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…
Reading the papers since Mutu’s return to the national team is a rare treat. Yesterday, it was “Mutu has arrived four hours earlier than he should have done it, for an individual talk with Razvan Lucescu”. Today it’s: “Mutu has decided to sleep in the afternoon, although the players had a a few hours off!”.
Trying to anticipate a bit, tomorrow we should read that Mutu wasn’t picky at lunch and ate the entire meal, although the pasta wasn’t very good and others complained. On Thursday, he signed autographs even for the kids that didn’t want them, and during the night before the match against Bosnia, he refused to kick the shit out of a waiter who dared to bring him the check, at 5 o’clock in the morning.
I won’t go any further with this. I’m 100% sure Mutu won’t, either…
Here’s Romania’s squad for the vital game against Bosnia:
- Goalkeepers: Pantilimon (FC Timisoara), Tatarusanu (Steaua), Lung Jr. (Universitatea Craiova)
- Defenders: Sapunaru (FC Porto), Rapa (Otelul Galati), Tamas (WBA), Chivu (Inter), Goian (Palermo), Gardos (Steaua), Rat (Shakthar), Salageanu (Otelul Galati)
- Midfielders: Torje (Dinamo), Ropotan (Dinamo Moscow), Florescu (Alania), Alexa (FC Timisoara), G. Muresan (CFR Cluj), Deac (Schalke 04), Cocis (Karpati Lviv)
- Forwards: Stancu (Galatasaray), Zicu (FC Timisoara), Mutu (Fiorentina), Alexe (Dinamo), Marica (Stuttgart)
Calling four similar central midfielders – I was expecting to see Alexa called-up, especially after he was praised by Razvan Lucescu, who called him a “discovery and a plus” after the last friendly, when Timisoara’s captain scored a brace. For the record, the man’s 31.
CFR’s Muresan has also impressed, but in the last league game, against the bottom placed team, but it would definitely be strange to see him starting alongside Alexa. They’re exactly the same type of players. Slightly different – a bit more dynamic and with a small plus in going forward – are Florescu (who is now playing second division football in Russia!) and Ropotan, but, in any combination between these four, Romania will only be able to secure the central zone and build-up by directing the balls to the wide players. We’ll be organized, hard-working, but extremely limited when going forward.
The credit for out of form & squad players – Deac and Marica haven’t played for months, Ropotan hasn’t featured for Dinamo Moscow in 2011, Florescu went down with Alania. But, for Lucescu Jr., this principle applies just in some cases, not when there are players he likes in this situation. Then, it’s important to rely on pretty much the same group of players throughout a campaign, in order to be successful. Yeah, right!
Mutu’s return – it could seem that Lucescu’s looking for the team’s and the nation’s best interest, by calling up Mutu and forgetting what has happened in the past. He’s not, he’s just trying to save his position. He probably won’t. So, this is just a sign of desperation, from a weak man and just an average coach. A lethal combination for our chances to catch the next final tournament…
We all knew that Razvan Lucescu would have a very difficult task in renewing Romania’s national team, but we all hoped that he would at least try to do it. Since he took over, he managed to lose matches with the team, the public’s respect for the promising club coach he was before his appointment and all sense of logic in his actions. Here we are, almost sure that we’ll be missing out on yet another final tournament, facing an important friendly match that would test his choices even more than some of the recent official games. Read more…
These are agitated days for the national team, with Razvan Lucescu under huge pressure from the public disgusted that the young coach blamed everyone but himself, for a start so poor that could compromise the entire qualifying campaign. Romania has two points from three matches and slim chances to turn things around, yet the Football Federation decided not only to defend its choice, but also to add two more years to the current deal and some extra cash, offering Lucescu Jr. a deal until 2014, paid with 375.000 euros per year! All this, in spite of the agreement that the coach will walk if he cannot get Romania to Euro 2012 and in spite of his obvious struggle to rebuild the team (the idea was to use the last official matches of the previous campaign to find new players and refresh the NT, but Lucescu preferred to take his long shot at landing the second spot in a group eventually won by France and Serbia).
This hard to explain support offered by Mircea Sandu and Ionut Lupescu has been balanced by the justified attack launched by the legendary Gheorghe Hagi, who played down the idea that Romania cannot get better results due to the quality of the available players. Very quiet until now, busy with running his excellent football academy, the former Barcelona & Real Madrid asked Mircea Lucescu’s son to step down, if he doesn’t have faith in the players’ ability anymore. Here are the most interesting quotes of their diallogue: Read more…
Desperate to keep a clean sheet. Trained to destroy, not to build. Hoping for a lucky counter or a well taken free kick. This is Romania. At any level. From the senior national team to the Under 0. We have it in our genes and we’re not making the smallest effort to change our mentality. And you can see it at club level. Where we’re defending. Destroying. Hoping for the counter-attacks that bring once in a lifetime 2-0 wins on Olimpico. And we still wonder why we have slim chances to see Romania at a final tournament in this lifetime…
For those not very familiar with the team in yellow, the weekend was looking promising on Friday evening, when Romania faced England, in front of a packed stadium in Norwich. Sandoi’s eleven that featured one keeper, five natural defenders and five natural midfielders, was trying to switch from a 4-5-1 to a 4-3-3, as the team got hold of possession, being probably the first in the world to try and use three forwards, without having at least one on the field! Read more…