gabriel Paraschiv scoring from an offside position a late winner to grab all the points and stay on top of the league, with two rounds left to play.
Vaslui ends another season without a trophy and it’s a delicate moment for the club’s ambitious
owner sponsor, who had hopes as high as the wages paid to important players like the Brazilian pair Wesley – Adailton or Slovakian goalie, Dusan Kuciak.
Porumboiu and Timisoara’s owner, Marian Iancu, launched an attack not just towards Otelul’s experienced president, Marius Stan, but also towards “dark forces” they have failed to identify.
“They’re trying to show us that anyone but us could win this league”, stated the two, but this is a theory they too have to struggle to understand. The fact is that we’re close to a poor season, marked by the mediocrity of the title challengers and the numerous decisive mistakes made by the referees thoughout a year to forget that will be followed by yet another set of disappointments in Europe.
With two rounds to go, it’s going to be either Otelul Galati or FC Timisoara, as the two teams will meet ,on Sunday evening, on the leaders’ turf in what looks like the league’s Final. Unfortunately, before thinking of a potential match winner within the two teams, it’s wise to wait and hear the referees’ names. It might be there, among the officials…
With the big shots from Bucharest trying to book a place in Europa League, after yet another disappointing season, Otelul Galati, FC Timisoara and FC Vaslui have only three points between them, with three rounds left to play, in Liga I.
Otelul grabbed three vital points against Universitatea Craiova, on Thursday evening, taking full advantage of the draw between FC Vaslui and FC Timisoara, and regained the top spot, looking like the favorite not just because of it, but also thanks to the easiest schedule.
Next up for Dorinel Munteanu’s men is Victoria Branesti, an already relegated team, and a win will ensure a lead and the possibility of a draw in the following game, which could be a title decider, as Otelul will host FC Timisoara.
The Viola also have the title in the hands, even if they’re in second place now, three wins out of three being a guarantee for a title that will repay years of some important investments and also reward the always excellent support offered by a beautiful and passionate city like Timisoara.
For FC Vaslui, who badly needed a win against FC Timisoara on Wednesday, but Dorin Goga’s goal cancelled their lucky one goal advantage, have small chances to finish first, in spite of schedule that would allow them to get maximum points.
- Victoria Branesti – away
- FC Timisoara - at home
- Astra Ploiesti – away
FC Timisoara’s schedule:
- Unirea Urziceni – at home
- Otelul Galati – away
- Dinamo – at home
FC Vaslui’s schedule:
- Astra Ploiesti – away
- Sportul Studentesc – at home
- Pandurii Targu Jiu – away
…and we’re off! We’re strating with a game decided even before it took place, but we’re off! It has been an interesting winter in Romania, with some important moves on the market. Steaua and CFR Cluj cashed-in big time on their most promising players, Bogdan Stancu and Lacina Traore, with another very good forward by Liga I standards, Ribeiro Moraes, leaving Gloria Bistrita and the country. Even though we haven’t seen any outstanding signings, this should be a very interesting second half of season, with the first division perfectly divided in two categories: title contenders (yes, CFR Cluj, currently in 8th place, still hope to win the league!) and relegation candidates. We have no mid-table teams, a category that should be defined during next month, when we’ll see who had either their hopes or fears killed in the first couple of matches.
Otelul kept all the players, which might look good and show ambition, but this was the perfect moment to profit from the rise of Cornel Rapa, the 21 years old right back who’s now an option for the senior national team. They might not get the best price in the summer, unless the excellent physical preparation and tactical discipline from the first half of season will deliver until the end. The league leaders have been discrete as always on the market, signing a second division player and a rather unknown Serbian centre-forward, Bratislav Paunosevac, who could make an impact considering that Otelul lacked options upfront last year. And also generate some profit from a future sale – a trademark buy for the experienced president, Marius Stan. Although they managed to get three points already, Dorinel Munteanu’s men are expected to struggle, with all the stronger clubs taking measures, which translates into extremely motivated opposition in every single game and some dodgy refereeing when it matters. Would be a real surprise to see them holding on until the end…
Undefeated in 18 matches, The Viola will start losing games, as Dusan Uhrin Jr., who returns as a coach, for the fans’ delight, has been asked to take a different approach – try to go for wins and push for a league title that’s in reach. As usual, Timisoara signed a lot of players, releasing the always over-rated Hristu Chiacu and loaning to Urziceni Ioan Mera, a centre-back that would have had little chances to feature, considering the competition. The experienced Sorin Ghionea was signed on a free transfer, with Nikola Ignijatevic coming from Red Star Belgrade to cover for Sepsi’s imminent departure. Tosaint Ricketts is expected to add pace upfront, something badly missed after Timisoara sold Gigel Bucur to Kuban Krasnodar more than a year ago. This is a solid team all over the pitch and a real title contender, although they miss the players and the coach who can cope with a level of pressure that will increase with every round.
Looking at the club’s activity on the market, you might get the wrong idea. The club released Burdujan (forward), Pancu (attacking midfielder), Hugo Luz (left back), Haisan (goalkeeper) and punished severely the Brazilian Gerlem (left midfielder), all of them useful players, who could have helped at least as reliable backup solutions, and couldn’t sign a single name, given the transfer ban that will expire only in June 2011. Still, the old dog Viorel Hizo should be satisfied both in terms of quantity and quality, while these departures could make those who stayed and are a bit more confident about their places in the team to act more responsible and focus on delivering what would be an outstanding and, given the recent investment, a deserved achievement for Porumboiu’s club.
In some games, they have played excellent football, looking very strong especially at home, where they simply lay siege on the visiting teams and eventually break them, with the support of one of the hottest crowds in the league. Unfortunately for them, the away form remains a problem at Rapid, no matter the quality of the team or the name of the coach, it has to be down to mentality. I was surprised to see that the club didn’t adress the squad’s biggest problem: adding another quality striker, as the Brazilian Cassio delivers only at home and the talented Sburlea’s too inconsistent and yet to turn into a poacher. They’ve released a few players – Cesinha could have turned some games around! – and signed three players that should add even more strength and quality in defense (the Bugarian international Vidanov) and midfield (the Brazilian Olberdam and the fans’ favorite player, Daniel Pancu). They’re very strong, but the 10 points gap demands from Rapid exactly what they’ve missed in the first half of season: consistency.
It’s been official for a couple of days now, but that doesn’t mean anything in Romania, as definitive sentences have been more than once revoked. It didn’t happen for Pandurii Targu Jiu, though, who
failed refused to find an agreement with Dinamo over an unpaid debt and has not been scheduled for what was supposed to be the first official match of the year. A much anticipated one, considering that the visitors were the league leaders Otelul Galati, a team nobody wants to see in the same spot, at the end of the season.
Media attacks followed, with most of the other title contenders stating that this was a clever way to fix a match, especially after Pandurii’s boss revealed that the club refused to pay, being trapped between two decisions: the Football Professional League forces them to pay for a transfer that has been considered void in a civil court, while the authorities have warned the club that it’s illegal to pay for something that hasn’t been done by the law.
The fact is that Pandurii lost 0-3 tonight’s game with Otelul and there are big question marks about what’s going to happen, as this case might get very ugly and affect more than the current season. Pandurii’s next match is against Dinamo and Condescu says that paying that money now would only confirm that they had refused to play with Otelul and favor the leaders. But I doubt that they’ll be sticking with this decision and accept to go down without a fight. Let’s not forget that we’re talking about the club that should have gone down twice in recent years, but managed to find a way to keep their Liga I place even when they finished the season below the line…
The league leaders have been making their usual business, once the experienced president Marius Stan decided to correct some mistakes done in the past, with the release of some poor buys made from abroad last season and the return to what he does best: spotting young players in the lower leagues. Read more…