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Ogararu will lose games as a coach, but should never lose our respect

September 18, 2014 1 comment

u clujMihai 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…

A look at Hagi’s struggles with the best Romanian football academy

September 15, 2014 1 comment

Viitorul started its third consecutive season in the top flight, which is quite a feature considering the impressive number of youngsters promoted, but also the difficulties to survive in a league full of clubs ready to throw everything into a fight that usually has one true victim: the future of Romanian football.
Hagi entered this fight with his best kids and intentions, but soon realized all his work and huge investment – done mostly by himself – can go to waste, so Viitorul has now linked to its name some shocking, yet very useful results obtained at the very end of the previous two Liga 1 campaigns.
It was not pretty to watch and it surely didn’t send the right signals not only within the club, but also outside of it. But what father wouldn’t try everything to protect his children?

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The real problem, in my opinion, is not that Hagi felt the need to intervene, as he does now, by taking an active role in the technical staff of his own club, is that he failed to address some important issues, which regard both the Academy’s activity and the senior team’s results.

1. No real solution for players who turn 19.
The youth competitions – which Hagi’s Academy dominate for years – involve only players up to 19 years old. Once the youngsters reach this critical age in their development, there’s no Under 21 or Reserve League games waiting for them. Hagi probably hoped to address that when he supported Gheorghe Popescu’s candidacy, but the former Barcelona captain ended the race in jail, not in the Romanian Football Federation’s best office.
There was no plan B. There are no partner-clubs in the second division, there are no friendly relations with other Liga 1 clubs, where most of his 19 years old, champions at youth level, could have a chance to take the normal step towards senior football. Viitorul is the only senior club to aspire to and it simply cannot look after and promote every generation of new players that comes out of the academy each year.

2. Too much confidence in the Academy’s potential to promote itself.
Initially, Hagi didn’t want a club in the tip flight, but was forced to push for promotion, as he felt that the second division is not a glamorous shopping avenue for interesting clubs, not even Romanian 1st division teams. He had to stop the investment in the training facilities near Constanta to be able to finance the club, but I am not sure that things are that much better. A look at some of the top sales done so far? Chitu to Valenciennes (failed to adjust, now returned to Romania), Balasa to Roma (loaned in Serie B), Iancu to Steaua (failed to impress)… Not very good advertising, is it?

3. Poor marketing and reluctance to work with agents.
Probably Hagi relies on his name, on the impressive number of youth internationals (the U21 just lost 0-8 to Germany…) and surely lacks in his club structure the people who can attract and keep alive the little interest of foreign clubs. On the other hand, he also ignores the good (which often comes with some bad, but not always!) that can be done by agents who know how to sell players.
I’ll offer one example I’ve been watching from a distance: Adrian Stefanescu, a Romanian agent who has very good links with top UK based clubs, including Manchester City, but who does some really good work in getting very young Romanian players in cont(r)act and with Premier League and Championship clubs. Atletico Arad, who does some good work at youth level, are lucky and also clever to have him as partner…

4. Poor selection of first team coaches
Viitorul promoted under the guidance of Catalin Anghel, an unknown, young coach, who has left the club after the first year in the top flight. His choice looked strange in the first place and it set a pattern Hagi hasn’t abandoned. Same goes for Bogdan Vintila, former keeper and colleague of the owner, who was followed and now follows after Bogdan Stelea, whose brief spell in charge means that Hagi didn’t really had to appoint himself in a technical role a couple of weeks ago. My feeling is that he was already making use of those prerogatives…
Anyway, having young, unexperienced and not so strict coaches in charge of a young and unexperienced team might not be the best idea, but until proven wrong, it seems like the only and the best idea.

5. Belief in wasted talents
Viitorul works every day with something than can be seen, felt in a player, but that cannot always be transformed into quality. It’s a process that involved hundreds of players since the academy opened its doors, thousands of hours spent on the pitch, millions of Euros invested and a bunch of subjective factors that can influence the outcome and make the work at youth level such a massive task which most of Romanian clubs simply refuse to undertake anymore.
Why Viitorul, who produces talent in quantities way over the senior team’s needs, decides every once in a while to sign players who proved at every level that they couldn’t turn themselves into quality professional players is simply beyond me. But, normally, it’s strictly linked with Hagi who – proved it also as a coach – really believes in his instincts (I cannot call stubborn a man I can’t stop admiring). Signing players like Alibec and Daminuta, whose real talent is to throw away the fantastic opportunities to make a huge career in football, made no sense to me. If Daminuta came on a free and, in theory, might allow Viitorul to make some money, Alibec was signed on loan from Inter, offered the place deserved by one of Viitorul’s kids, and made a mess of it once again. Now he’s warming the bench of Astra Giurgiu, after his probably last loan spell in Serie A, with Bologna.
Trying to find a logic in these signings? Maybe Hagi wanted to show his Academy graduates how they must not look like in 2-3 years time. Full of tattoos and full of themselves, with some money in the bank, a flashy car & tarty girl at their disposal. But is that such a bad profile for a 17-18 years olds whose family education stopped at 13-14, when they left home to join the Academy and spent his teenage years among boys, going from training to school and back?
They might have all dreamt at one point to become the new Hagi, but haven’t we all? :)

Rule number 1 in Romanian football: you don’t mess with the owner!

September 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Romania’s defense held out in Athens against Greece, with Gabriel Tamas at right back, a desperate, yet effective solution. Normally, we should have seen there Alexandru Matel, the 24 years old who featured in both play-off games against Greece last November, when Romania missed out on a place at the World Cup, who went on to finish another solid season with Astra Giurgiu, winning the Romanian Cup and finishing the league in second place.

Don’t look him up in Astra’s team that managed to take out Slovan Liberec and OL on its way to the Europa League group stage! You won’t find him in the starting line-ups, not even on the bench. You can find him in exile though, training on his own, twice a day, on the pitch of Astra’s abandoned stadium from Ploiesti. He’ll be there until next summer, waiting for the last year of his contract to run out, watching international games go by at a perfect age to play and impress.

matelHe’s 24, fully fit, but after just over 100 games for Astra, still naive enough to think that Ioan Niculae, a rich guy who likes to own business and people, would have said: “well, it’s no problem if you don’t want to renew your deal, my team can still do with the best Romanian right back for another year!”. Well, the problem with most of the wealthy guys is that they rarely regard somebody else indispensable, valuable or at least worthy of respect. Other than themselves, that is…

Well, enough bad things about the owner. With all his faults, according to his version of events, he did meet the exact terms requested by Matel’s agent for a contract extension this summer. A scenario Matel didn’t feel the need to deny, which might just make it real. He prefers to pose as the victim, but it would have been a more convincing picture if he didn’t negotiate for a new deal in the first place. And Niculae, as any other rich guy out there, has the cash to surprise you. Usually, in a positive way. At times, in ways you and your agent might dislike. Because in a story that affects not only Matel, but more people and teams, there’s more than just one bad guy involved this time around…

Comeback

August 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Toyed with the idea of letting this go, as the blog’s domain was about to expire, but the passion for writing is still there. So is the will to share info and thoughts on Romanian footie, which lots of you appreciated over time, so here I am. Back on the road, scouting, back on the blog, writing.
Let’s talk some football here, on Twitter (@rbaicu) and Facebook.

Becali stays behind bars, but keeps Steaua as his prisoner

August 23, 2014 Leave a comment

The champions have started in style. No worries in Liga 1, where Claudiu Keseru managed to score six in one game (in theory, Pandurii is one of the decent clubs, but in practice they often try not to upset a top business partner like Steaua) and very few teams will be able to pose a real threat during the current campaign. On the European stage, all going as planned so far and the red and blue outfit are 90 minutes away from another profitable presence in the Champions League group stage, having already a one goal advantage over Ludogorets, thanks to their top performer, Alexandru Chipciu.

So, results are here right away, in spite of the lack of experience of Costel Galca, money isn’t a problem, the fans are behind the team (all over the country). All seems well, especially as in a dozen lines I didn’t mention Gigi Becali. But, oops!, the name is here now, yet the man is still behind bars (alongside his right hand Mihai Stoica), and the problem that could affect Steaua’s promising season arises.
Not only Becali took out of the club’s account a big chunk of the over 10 millions euros profit registered last season, but he also kept a firm grip on the club, seriously restricting Steaua’s movement on the transfer market, where important departures (past or imminent – Tanase and Latovlevici have been repeatedly linked with foreign clubs) need(ed) to be adressed.

The problem is that the club’s structure is poor, it also only exists to approve and execute the owner’s wishes and Steaua’s view of the market is as narrow as the space between two bars. Without Stoica, there’s nobody both informed and confident enough to take an unknown name to Becali, so the club’s recent targets have been only current or past Liga 1 players.
Of the team that battled it out with the likes of Chelsea or Schalke, a handful of key players are gone. With Tatarusanu (Fiorentina), Chiriches (Tottenham), Gardos (Southampton), Bourceanu (Trabzonspor) and Pintilii (Al Hilal), the very backbone of the team was extracted and, in spite of all the income, Steaua failed to add players with either similar quality or at least potential. But the reason isn’t just the reluctance to spend some money. In fact, the Bucharest outfit went after players of proven value, but in the only league Becali knew: the Romanian first division. A league that had already offered its best products to the club in recent years, a league that struggles to produce new talent at a good rate.

That’s why Steaua signed Arlauskis (former league winner with Unirea Urziceni), Luchin (former Dinamo Bucharest player, signed from Botev Plovdiv), Breeveld (Pandurii) and Lemnaru (Universitatea Cluj, a player Galca doesn’t even like). And that is the only reason why the club makes no secret in its intention to bring back to Liga 1 Jeremy Bokila, a striker who impressed with Petrolul, before moving to Terek Groznii. He’s the main and last target once/if the Champions League group stage is reached, although he’s been a flop in Russia and, more importantly, Terek can afford to speculate Steaua’s desperate approach and ask for a lot of money (approx 2 million euros) for a fringe player.

Steaua is definitely weaker than last season, although Galca does some good work on the training pitch, yet the downfall of the solid team lead to important success by Laurentiu Reghecampf might not catch the eye that quickly. The group stage of the Champions League is only 90 minutes away, while the route to another league title remains accessible. A defeat (with the wrong scoreline) in Bulgaria could expose though the fact that Becali was wrong to take away from his club exactly what he’s missing the most: the freedom. The freedom to move, to dare, to act.

Romanian football played behind bars: 8 heavyweights sentenced to prison

March 4, 2014 4 comments

It was called “The transfers file” and, strictly linked to an investigation lead by Gazeta Sporturilor, ended up today, after eight long years, with eight important names sent behind bars, for money laundering and tax evasion. The biggest of all: Gheorghe Popescu, former Romanian international, former Barcelona captain, who was days away from taking over the presidency of the Romanian Football Federation…

“I would have sold players to Bin Laden back then, it was all about getting money”, stated Cristian Borcea a while ago in front of judges who have felt everything, from mockery to fear, during this long period, from the persons pleading their innocence. Borcea was a key shareholder with Dinamo and just like George Copos, who took Rapid from glory to agony during his tenure as club owner, had retired from the spotlight, laying low, hoping it will all go away.

Others haven’t. Brothers Victor and Ioan “Giovani” Becali went on pulling strings on the transfer market, Mihai Stoica was in charge of Steaua, while Gheorghe Popescu had all but moved his family pictures into the office that Mircea Sandu is preparing to leave. Surprisingly, the race for the presidency of the FRF lost its front-runner at the last minute and for a very long time.

Here’s the list of the definitive sentences heard today:

  • George Copos (former owner of Rapid Bucharest) – 3 years and 8 months
  • Mihai Stoica (current Steaua sporting director) – 3 years and 6 months
  • Cristi Borcea (former shareholder at Dinamo Bucharest) – 6 years and 4 months
  • Ioan Becali (FIFA agent) – 6 years and 4 months
  • Victor Becali (FIFA agent) – 4 years and 8 months
  • Jean Padureanu (former president of Gloria Bistrita) – 3 years and 4 months
  • Gheorghe Popescu (former international, lobbied Florin Bratu’s transfer to Galatasaray) – 3 years and 1 month
  • Gigi Netoiu (former shareholder at various clubs) – 3 years and 4 months

All were involved in deals that saw player sold abroad, smaller transfer fees entered in the clubs’ books and part of the real fees ran through personal off-shore accounts.

Here’s the list of transfers that lead to the above sentences:

  • Iulian Arhire – from Otelul Galati to Pohang Steelers (1999)
  • Ionel Ganea – from Gloria Bistrita to VfB Stuttgart (1999)
  • Cristi Dulca – from Rapid to Pohang Steelers (1999)
  • Cosmin Contra – from Dinamo to Deportivo Alaves (1999)
  • Bogdan Mara – from Dinamo to Deportivo Alaves (2001)
  • Paul Codrea – from Dinamo to Genoa (2001)
  • Florin Cernat – from Dinamo to Dynamo Kiew (2001)
  • Nicolae Mitea – from Dinamo to Ajax (2003)
  • Lucian Sanmartean – from Gloria Bistrita to Panathinaikos (2003)
  • Florin Bratu – from Rapid to Galatasaray (2003)
  • Adrian Mihalcea – from Dinamo to Chunnam (2004)
  • Dan Alexa – from Dinamo to Beijing Guoan (2004)

Today’s decisions came as a shock for those involved in Romanian football. Lighter sentences for a couple of those involved and no punishment at all for the likes of Mihai Stoica and Gheorghe Popescu were expected. Well, sometimes, unlike Romanian football, Romanian justice can be unpredictable…

Astra and Petrolul went all-in. Can Steaua defend the title?

February 13, 2014 2 comments

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:

Steaua
Important players in: Claudiu Keseru (Bastia), Lucian Sanmartean (FC Vaslui)
Important players out: Alexandru Bourceanu (Trabzonspor)

Bourceanu leaves a hole in Steaua's midfield.

Bourceanu leaves a hole in Steaua’s midfield.

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.

Astra Giurgiu
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.

Petrolul Ploiesti
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)

Leadership and goals, that's what Petrolul expects from Mutu.

Leadership and goals, that’s what Petrolul expects from Mutu.

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.

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