Position last season: 4th place
Under Razvan Lucescu, who went for a very experienced roster, thinking about the present, not the future, Rapid failed and I have to agree with the always discontent owner George Copos. The team was strong, very strong, last season, yet something happened along the way, when all the hunger and the flamboyant style slowly faded away and Rapid’s problems were exposed: lack of creativity in midfield, the absence of a goalscorer upfront and a general lack of determination among the top players. Rapid remains a very inconsistent team, strong at home, weak when playing away, and it will be interesting to see what will change under the command of former Rapid midfielder Ioan Ovidiu Sabau, who gets his first shot to fight for something important, after some good work for the likes of Gloria Bistrita and FCM Targu Mures. Used to coach small clubs and use very defensive setups, he will have to adapt quickly, to please the passionate fans who at least want to see some spectacular football, if they’re to lose the title, as usually happened in recent years…
Important transfers out: Dani Coman (goalkeeper, key player); Marcos Antonio (central defender, key player); Dan Alexa (defensive midfielder, key player); Ciprian Deac (winger, key player)
A draw at home against Universitatea Cluj meant that Rapid started the year by dropping two valuable points and I think this is a first confirmation that nothing really changed over the long winter break. We’re talking a strong, hard to break down team, that can easily go on an unbeaten run in the league, but will probably end up drawing more matches than winning. Instead of looking for a reliable striker and a creative midfielder, the two things this team badly needed needs in terms of personnel, the Bucharest side was very discrete on the market and with just some decent investment could have left Razvan Lucescu with no excuse for not mounting a more serious title challenge in this second half of the season.
Rapid parted ways with Cassio Vargas, the Brazilian striker who in his first year managed to score only in the home games, while this season he did even worse, failing to find the net in 9 outings, playing 5 of those league matches for almost 90 minutes. The only other player with a decent status who left in the winter breal was Iulian Apostol, who Lucescu Jr. used to call to the national team, but lately failed to make him useful even for the third placed team. If Apostol was replaced by Milos Pavlovic, from FC Vaslui, who is not quite the same type of player, being very limited when it comes to building up the play, Rapid should have done better in adding some more firepower, as Sabrin Sburlea is not a central striker and the veteran Daniel Pancu needed some serious help / backup upfront. The only offensive signing is Alexandru Ionita, now 23, who comes after a very bad spell with FC Koln and is back home in search of match fitness and confidence, something that won’t do much good to a team that badly needs goals, to turn frustrating draws into vital wins. Ionita played as a sub versus Universitatea Cluj and got some deserved criticism from both fans and the media, but the worst news is that Pancu suffered a long term injury and will probably miss for a couple of months – a huge blow for Rapid, who really needs either Sburlea or Ionita to use this opportunity and prove themselves.
Strenghts and weaknesses
Marcos Antonio, the Brazilian centre-back, is probably the most consistent and reliable foreign player that ever step foot in Liga I and he will make sure the excellent goalkeeper that Dani Coman still is has very good protection. The central midfield adds extra steel, but fails to help the team in attack (the prolific Ovidiu Herea, currently injured, being the exception), yet it’s almost impossible now to point out a midfielder able to take out his man and offer a quality through ball. Felipe Teixeira might be that man, but he’s been very inconsistent, just like Stefan Grigorie.
So, we have a very solid team at the back, a group of experienced players already adjusted to Lucescu’s tactical plans (who needs to become more adventurous to turn from a contender into a winner), but not enough creativity and ability to turn chances into goals when going forward. If this team manages a good run of results early on, there might be a chance for a come-back, but they will probably drop too many points along the way to hope for more than a place in Europe…
It all went surprisingly well in the first leg. Away wins, wins to nil at home, goals scored away by the only two out of five teams defeated last Thursday. It all went too well, actually, so let’s take a look at what could go wrong in tonight’s matches…
Dinamo Bucuresti – Vorskla Poltava (1-2)
The Red Dogs were unfortunate to receive a second goal in the 89th minute, but they couldn’t hold on anymore after Grigore’s dismissal for a second yellow card, in the 65th minute. Besides the centre-back, another two important players will be missing through suspension, striker Marius Niculae, who has been in terrific form this season, and promising winger Marius Alexe. With Gabriel Torje already thinking about his move to Udinese, it might be tougher than the 10.000 fans are probably expecting.
Gaz Metan Medias – Austria Vienna (1-3)
The away goal is important, but this small team needs to produce another miracle, after sending out on penalties Mainz, in the previous round. Florin Bratu and Thaer Bawab both scored on Monday in a perfect 3-0 win against newly promoted Vointa Sibiu, with winger Ciprian Petre confirming my expectations and providing two assists in that game. The problem is that Medias scored only after a set play, with Vointa easily defending in a first half that so no clear cut chances and no goals. Although Cristi Pustai rested team captain Todea, he lost Georgian defender Akaky through injury, who joins attacking midfielders Parvulescu, Dudita and Muntean on the sidelines…
CSKA Sofia – Steaua Bucuresti (0-2)
After a very open game in the first leg, in which the Bulgarian side missed a huge chance to score a vital away goal through… Romanian forward Ianis Zicu, I expect a very open match in Sofia. And looking how Steaua desperately defended at times last Thursday, this could easily go wrong, in spite of what looks like a perfect score. Ronny Levy has problems at right back, where he lost both Gabriel Matei and Novak Martinovic, so will have to improvise with Banel Nicolita, whom lots of managers consider better in this role. But he is a good coach, with a good possession & attacking philosophy and a single goal should be enough to temper and eliminate the home side.
Rapid Bucuresti – Slask Wroclaw (3-1)
I know Slask is doing great in Ekstraklassa, but they have been totally outplayed in the first leg, by a quicker, more aggressive and better organized team. Can’t see what could go wrong here, with Rapid free of injuries and suspensions, a team that won a few days ago in the league even without several first team players that should be fresh and in top form for tonight’s game.
Sparta Prague – FC Vaslui (0-2)
This result came as a huge surprise to me, but FC Vaslui deserves full credit for taking advantage of a terrible day from Sparta, who couldn’t take advantage of the home side’s improvised first eleven. Lucian Sanmartean was absolutely outstanding on the day, tormenting Sparta’s defense with his dribbling ability and vision in the last third and today he will be joined upfront by another 2 key players for Vaslui: Wesley and Adailton! So, scoring an away goal is definitely on the cards, as Sparta will have no choice, but to take chances and push forward, and it would be a nice reward for Vaslui’s owner, who has been spending a lot of cash to constantly improve the team and always push for a higher position in the league. The Romanian club will remain vulnerable at the back, where 21 years old striker Ionut Balaur should start his fourth game as a central defender, so Sparta can find a way back in this, by scoring one and hoping that the pressure in the final minutes will be too much for a team without European experience and unable to be as solid at it can be in defense.
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.
- According to gsp.ro, Razvan Lucescu has agreed to return to Rapid, leaving the national team after the 3-0 win against Bosnia, the kind of result he had asked for, in order to stay in charge. This move was in the air for some time, with Rapid signing players that Lucescu Jr. tried to promote in the national team, like Ciprian Deac (on loan from Schalke), Iulian Apostol or Cristian Oros.
- Laszlo Boloni, former Lens coach: “I’m interested in the position and there’s a chance for me to return as Romania’s national team coach.” Boloni is also in talks to take over at PAOK.
- Fatih Terim was in the stands, watching Romania – Bosnia. Possible targets: Ianis Zicu and Gabriel Torje.
- Adrian Mutu won’t travel with the team for Romania’s South American tour. His place could be taken by Dinamo’s George Tucudean, a talented player, no doubt, but who has been heavily promoted recently.
- Petrolul Ploiesti, Ceahlaul Piatra Neamt, FC Bihor and Concordia Chiajna have promoted to Romania’s first division.
It’s not news anymore, but it’s another interesting story, which says a lot about the game in Romania and the struggle to behave like professionals. Rui Duarte arrived in Romania from Estrela Amadora back in 2008, when, thanks to CFR’s rise, it was not just trendy to buy players from the Portuguese market, but also the almost guaranteed way of adding quality to the roster, without spending a lot of money. It was cheaper to buy from a mid-table team playing in Liga Sagres than from a newly promoted squad in Liga I or even a second division club, the lack of common sense and realism when it comes to discussing a transfer fee being still an issue in Romanian football.
For less than half a million Euros, FC Brasov managed to buy the player that went on to establish himself as the best right back in the league, an award claimed on a regular basis, year after year, and the move to one of the Bucharest clubs made perfect sense, from this point of view. Those who like to look at football as a business, where players are getting paid to work like almost any other professional out there, have always looked at Rui Duarte from a different perspective, though. The Portuguese full-back had developped a habit of returning late for almost any holiday, but this was overlooked, as FC Brasov was considered a mediocre team, with no quality backup solution to take a stand against this practice, and, for some reason, Rui Duarte would have stopped acting like an amateur once he had made a move to a truly professional club. Like Rapid? Neah, it doesn’t fit the profile, although we’re talking about a title challenger. Rapid is 11 (eleven) days away from the first official game of 2011 and what does the board do? Organize a trip to Portugal, to convince Rui Duarte to return to the club! After missing the entire winter preparation, he is kindly asked to come back and make every single team-mate look like an idiot, for wearing themselves out for two months, to secure a place in the first eleven. Something Rui Duarte doesn’t have to do not because he’s an excellent player – by the way, he’s not! -, but because he got some interesting results to the repeated tests conducted on the guys allowed to run first division clubs, either as board members or as part of the technical staff. They are always ready to make a compromise, yet never understand why the lack of professionalism is such a common disease even at Liga I players, either homegrown or signed from abroad. The thought that it might be actually their fault probably never crossed their rested minds…
The return of Dinu Gheorghe as club president offered Rapid the opportunity to buy the best players from his former club, who had only missed out on a place in Europe in the previous season. Further more, the new executive guy went over the transfer and wage budgets, with some free signings and expensive deals (Cassio Vargas was bought for 700.000 Euros from Portugal), trying to ensure that the coach has every position doubled and there will be a fierce competition for a place in the first eleven. It was the kind of effort that every coach and passionate fan would like to see, yet the fourth spot occupied at this point by Rapid shows that signing twelve new players in the summer cannot guarantee instant results.
Name: Marcos Antonio
Position: Central defender
Games/goals this season: 18/1
Recommended by Rapid’s former striker, Daniel Niculae, now at AS Monaco, the Brazilian centre-back was signed on a free transfer and has been a rock at the back. Impressive physical strength, focused, he’s been outstanding so far and doesn’t really look like someone who stayed away from the game a year ago, when he was busy winning the fight with cancer. With offers coming in already, from Russia and Greece, he could turn out to be an excellent deal from all points of view.
Name: Cassio Vargas Barbosa
Games/goals this season: 16/7
Before you call me crazy, let me help you take a look at the good stats from above: he scored in just 4 games, was decisive in only two of them (the brace that decided the derby against CFR Cluj and earned a point against Pandurii), never scored away from home, not to mention that most of his goals were from close range. So, it was a decent return from a striker who could easily double this tally by the end of the season, yet I feel he could have been a lot more influential, which is usually expected from an expensive buy. His total lack of efficiency away from the home ground – where he just has to wait for one of the many quality box that reach the penalty area – can be seen in the standings and it’s something he and the coach must address during this winter break.
Rapid cannot afford any important operation during the winter, when they’ll probably try to get some cash, as I don’t see the club determined to go all out for the title – a “strategy” used in recent times by a lot of clubs, which only lead to inflation on the market, absurd wages to mediocre players, all in the name of a possible chance to get all the money back after a shameful presence in the Champions League group stage. The pressure is on the board, who must: choose between the two top goalies, Bornescu and Coman; get as much money possible on players in demand, like Herea or Marcos Antonio; either cut loose the top players that will enter the last six months of their deals or give up on high earning reserve players and come up with convincing proposals.
Second place in the league, impressive displays especially at home, biggest chances to win the league according to the bookies. This is Rapid? Well, yes, but not exactly. The club’s problems are bigger than the lack of consistency when playing away, the poor quality of their strikers or the increasing tensions from a dressing room full of players who (think thay they) deserve a place in the first eleven, especially in goal. They surfaced in the press this morning and speak not only of the already mentioned financial troubles, but also of some poor management from the board and a lack of professionalism that had been experienced in the past, at Rapid.
Here’s the list of problems that could affect the team’s performances and results sooner or later:
- the players haven’t been payed for more than two months and were hoping to see some cash after last round’s away win at Sportul; instead, they got yet another promise that this will happen after the derby against Steaua. Which is scheduled almost two weeks from now.
- Brazilian striker Cassio Vargas and the team’s second scorer this season was thrown out of his appartment, as the club failed to pay the rent since August. He was moved with his wife and two kids to another flat, close to his team mates Rui Duarte, Ezequias, Marcos Antonio and Bozovic, where he should follow Rui Duarte’s example, who didn’t wait for the club to pay the rent, as he would have found himself in the same delicate situation as the striker…
- The Portuguese Candido da Costa had the surprise to find his appartment without gas and electricity, problems that angered so much Vladimir Bozovic last season that the Montenegro international left Bucharest and threatened not to return at the club.
“I have to feed my family. I was supposed to send money back home, to Portugal, but I haven’t done that for the past two and a half months” – Rui Duarte, Portuguese full back, bought from FC Brasov this summer
As this is no premiere, Rapid should look beyond the expected financial trouble, which affects pretty much every Liga I club this season, and realize that there’s something wrong in the structure and the work of what was supposed to be one of the best organized professional clubs in Romania. The club’s owner, George Copos, loves to point to the board lead by Dinu Gheorghe everytime something goes bad and has a habit of complaining about the difficulties of running a club these days. Still, he was the one to accept in the first place last summer’s overspending and he was the one to jump for joy at Rapid’s wonderful displays from the start of the season. Staying on the sidelines and waiting for your employees to fail just to say “I told you so” at one point doesn’t look very smart to me. In fact, makes Rapid look like a ticking bomb, watched carefully by a sadistic, self-destructive owner…
Although Rapid had won the game (1-0), Timisoara claimed that the Bucharest side had no right to use Dacian Varga and Tiberiu Balan, the players loaned from Sportul Studentesc after the transfer window had been closed. Rapid definitely tried to bend the laws in this case and the decision is fair in my opinion. And, yes, maybe it’s time for a title to be decided by such an intervention that affects the standings so late in the season, as we have to start at some point to obey the regulations and respect the decisions of those running the game.
With this call, Rapid will probably miss out even on Europa League football next season, which was very important for a financially struggling club, while Timisoara’s climbs into second place and gets a boost to its chances of winning the league. Unfortunately for the fantastic Viola fans, they’ll probably lose it again on the pitch…